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Taylor Varga

Chapter Text

It came to a head, as it almost always did in the manifold realities in which something similar occurred, in a locker full of muck in a run down, neglected, corrupt school, itself in a run down, neglected, corrupt city, as a result of a protracted bullying campaign against a high school student by three sociopaths.

It took a rather divergent path at this point, though...

 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hammering weakly on the inside of the metal structure in which she’d been locked for several hours, Taylor Hebert stifled yet another sob, trying not to breath too deeply. Her head was spinning, she was almost at the point of passing out, and she was fairly sure she was going to die. Things were chewing on on her, making little crunching sounds, her legs were numb, her hands bleeding.

“Help,” she called with hopelessness in her voice, knowing no one would come. “Please. Help me.”

What chance did she have now? It was long past the point the school would have closed, the light coming through the vents in the door had faded away hours ago, and if no one had helped her when they’d seen her get locked in, who was going to find her with the school closed and locked up? Even the maintenance staff must have left by now.

Slumping further as her strength waned, she banged her head backwards against the door with a soft clunk, all the while knowing it was pointless. Her strength was ebbing fast and even at the point she’d been trapped, she had been unable to break the latch on the door. With the lock on the outside there was no realistic hope of escape.

Closing her eyes for what she thought was the last time, her mind clouding, she whispered, “I’m sorry, Dad. I should have told you.” The surroundings faded away to blackness and the blessed relief of unconsciousness.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

In most realities, something answered her desperate cry for help, leading to various events which often eventually impacted the entire world or even beyond. Many of those stories have been told.

This time, something else answered, something from much further away than the fragments of an omnicidal alien space whale fleeing entropy.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

An unknown time later, Taylor became aware that there was light coming from in front of her. This seemed somehow wrong, although for some while she couldn’t think clearly enough to work out why. Eventually it dawned on her. ‘I’m facing the back of the locker and I can’t turn around. Where’s the light coming from? Did someone let me out?

Opening her eyes, suddenly aware that the pain and numbness from before was oddly missing, she expected to see her rescuer. Instead, all she could perceive was a brilliant light filling her view, in any direction she looked. Glancing down at herself she gaped when she found she appeared clean, uninjured and, amazingly and terrifyingly enough, to be standing on nothingness. “Oh my god,” she mumbled under her breath.

Waving her hands around Taylor couldn’t feel any obstructions, in any direction. Taking a tentative step she found that whatever invisible surface she was perched on was real enough that she could walk on it. She wandered around with growing confidence for an indeterminate time, looking for something, anything, that might explain what the hell was going on, only to discover nothing useful at all.

Eventually, she put her hands on her hips and sighed. “This is just stupid,” she muttered, irritated. She was undeniably grateful not to be stuck in that festering hell-hole of a plague-ridden pit formerly known as her locker, true enough, but while her new location was much less painful, it was becoming equally annoying for different reasons. Turning around on the spot she squinted into the omnipresent bluish light, then cupped her hands around her mouth. “HEY!” she shouted. “IS ANYONE THERE? WHERE AM I?”

Listening, she heard nothing. No echoes, no sounds other than the ones she was making.

 “This is getting creepy,” she told herself. Seconds later, she emitted a high pitched scream when a VOICE boomed out from somewhere:

 DO YOU SEEK POWER?

 Covering her ears she cowered at the roar. The voice was deep, very loud, and somehow didn’t sound at all normal, although she’d have been hard-pressed to say exactly why.

 “Um, what?” she squeaked after a moment, when her heart-rate slowed from preposterous to merely very fast indeed.

 The voice repeated, DO YOU SEEK POWER? even more loudly, and sounding mildly impatient this time.

 Taylor opened her mouth to ask another, probably silly, question, then stopped. After a couple of seconds she closed her mouth and thought very hard.

 ‘DO I seek power?’ she thought. ‘What does it mean by power? Like being a cape?’ This seemed the most likely of a series of increasingly unlikely possibilities. Looking around again she couldn’t deny the fact that the least unreasonable interpretation of the entire thing, assuming she wasn’t just having some sort of death’s-door hallucination, involved parahumans in some manner or other. Maybe this was what happened to all capes when they got their powers? She'd never heard of such a thing but perhaps people just didn't talk about it.

She also couldn’t deny that the idea of gaining some abilities that would allow her to be better than she could be now was... enticing. Although, that said, it would certainly bring problems. Would those problems be offset by the gains? ‘Beats dying in a locker, though,’ she mused sardonically.

After some more careful thought she replied, rather weakly, “Um, yes?”

Speak up,” the voice rumbled a little more quietly. She frowned, looking around.

“Yes, I seek power,” she called, much more firmly.

To what purpose would you put this power? the voice responded immediately.

This made her think again. The simple answer, one she couldn’t help but think, was revenge. Get back at Emma, and Sophia, and Madison. Get back at all of them, the school officials who turned their backs on the years of bullying, the other students who were complicit or simply stepped aside.

What stopped her answering thus was the thought of both her mother and her father. Neither one would approve. Her father, while he was certainly in favor of an eye for an eye under the right circumstances, would also tell her to avoid become the very thing she was suffering from. Her mother would, from what she remembered of her, have taken the long view and told her to beat them by being the better person.

She smiled softly to herself, remembering for an instant something she’d heard her mother say once to her father when they both thought she was in bed. ‘Then drop it on them when they least expected it,’ she thought, giggling. Her mother had been in some ways a dangerous person to annoy. She’d had a very long memory and a lot of patience.

Her father could, now that she thought about it, possibly be worse. While he had a real temper it took a lot to get it riled up. When you managed that, though, it turned into the sort of cold rage that made people twice his size start backing away very carefully and not making sudden moves, something she remembered well from an incident in her childhood involving a minor car accident, a drunk driver, and a baseball bat. The driver who had started the entire encounter then escalated it when he went off on her father with little reason seemed somewhat grateful when the police finally turned up and arrested him.

Threatening to beat up the ‘four-eyed skinny little bastard’ had made her father annoyed. Approaching his ten year old daughter while holding the aluminum bat in a threatening manner had turned annoyance into an instant fury that had resulted in one very large and very scared man with a broken arm and a bent bat.

Luckily, as the union representative for the dockworkers, Danny Hebert was known and well respected by a surprisingly large number of people, including a lot of cops, who had been quite prepared to listen to the story and make a judgment call. The driver was on his third strike for drunk driving and well known to them and the entire incident was witnessed by a number of bystanders all of whom said the same thing, so in the end her father had merely been asked to be slightly less enthusiastic the next time. He’d taken his good fortune as a warning he might not get again and never reacted in such a manner since then, not that so far it had been required anyway.

She smiled again, thinking back on what her mother had said when they’d got home that day. She hadn’t been happy, although at the same time she’d obviously been proud in an oddly reluctant manner. Her father had been embarrassed by the whole thing but Taylor remembered it even now. The story got around and gained him considerable respect amongst his co-workers, who more or less to a man approved wholeheartedly of such immediate karma being handed out to a deserving recipient. The dock workers were, by and large, fairly placid most of the time but protective of their own.

Even so, she felt that neither of her parents would want her to use any parahuman ability or whatever it was that the voice was offering her to assault the three bitches. While she couldn’t help but feel annoyed by this she also knew full well that Emma or Sophia would undoubtedly be able to twist any beat-down, however justified, against her. Once again, who would listen? Or care?

After mulling it over for a while, she spoke carefully. “I think I would try to be a hero. To help people.”

A laudable goal. Your world would appear to need help. There is much wrong with it.

“My world?” she queried curiously. “Who are you, anyway?”

The echo of an afterthought, from far away and long ago. It is unimportant. The question, Taylor Hebert, is more one of whether your request is valid.”

The answer was fairly uninformative yet at the same time raised a lot of other questions. Taylor frowned. “If nothing else I don’t want to go back to that locker, if that’s all right with you,” she muttered, more to herself than the voice.

Another four or five seconds passed.

Your request is acceptable and within my power to grant. I will allow you to be the brain of the Varga.It paused, then added,I think I will do things slightly differently this time. It will be interesting to see how you proceed. I find myself bored, possibly this will be a good diversion from eternity.”

“Varga?  What’s that?” she asked, suddenly not entirely certain this was a good idea. The last couple of sentences sounded… ominous.

Power. Great power. Use it well. This cannot be undone.

Stepping back, a fairly pointless exercise under the circumstances, Taylor looked around nervously. Perhaps the correct answer would have been no?

Good luck, Taylor Hebert, the voice boomed out, sounding annoyingly cheerful all of a sudden. You must keep in mind who you are. Remember yourself, fix it in your mind with absolute certainty. This is important.

As the light abruptly grew stronger, it added a little absently, Oh. I should tell you this will probably hurt.

It was entirely correct.

Taylor screamed, her mind suddenly filled with images she couldn’t, at the time, understand, and she passed out frantically thinking 'I am Taylor Hebert and I want to live', the light flaring around her brighter than the sun.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taylor dreamed. She saw a small kingdom under siege by a far larger one, in what looked to be some sort of medieval society. Catapults, some sort of huge cross-bow things, hundreds of troops armed with bows and swords, all attacking a castle on an isthmus, surrounded by sea. The defenders fought valiantly, but were clearly destined to lose if nothing else but because they were so many fewer.

There was a princess, a pretty blonde a little older than she was, who was a warrior in her own right, fighting with great competence and skill, wielding a sword like she’d been born to it. Her companion was a young man who seemed to be part cat. Flying cat, which was even weirder. He could change into that form or take the one of a human with a cat’s eyes and tail.

Both of them fought the invaders, but ultimately they were driven off, escaping with their lives but only able to inflict irritating damage rather than have any real long term effect. The huge man in charge of the enemy was temporarily defeated yet it was obvious that it wouldn’t help in the end.

Finally, desperate, the princess descended into the depths of the catacombs below the castle and found... something ancient, and powerful. Taylor watched with bemused amazement what happened next.

Eventually, the dream ended, and Taylor woke. She shivered, finding that she was damn cold and apparently lying on something very hard. Opening her eyes she found herself looking up at the ceiling of the school corridor. Quickly peering around she spotted the door of her locker, remarkably enough still locked and with no visible damage. She could smell the muck inside, far more intensely than she really wanted to, and see it seeping out under the door and forming a fetid puddle on the floor. How anyone could possibly miss it was beyond her and added more credence to the concept that no one cared.

Looking down at herself her eyes widened. She was completely nude. Except for a covering of the same crap as in the locker, that is. Squeaking with horrified embarrassment she jumped to her feet, looking frantically around in case someone was watching. Slowly she became aware that it was dark outside, and also that the lights in the hallway were turned off. She found this a bit weird since she could see perfectly well even so but was too worked up about her nakedness to worry too much about it at the moment. Not to mention that she really was damn close to freezing.

Stepping back from the revolting puddle on the floor, leaving nasty footprints behind, she looked around, thought for a moment, then headed for the locker room and the showers. It seemed the most likely place to find something to cover herself with and she desperately wanted to wash the crap off as fast as possible.

At the back of her mind she was aware that she was taking the entire thing a little too casually for someone who had been confined and tortured for hours at least but most of her thoughts were concentrating on the concept of shower, clothes or at least some towels, and a phone to call her father to pick her up. Remembering her thoughts in the locker she decided it was time to come clean, she couldn't deal with the trio by herself any more. This last ‘prank’ could probably more accurately be considered attempted murder, or a serious physical assault at the absolute minimum.

Weirdly enough, it was only after she’d finished the first of the three things on her list that she finally noticed she had a tail.

Chapter Text

“What?” Taylor looked at her reflection in the floor-height mirror on the wall of the girl’s locker room, side on. “What?

Sprouting from the base of her spine, where it was several inches thick, and tapering to a blunt point nearly four feet further along, she now apparently possessed a muscular reptilian tail, much like something you’d more normally find attached to an alligator. She reached back with a shaky hand and carefully felt it, running her fingers along the resilient yet tough scales covering the thing.

“What the fuck?

Gaping, she stared in horrified disbelief, then poked it again. It was definitely real, and just as definitely attached pretty damn solidly to her rear. After a moment or two she tried moving it and found it as easy as moving any of her other limbs. It was remarkably flexible, in fact, allowing her to move it from side to side or up and down easily, or even send a ripple of motion down it like a wave.

Numbly waving her tail around she kept staring for quite a long time, before she shook her head. “But... I thought it was a dream?”

She remembered what she’d seen, the young princess merged with a vast lizard-like creature called the... “Varga?” she said out loud.

Yes, Brain?” a deep calm voice said inside her head. She twitched violently, looking frantically around the room. There was no-one there but her. And her tail.

“You’re... real?” she quavered.

Of course, Brain. Why would I not be real?” It sounded slightly confused.

Can you hear me when I do this?’ she thought experimentally after some moments of mental blankness.

Yes.” The voice sounded satisfied this time.

“Oh, god. I’ve got a huge alien lizard living in my head,” she moaned, slumping to the floor with her new tail stretched out behind her, the feeling one that she suddenly noticed and found very odd although not uncomfortable.

I am not really a lizard, Brain,” the Varga told her.

“Whatever. You’re in my head, right?”

There was a pause. “You may think of it like that if you wish,” the voice replied.

“What about the tail? Can I get rid of it?” She looked over her shoulder at the appendage, flicking the tip from side to side.

I’m sorry, Brain, but your current form is the minimum that can be achieved,” the Varga said, sounding a little regretful. “The original bargain made long, long ago insisted the one who wielded the power of the Varga be so marked.”

“So I’m stuck with it. Great.” Taylor sighed, thinking she was probably going to freak out later when everything sunk in properly. At the moment she was riding the high of being alive after being convinced for hours that she was going to die and was honest enough with herself to realize this. “Dad is going to flip. There’s no way I can hide it from him.” She looked around the locker room and groaned. “And everyone else is going to see it as well. They’ll all know I’m a cape. Or whatever I really am. That’s going to be... more than a slight problem.”

Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror once more. She added to the list of weird things the fact that she looked, aside from the tail, entirely healthy, no signs at all of the injuries she was sure she'd incurred during her stay in that damn locker. Her skin was unmarked, not a blemish marring it. In fact…

Taylor held out an arm and flexed it, watching with astonishment the muscles moving under her skin. Reaching over with her other hand she felt her biceps wonderingly. She had actual muscles! Not enormous or grotesque, rather more like the physique of someone who swam or ran a lot, probably for years. Her slightly overweight middle from lack of exercise seemed to have vanished, being replaced by something perilously close to an actual six-pack.

Experimentally bending over she put her hands flat on the floor, keeping her legs straight, then easily resumed a normal standing position. Her flexibility seemed vastly improved as well. She noticed at this point something that should have been obvious earlier, which was that she wasn't wearing her glasses either. Nor, now that she thought about it, had she had any trouble wandering around without turning the lights on. The only illumination in the locker room came from the streetlights outside shining through the frosted glass of the small ceiling level and non-opening windows, the light not enough to do more normally than allow the panes themselves to be seen.

“Varga, why can I see so well now?” she asked curiously. “And why am I so… so toned? I look in better condition than that bitch Sophia.”

The merger repaired any physical defects or injuries you had, Brain,” it replied. “A Brain must be in peak condition, obviously.”

“And not being able to see in the dark is a defect?”

Yes,” the creature replied. “You have many benefits from merging with me. My senses are hundreds of times better than your human ones. In your current form much of this improvement can’t be realized but you will find that a certain amount is available.”

“Like being stronger, or something like that?”

Correct.”

Taylor wondered how strong she really was. She didn’t notice any difference, although now that she considered the issue, she realized that she actually felt really good. None of the aches and pains that she’d had earlier, most of them from damage caused by Sophia’s various attacks over the last few days, seemed to be bothering her any more.

Reaching up she absently went to adjust her glasses out of habit. She felt her face in wonder, before smiling a little. “No defects...” she mused. That could bear investigating later. Shaking her head she went over to the storage cupboard where the janitor kept all the cleaning supplies, including, she hoped, something to cover herself with. There were no towels lying around the locker room as she’d half-hoped there might be, all the students having either taken theirs home with them or put them in their own lockers. Reaching out she grabbed the door handle and twisted, before grimacing.

Locked. Of course it is. People around this place would steal anything if it wasn’t nailed down or locked away.’ Annoyed with herself and everyone who had made this entire situation happen she growled under her breath and twisted harder with irritated frustration, jumping a little when there was a metallic crunch and the knob turned, the door swinging open.

“What the hell...?” She peered at the metal knob, seeing to her amazement it now had distinct marks on it that corresponded to her fingers. She gaped once more. “How did I do that?”

Even in your normal form you are now much stronger, as I explained just now,” the Varga patiently informed her. “It is a benefit of our merger. The last Brain I joined with was surprised by this as well. She found it useful.”

“Why do you keep calling me Brain, Varga?” she asked.

Because that is what you are. You provide the direction, I provide the body and power, when required. That is the bargain.”

“But what are you?” She looked back at her tail for a moment. “Aside from a voice in my head and a lizard’s tail, I mean.”

My nature is… difficult to explain,” the deep voice replied thoughtfully. “Long, long ago, in the world of my origin, there was a battle between two forces. The winners called the losers Evil, and themselves Good. Whether either concept is accurate I do not know. I and my companions were great forces, they called us demons, controlled by both sides at one time or another, but mostly by the ‘Evil’ side. When they lost most of us were destroyed or locked away. We went from striding the worlds with all before us worshiping at our feet to… useful toys.”

It sounded rather sad about this.

A bargain was made between the ancestors of my last Brain and the so called forces of Good. I was sealed away, to be brought out to fight on their side if necessary, through a merger as has been created between us. Four times over many many years this happened. After the last time, when I was sealed away once more, I believe the secret of my existence was lost. Why I have been brought forth once again and to an entirely different plane of existence I do not know, but then the greater forces are always difficult to understand.

“A demon,” she stated flatly.

Such is what we were called, yes.”

“OK, then.” Taylor sighed deeply. “I don’t just have a giant alien lizard living in my head, I have a giant alien lizard demon living in my head. Just wonderful.”

I expect our time together to be most interesting,” the Varga commented, somehow radiating a certain amount of amusement, which made her sigh again.

“And it’s a comedian.” Shaking her head, she quickly looked through the contents of the cupboard, finding nothing useful except a couple of large rolls of paper towel. Briefly contemplating one of these she looked doubtfully down at herself, then shook her head. ‘I’d look like The Mummy, that’s going to stand out. And it probably wouldn’t work anyway.’

Irritated, she left the storage room and looked around again. ‘Guess I could break into some lockers and look for clothes,’ she mused. ‘If I really am stronger now that should work.’

“I can provide clothes, Brain,” the Varga commented mildly.

She stopped dead.

“Why the hell didn’t you say so in the first place?” she shouted.

You didn’t ask.” It sounded a little smug, making her sigh.

“Well, I’m asking now. Please give me some clothes, if it’s not too much trouble,” she replied with heavy sarcasm.

Of course,” it responded. There was a flicker of some peculiar energy around her for a fraction of a second, then she felt cloth covering her. Turning to the mirror she stared.

“What do you call this?” she asked slowly, looking down at herself.

Clothes, Brain, as you requested.” The Varga’s voice was amused. She wasn’t.

Inspecting her reflection, she saw she was wearing some sort of light armor over her torso, a dark metal chest plate and back plate over a cloth backing which was surprisingly comfortable, with articulated shoulder pieces attached at the top. She could move her arms around freely despite the armor.

Lower down, she had boots, apparently made of leather of some kind, metal again armoring them, the entire thing being knee-length. Between these she had on a skirt that came down to about half-way down her thighs, more metal plates attached to the belt holding it up and providing protection to her groin, rear, and hips. Overall it looked more like something made for ceremonial use, rather than genuinely practical armor, although when she flicked the chest plate with her finger she found it made a sound that showed it was probably much tougher than it looked. She couldn’t identify the metal, but thought it most likely wasn’t steel of some sort as it seemed too light for that.

“Where on earth did you get this from?” she asked with a sigh, then remembered her dream again, which was obviously not actually a dream. Her current costume was a close approximation of what the blonde princess had worn.

My last Brain thought it was suitable attire,” the Varga told her. “Is it not to your liking?

“I haven’t worn a skirt since I was about nine,” she muttered, studying her appearance in the mirror. It was embarrassing, but she had to admit it was at least practical bearing in mind her tail. Pants might be difficult now she realized with a sinking heart.

I can change it if you wish,” her new companion mentioned. “I can provide anything you require.

“Anything?” she asked curiously.

More accurately, almost anything. I cannot form complex machines without detailed knowledge of their inner workings,” it admitted, a little reluctantly. “Simple constructions, weapons such as swords, those are easy. My last Brain used them a lot. You will find such skills of hers are available to you, although it will take practice to become proficient in their use.

Taylor froze, staring at herself in the mirror. “You mean I... inherited... her abilities?” This brought up all sorts of possibilities.

Yes, Brain. Not all her knowledge will be available to you but physical skills should be.”

“Oh, my god,” she mumbled. After a few seconds of wild thought, she came back to the here and now with a shake of her head. “Too much to think about now.”

Poking the armor again, she rubbing her finger on the breastplate curiously, wondering if it was actually bulletproof. “Where does it actually come from, though?” she asked. “I mean, do you have some sort of store room full of this sort of thing? Or did you just magic it up out of nothing?”

While incomplete, the second statement is closer to the truth,” the Varga told her with a sensation of mild amusement. “What you call magic is simply a control over certain aspects of reality which is more malleable than most realize. We are very good at various techniques that match our natures.” It paused, then added sadly, “Or, rather, we were. I may be the last one left.

She frowned, the voice seemed depressed for a moment, which was understandable if it really was the last of its kind. She could understand loneliness all too well.

After a second or two, her guest resumed explaining. “The space between worlds is filled with… something you don't have the terms to explain, but let's call it energy. It isn't, not in the way your mind knows the concept, but it's close enough. My kind can pull that 'energy' from outside reality and shape it into forms that are more useful. Such as your clothes, or a sword, or almost anything of that nature. With significant effort such things can be made permanent but are normally temporary then allowed to revert to their original form when no longer required.”

Somewhat suspiciously, based on this comment, Taylor asked, “Are you poking around in my mind to learn things?”

Of course, Brain. We are, after all, one. At a minimum I need to know your language.” Once again it sounded amused. She put her hands on her hips and stared at her reflection, somewhat annoyed yet also intrigued.

“Does that mean I get to look in your mind? It's only fair.”

With time, yes. You have already benefited from access to certain knowledge, but I cannot simply connect both of us directly. Your mind is… not as large as mine. Or as old. If we connected like that at the current time I fear you would be overwhelmed and damaged severely.” The Varga sounded genuinely regretful and a little worried. “I do not wish that to happen.”

Thinking on the words of her new friend, Taylor considered the problems. She could see how a 'demon', whatever that really meant, with possibly thousands of years of experience quite outside her own could easily cause catastrophic damage if their minds joined completely. What would her own fifteen years and change of life be in all that? She'd get overwhelmed like a drop of water in a swimming pool of information.

“No, I think I don't want that to happen either, Varga,” she mumbled, shivering for a second or two.

She looked around, then down at the floor, seeing bloody footprints leading from the door to the showers. She wondered whether she should do something about that. Following them back to the locker, she stared at it for some time, her hand over her nose to block the stench, which was a lot worse than she remembered. Obviously her sense of smell had been significantly enhanced as well. After a while she came to a decision and reached out to unlock the locker, opening the door and staring at the contents with a shiver of revulsion and remembrance. Her stomach threatened to rebel for a moment but she managed to bring it under control.

Heading for the arts department, she went in and looked around for a little while before she found what she was looking for. Picking up the battered digital camera which was all the school could apparently afford for their students to use, she checked the battery had a charge, then rummaged around in the cupboard next to where the camera was kept to find a memory card.

She erased it in the camera then headed back to her locker, spending a few minutes photographing the inside of it, including the bloody hand prints on the sides and back, as well as the footprints on the floor. She followed them to the locker room with the flash strobing brightly every few feet. When she’d finished, she returned the camera to its cupboard having removed the card which she kept.

Privately amazed at the calm way she was dealing with things she went back to the locker room and stared at the closet handle and the impressions in it, before cautiously reaching out, grabbing it, and heaving sideways. After some minor resistance the entire lock mechanism attached to the handle ripped out of the cheap wood, leaving a large splintered hole that looked like someone had gone at the door with a crowbar.

Taking the evidence with her, she headed towards the nearest phone, the one in the secretaries office. Luckily she didn’t need to break into this room as it was unlocked. Soon she was listening to the phone at home ring.

“Dad?”

Taylor!? My god, where are you? Are you all right? What happened?” Her father sounded frantic and distressed. Choking back a sob she wiped her eyes, some of the recent events finally catching up with her.

“I’m at school,” she said quietly. “Can you come and pick me up, please?” Her tears fell faster.

I’m leaving now,” he replied, sounds of someone quickly putting shoes and a coat on coming to her. “Stay there, don’t go anywhere. Are you OK?

“Kind of,” she told him with a half-laugh, half-sob. “I have a lot to tell you, but I need to do it at home. Don’t let anyone know you’re coming to get me, please.”

The police have been looking for you for hours,” he protested. “I’ll have to tell them.”

“No!” She thought frantically, glancing back at the end of her tail. “Not yet. Please, it’s important.”

The girl could almost feel her father’s frustration over the phone. He sighed faintly, then said, “All right. But you’d better have a good reason.”

“I think I do, Dad,” she told him, suppressing an inappropriate giggle.

OK. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he replied. “Stay put.”

Agreeing, she hung up, then slumped into the secretaries chair, finding that her tail made this a little uncomfortable, but eventually working out how to arrange it to allow her to sit. “He’s going to go nuts,” she mumbled. Checking the clock on the wall she saw it was nearly one AM. Eventually, after five minutes or so, she rose and wandered to the nearest exit, at the side of the school, looking out through the glass door into the night.

Peering out into the car park she watched as it began raining, the downpour steadily increasing until she could barely see the other side. Eventually, twenty minutes or so later, a set of headlights turned off the road into the car park, approaching as close to the school as possible. “I’m going to get soaked,” she sighed, pushing the emergency release to open the door then stepping outside. A sudden weight across her shoulders made her look down to see with bemused appreciation she was now wearing a long cloak with a hood, again based on the one the blonde girl in her dream had used.

“Thanks,” she said under her breath.

“You’re welcome, Brain,” the Varga replied quietly. Shaking her head she ran through the rain towards the car, her father jumping out as she appeared in the dark, running around to hug her so hard she could hear the armor she’d almost forgotten she was wearing creak under the strain.

“Thank god, Taylor,” he said, sounding very stressed and very relieved. “I’ve been so worried. No one knew where you were, the police said you’d probably run away, the school didn’t know anything...” He shook his head, his eyes wide behind his own glasses.

A puzzled expression crossed his face. Pulling back a little he looked her up and down. “What on earth are you wearing?” he asked.

Taylor half-smiled. “It’s part of the weird story I need to tell you,” she said, wiping water from her face with one hand. “Let’s get in the car. It’s kind of wet.”

Almost laughing, he reluctantly released his daughter, then opened the passenger door for her. She slid in, arranging her tail as best she could to allow her to sit, finding it difficult but possible with care. Putting on the seat belt she waited as he got in the other side, taking his glasses off and cleaning the rain off before replacing them and looking at her in the light of the interior lamp. “Where are your glasses?” he suddenly asked, looking both worried and curious.

“That’s not important, Dad,” she said honestly. “Let’s go home and I can tell you what happened.”

“Tell me now,” he requested.

“If I do you’ll be so angry you might have an accident,” she replied firmly. He looked unconvinced, but she folded her arms and waited. Eventually, with a sigh, he shook his head and started the car, pulling his belt over his shoulder with one hand as he put the vehicle in drive with the other.

“You remind me of your mother so much sometimes,” he grunted, sounding aggrieved yet also slightly amused. She smiled a little, saying nothing as he drove out of the car park onto the road and indicated left, soon heading home.

“It better be a damn good story,” he said half-way there.

She sighed a little. “It’s not good at all,” she told him, not looking at him. “But it’s a long one.” Both of them fell silent again for the remainder of the journey.

Chapter Text

Once the front door was closed behind them, she fell into his arms, bursting into tears. He held her tightly with a lost expression on his face. “God, Dad, I should have told you a long time ago,” she sobbed, letting the tight control over her emotions she’d somehow maintained since she found herself lying on the floor relax. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

He patted her back slightly helplessly. “It can’t be that bad, Taylor,” he tried. She shook her head where it was pressed into his chest.

“It’s worse than whatever you’re thinking,” she mumbled, sniffing hard. Eventually she recovered enough to look at his face. “You’re going to hate me.”

“I could never hate you, dear,” he smiled. “Come on, sit down, and tell me what’s going on.” She could see in his eyes he was worried but putting on a brave face for her. There was more animation and engagement in his face than she’d seen for years.

How did we let it get so bad between us?’ she wondered tiredly. Following as he led the way into the living room, she sat on the sofa, still wrapped in the blue cloak she was wearing, moving her tail around until she was more or less comfortable. ‘This thing is a pain in the ass,’ she thought with irritation. ‘Literally.’

Danny watched her, obviously puzzled not only about the presence of the cloak, but why she was clutching it so tightly, but said nothing, instead disappearing into the kitchen. She heard the sound of the kettle boiling a few minutes later, her father finally reappearing with a tray on which were two mugs, which her nose told her had hot chocolate in. He handed her one which she took with a trembling hand.

Sitting opposite her in his favorite chair, he studied her as she sipped the drink a couple of times. His eyes were troubled but there was resolve there, a look she hadn’t seen directed her way for longer than she liked to consider. “Tell me,” he finally said, taking a drink from his own mug, before putting it on the coffee table.

She was silent for a little while, trying to work out how to start, and having a lot of difficulty overcoming the reserve over the entire matter that close to two years of bullying had enforced. Eventually she sighed. “You remember when I came back from Nature Camp a couple of years ago?”

He nodded silently.

“It all went wrong then. I still don’t know why, but it’s been getting steadily worse for months and months. Tonight was... tonight was the worst yet.” She looked up from where she was studying her mug. “Dad, I can’t go back there.”

“To school?” he asked.

She nodded. “Not to Winslow. Never again. I’m never going to walk through those doors again.”

Taking a deep breath, she started talking. She told him everything. About Emma, her former best friend, now someone who seemed to delight in torturing her. About Sophia, the school track star who seemed unable to do wrong in the eyes of the school. About Madison, the simpering little follower who took every opportunity to cause her pain.

She noticed early on that his grip on the arms of the chair was so hard that his fingers were going white and she could hear a creaking sound. His face had paled in the depths of a profound anger, not aimed at her, but at people who should have stopped all this. He said nothing, simply listened with his full attention.

Taylor kept talking in a low voice, finally reaching the events that had left her locked knee-deep in a biohazard-filled locker in an empty school. If anything he went even paler. She could hear his teeth grinding together.

As she was describing in halting words how she had tried to escape, banging and calling for help, he held up a trembling hand. “Excuse me for a moment,” he said in a quiet, dangerous voice. She watched as he stood, went into the hall, then opened the door to the basement. He disappeared through it, closing it softly behind him. There was a long pause.

“GODDAM FUCKING VICIOUS FUCKING BASTARDS, I’M GOING TO KILL THEM ALL!” The roar of sheer fury from beneath the floor made her jump. Wood splintered as something was either hit or kicked. The swearing continued at a lower volume for some time, until it finally fell silent. Another long pause and the door opened again, Danny reappearing and taking his seat again, rubbing his right hand which was looking a little the worse for wear. “I’m sorry, Taylor. Please go on.”

Staring at him with wide eyes, she finally shook her head a little and continued her story. “It gets kind of weird for the next part,” she said softly. He looked at her curiously and made a motion to continue. With a deep breath, she did so. Her father listened without comment until she stopped talking nearly a quarter of an hour later.

They looked at each other for some time when she eventually finished. When he said nothing, she reached out with the hand that wasn’t still holding the now cold mug, dropping the section of door she had brought with her onto the coffee table with a clunk. “We need to get rid of this,” she told him. He stared, then reached out and retrieved it, inspecting the dented doorknob with raised eyebrows.

“You did this with your bare hands?” he asked with impressed astonishment.

Taylor nodded. “Yes. It wasn’t too hard either.” After a moment, she put the empty mug down, sighed a little, then stood, letting go of the cloak and showing him what she looked like without it. He stared again. Turning a little she waved her tail at him. “And, of course, I have this thing now.” Embarrassed she looked at the floor.

A few seconds later, he stood, approached her, then held her again. “It doesn’t matter. You’re still my daughter, tail or no tail.”

Sniffing again as more tears threatened to make an appearance, she smiled. “Thanks, Dad.”

“So you’re a cape, now?” he asked, sounding worried.

She shrugged helplessly. “Yes? I think? But I’m not sure I’m a normal one.” As he released her and stepped back, she began pacing up and down the living room, not really noticing how she managed to turn without her tail hitting anything, although Danny did with interest. “I mean, from what Varga says, the whole thing is kind of strange. He comes from a completely different world, for a start. I doubt very much that normal capes get their powers from a huge alien whatever!” She smiled as he nodded thoughtfully.

“I sort of learned some of the history of the last Brain, in a kind of dream, or more like a vision, I guess. That girl, she was a princess of a small kingdom somewhere on whatever world she lived on. This is the sort of thing she wore.” Taylor gestured down at the armored outfit she was wearing. “It’s embarrassing but at least it doesn’t interfere with my tail.”

Her father studied her again. He smiled a little. “To be honest, Taylor, it actually looks pretty good on you.” Stopping in surprise she stared at him.

“Really?”

“Really. Your mother would have liked it, I think.”

After a few seconds, she shook her head and resumed pacing. “When that thing, whatever it was, asked me if I was seeking power, maybe I should have said no. This is going to change my life, and yours, a hell of a lot, whatever else happens.”

“If you had turned it down, what would have happened?” he asked.

She stopped again, turning to him, then thought. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted in a small voice.

“Is it possible that you would have found yourself back in that damn locker?”

There was a long pause as her face fell. “I guess so.”

They looked at each other. “I think you made the right choice. Maybe it's selfish of me, but I don't want to lose you, so...” Danny smiled at his daughter. “You're alive and well. Everything else we can deal with.”

Sighing, Taylor sat again, muttering to herself in annoyance as she wriggled around to free her tail from under her. “This thing is in the way so much,” she grumbled. Both of them contemplated the tip of it where she laid it across her feet.

“You're sure that… Varga? can't do anything about it?”

She shook her head. “He says that I'm stuck with it. This is as close to normal as I can get, from what he tells me.”

Leaning back in his chair her father considered the problem for a while. Eventually he said, “It's too late for me to be able to think properly. OK. This is what we're going to do. You are going to go to bed, and sleep as long as you need to. I am going to do the same. In the morning, I'll call the police and let them know you turned up, then call the school and tell them that I'm pulling you out of it. You're right, there's no way you can go back. Even without that tail, I wouldn't let you, not with what you've told me. Then, we're going to work out what we do next.”

Taylor closed her eyes for a moment in relief. He accepted her changes and seemed all right with them and was going to help. It was a far better outcome than she'd expected. Looking at him again she felt like she was seeing the father she remembered from years ago, the decisive one from before her mother died. “Thanks, Dad.”

“One more thing, while I think of it,” he added after a moment. “You said you have evidence of what has been going on?”

She nodded. “Logs of what they did and when they did it, printouts of emails, everything I could think of, I kept.”

“Good. I'll want to see that before we take this any further.”

“But what can we do?” she asked in despair. “No one has ever paid any attention to me before, even when it happened. And look at me.” She waved a hand over herself. “Leaving aside the obvious, there isn't a mark on me. No evidence that anything happened, aside from that locker full of crap. Which I'm probably going to get blamed for in the first place, assuming that they don’t just clean it up then deny everything.”

He frowned a little, thinking. “It's difficult, I'll admit, but...” Trailing off he pondered the issue. “Don't worry too much right now.” Moving to sit beside her on the sofa he put his arm around her shoulders. “I'm so relieved you're all right, Taylor,” he said softly, holding her tightly. “When you didn't come home… I thought I was going to lose my mind.”

“I'm sorry, Dad. I wish I'd told you a long time ago.” She stared at the floor. “But I was embarrassed by it, at first. I should have been able to handle it. And the longer I went without saying anything, the harder it got to talk about it.”

He sighed, nodding. “I do understand, believe me. I didn't help, either. I know we haven't been as close since your mother died, we've drifted apart. I'm so sorry for that. If I'd paid more attention...” Shaking his head slowly, he sighed again faintly in sorrow. “I promise that changes here and now. You're the most important person in my life and I should show it more.”

Squeezing her, he smiled at her. “We'll work it out, somehow. The important thing is that you're OK. Go to bed and try to sleep.”

He watched as she smiled at him, then got up and headed up to her bedroom.

“God, Annette, I wish you were here,” he muttered as he picked up the empty mugs and took them into the kitchen, putting them in the sink. “You were so much smarter than me. Maybe you could see how to make all this work.”

After a moment's regretful remembrance, he headed up the stairs, turning out the light on the way.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

In her room, Taylor looked out the window for a while, without turning the light on. She was still amazed by the way everything was as clearly visible as if it was daylight even though she could still easily make out the stars where the clouds were clearing after the earlier rain. More stars than she'd ever seen, in fact, and she found it interesting that they seemed to all be different colors now rather than the normal blue-white they'd looked the rest of her life. Staring up for a few minutes, she blinked at a couple of meteors flashing past, not having ever seen anything like that before, before she pulled the curtains closed and turned to her bed.

Walking across the room she stood in front of the mirror on her closet door, inspecting herself, then fumbled with the unfamiliar fastenings on the armor she was wearing, before sighing in realization. 'Varga, can you get rid of this for me, please?' she requested silently. There was a similar peculiar flickering effect to the one that had accompanied the appearance of the clothing in the locker room and it all disappeared once more, leaving her naked again. 'Thanks.'

You're welcome, Brain,” the silent voice of the entity she was apparently irrevocably joined with sounded in her mind.

'Are you and I really stuck with each other forever?' she asked after a moment.

The merger will only end with your death,” the Varga told her. “Something that will be quite difficult to arrange, now, as the merger makes you very hard to kill indeed. Not impossible, though, I would advise keeping that in mind. But my last Brain lived for a long time and survived many things that would kill a normal human instantly.

“Do you miss her?” Taylor asked out loud in a low voice. The Varga was silent for some time.

Yes, I do,” it finally confirmed quietly. “She was a good Brain and a good friend. But she lived a remarkably long and happy life, on the whole, so I think she found the arrangement satisfactory.

Taylor was quiet for a little while, as was the Varga. Eventually she shook her head tiredly. “Dad’s right, I need some sleep before I can try to make any sense of this.” Looking down at herself then at her pajamas which were folded on the bed, she shook her head for a moment. Pulling on the top, she held up the bottoms and inspected them. “Hey, can you make something like this which will fit me?” she asked curiously.

Yes, Brain,” the Varga replied, the by-now familiar sparkle surrounding her legs for a fraction of a second. She lifted a leg and studied the cloth covering it with impressed approval. Looking behind herself she saw there was a short sleeve covering the base of her tail and allowing it to protrude.

Satisfied for the moment, suddenly exhausted as everything caught up at once, Taylor yawned widely, then turned to her bed, climbing under the covers and arranging herself with a little more effort than normal due to her new limb, before quickly dropping off to sleep.

She dreamed of blonde princesses, giant lizards, and annoying wizards which both the princesses and the lizards enjoyed stepping on, repeatedly.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sure thing, Danny, take as long as you need. We can fill in here for you, there's nothing serious happening at the moment anyway. Say hi to Taylor for me, will you?

“Thanks, Kurt, and I will do,” Danny said, smiling, then said his goodbyes to his old friend and colleague, putting the phone down. It was half past six in the morning, a little earlier than his normal time to rise and go to work. He turned at the sound of a series of thumps followed by a loud clunk and some muttering, going into the hallway to see his pajama-clad daughter lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs looking irritated and slightly pained, tangled up in herself in an amusing way. Leaning on the doorway he raised an eyebrow.

“Are you all right, Taylor?” he asked, trying not to laugh as she straightened herself out and climbed to her feet.

She sighed, nodding. “Yes, Dad.” Rubbing her elbow she muttered something rude.

“What happened?”

The girl gave him an embarrassed look. “I tripped over my tail,” she grumbled. He started laughing. “It's not funny!” she exclaimed, hands on hips and giving him a look that was pure Annette, which made him laugh harder. “This thing is a nuisance like you wouldn't believe. I keep forgetting it's there and then things go weird.” Bringing the end of it around into her view she scowled at the appendage which was protruding through an apparently tailored opening in her night clothes, which Danny guessed had been provided by the Varga in the same manner as the armor she'd been wearing when he picked her up had.

“You were handling it OK last night,” he remarked as he turned back into the kitchen, his daughter following him and still scowling a little.

“I know, it's strange, but at the time it hadn't really sunk in, I think,” she sighed as she watched him prepare breakfast for both of them. “Now half the time I don't remember it's there until I knock something over and the other half the time I can't stop noticing it.” After a moment, she smiled a little. “Although I did work out one thing it's good for.”

“Which is?” he asked over his shoulder. She grinned, then arranged the muscular tail on the floor behind herself, leaning back until she was propped up by it in a somewhat strange-looking position, like someone sitting on an invisible chair.

“Tada! No chair needed, see?” She waved her hands around, laughing a little. He snickered, going back to the omelet he was cooking.

“I'm sure that's a real benefit most capes will never enjoy,” he commented, making her laugh again.

“Maybe.”

Flipping the omelet onto a plate he handed it to her, then poured some more egg mix into the frying pan to begin one for himself. She accepted the plate and moved to the table, looking at the chair there for a moment before shrugging, moving it to the side, then sitting on her own tail again. He watched for a second or two, smiled, then diced some ham into the pan.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked as he put his own food on another plate then joined her at the table, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot he'd prepared before making the phone call.

Taylor chewed silently for a few seconds, apparently considering the question carefully. Finally she replied, “Confused. Angry, too, and sort of… resigned, maybe?” She thought some more, then added quietly, “Relieved, as well. About the fact that I can talk to you about this, I mean.” She looked at him, then dropped her eyes. “I shouldn't have hidden it for so long.”

Reaching across the table he squeezed her hand for a moment. “I wish you'd told me earlier but I do actually understand why you didn't,” he said gently. “Believe me, I do. Embarrassment is a powerful motive. And I know I haven't been the easiest person to live with since...” They both fell silent, remembering.

Eventually he shook himself, going back to eating. “Never mind. That's in the past. Right now, we have to think of the future. I've arranged to take a few days off, I'm owed a fair bit of holiday time aside from anything else. We need to work out what our next step is.”

Pointing at her with a fork, he ticked several things off an invisible list. “You need to finish your schooling, that's one thing. But you're not doing it at Winslow. We need to figure out more about your abilities and work out what you're going to do with them, that's another thing. And, of course, we need to work out what to to about those three horrible girls, the staff who are complicit in their actions, and anyone else who might have been able to stop it but didn't.”

Taylor nodded silently, finishing her breakfast. He pondered the matter while he did likewise. Eventually, when they both finished, the table was cleared and the pair went into the living room, Danny with another cup of coffee and his daughter sipping a glass of orange juice.

“OK.” Danny sat in his favorite chair, studying Taylor who was standing looking out the window with a faraway look on her face. “First, can you get me the evidence you have about all of this? I need to look at it before we can do anything else.” She blinked a little then nodded, padding out of the room and going upstairs. He sipped his coffee while he waited for her to return and thought hard thoughts. ‘No one gets away with doing this to my daughter,’ he mused, gripping his mug nearly hard enough to break it.

Chapter Text

Piling her notebooks into a neat stack next to where she was kneeling down, Taylor closed the closet door, having replaced the loose floorboard in the bottom of it where she’d hidden them. Flipping through the top one for a moment she looked at the entries in it, then at the printouts of various emails she’d received which were tucked into it. Sighing she stood up, before remembering something. Looking around she found the memory card on her desk where she’d dropped it the night before. She added it to the pile, then headed back downstairs.

“This is all of it, Dad,” she said, putting the stack of paperwork on the coffee table next to his chair. He stared, then looked at her face.

“Good grief,” he mumbled. “All of that?”

“Yep. Emails, notes I wrote when I got home every day, all of it. And this.” She held up the memory card, explaining what she’d done the night before.

“Very clever, Taylor,” he smiled. “That was good thinking.”

“I just thought that they might erase all the evidence and then we'd have absolutely nothing, since I don't have any injuries,” she shrugged. “I remembered an episode of 'CSI', then thought of the camera. At least we have proof of what happened. I even made sure to take some close up pictures of my...” She swallowed at the memory and tried again. “...My bloody handprints. On the inside of the locker. I bet my fingerprints are readable from the photos.”

As she talked she felt tears come to her eyes again when it brought the previous night back to her in a rush. Jumping to his feet Danny hugged her. “Sorry, Dad. I thought I was keeping to together but every time I remember...” Taylor smiled a little at him. Reaching out he wiped the tears from one eye.

“Don’t worry, Taylor. Frankly, I’m amazed that you’re not hiding under your bedclothes and shaking.” He half-grinned, half-grimaced. “I probably would have been under the same circumstances. You’re a much stronger person than you think you are. That experience was enough to break almost anyone.”

“I think the Varga did something to make me calmer than I would normally be,” she admitted. “I was a wreck when I finally passed out. Since I woke up, though, I can look back on it without as much trouble as I probably should have, but even so I don’t like thinking about it.”

“Fixing your emotional damage was as important as fixing the physical damage, Brain,” the Varga told her, unprompted. “Not all of the damage could be removed but the worst of it should be better now. It will improve with time.”

She nodded, smiling slightly, then passed on the information.

“Thank him for me, will you?” Danny said, looking relieved.

She nodded, then grinned a little at the response from the Varga. “The voice in my head says you’re welcome.”

Releasing her he sat again, while she lay down on the sofa, staring at the ceiling. “Let me look through this, all right?”

“OK, Dad,” she replied, closing her eyes while listening to him turn pages. She could hear intermittent faint growls of anger and something that sounded a lot like teeth grinding, but didn’t look.

Silently, she asked her head-companion, ‘Is there any way to remove this tail? It’s going to make hiding what I am impossible and I’m worried that it will put Dad at risk too.’

I’m sorry, Brain,” the Varga replied after a moment, sounding genuinely remorseful. “But as I said the first time, your current form is now your normal one. I know of no way to remove it.” It fell silent for a few seconds, before continuing slowly, “However...

However?’ she prompted curiously, when it went quiet again.

There may be a way to conceal your current form,” it finally responded. “If I can remember how it works. The magic is fairly simple but not the sort I normally use. It was three Brains ago, but there was a technique we encountered...” Once again it stopped talking, giving the impression of thinking hard.

A noise from her father made her turn her head and look at him, to see him staring at one page of her notes with a pale face and his hands shaking with rage. “Dad?” she asked tentatively, worried.

“Annette’s flute?” he asked in a level tone, obviously only possible due to extreme self control. She winced, flushing with anger herself.

“Yes. Sorry, Dad. I shouldn’t have taken it to school.” Taylor was embarrassed, furious with both herself and The Bitches Three, and worried that her father would over-react to the loss of one of the most treasured mementos of their lost mother and wife.

He looked at her for a few seconds until he sighed heavily, leaning his head back in his chair for a while. “I… am not happy about that,” he eventually said. “I don’t blame you, though, so don’t worry.”

After a little time spent staring at the ceiling he resumed reading the documents, finishing nearly half an hour later. Closing the last notebook he put it on the pile of similar ones next to him on the table, he shook his head in mystified anger. “What the hell is the school thinking, allowing all this to happen to a student they’re responsible for? It’s a total abdication of their duty.”

Taylor, still lying on the sofa, shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea. I’m certain that at least some of the teachers know it was happening. I mean, I’ve seen them watch Emma and Sophia do something horrible, then just turn around and walk away. I can almost understand the students, Sophia is a terrible violent bitch that no one with a brain wants to mess with if they can avoid it, but the teachers…?”

“You reported it, though, right?”

“At first,” she nodded, rubbing her forehead. “Every time I did, the bitches stepped up their retaliation, and the teachers did nothing, so in the end I gave up. It was easier and safer.” Sighing, she looked at her father again, who was watching her with a gaze mixing anger and sympathy. “I hoped that one day they’d get bored and move on or something, I guess. But they never did. And anyway, who was going to listen to me? One ugly unpopular girl up against the track star, the beautiful popular rich girl, and the nearly as popular cute one?” She emitted a nasty half-laugh.

“I mean, I’ve seen that TV show. It never ends well for the ugly one. Either something terrible happens to them, or they snap, start killing everyone, and then something terrible happens to them.” Draping one arm over her eye she tried to hold off the wave of sadness, anger, and fear that remembering the last year or more produced.

There was silence for a moment then she heard steps cross the room, and felt a gentle hand rest on her head. She moved her arm a little to see her father looking down at her. “Taylor, don’t ever think you’re ugly. Trust me, you’re not.” She raised a skeptical eyebrow making him smile. “OK, Emma is more… developed… than you are, but think about Annette for a moment. When she was your age she was a tall skinny slightly ungainly young woman, right up until she wasn’t. People don’t mature at the same rate. You’re a pretty girl and I think in the long run you’ll be a beautiful one.”

“You have to say that, you’re my Dad,” she sniffed, feeling tears threaten to come on, this time not quite from sadness.

He grinned. “True. Did it work?”

Despite herself she grinned back, moving her arm away from her face. “Kind of. Thanks.” After a few seconds, she asked a little tentatively, “Do you really think I’m pretty?”

“Of course, especially when you’re happy,” he assured her. “That said, remember looks aren't everything, it's more the person inside that counts in the long run. Though if you don't believe me you should look through some of your mom’s old yearbooks if you want proof. You look remarkably like her at the same age, although she didn’t wear glasses.”

“I don’t need them, now,” she replied. Smiling a little, she added, “One of the good things that came of all this crap.” Shaking her head a bit she sat up on the sofa, arranging her tail without thinking much about it. “What are we going to do now, though?”

Getting up he went to the phone. “First step, I’ll call the police and let them know you’re safe. Better to do that now. Then we can work out what the next step is.” Dialing, he waited, then said, “Officer Michelson, please. It’s Danny Hebert.”

She listened quietly as he had a short conversation with whoever Officer Michelson was, before putting the phone down again and turning to her. “OK. They're not looking for you any more. As you heard I just told them that some bullies upset you so much you didn't come home until you calmed down. Sorry, I know it's not true, but it was the quickest way to get them to stop looking while still leaving a possible opening later.”

“I don't mind, Dad,” she replied quietly.

“All right, that's that done. Now, the next problem is the school. Hmm… Let's see.”

Pacing back and forth in the middle of the room, Danny thought, while Taylor watched him. Once or twice he stopped, then shook his head and resumed pacing. She was familiar with this behavior, he'd always claimed it helped him think, although it had driven her mother nuts. Smiling a little to herself she waited.

Ah. I remember,” the Varga suddenly said, making her twitch a little.

'Remember what?' she asked silently, not wanting to bother her father while he thought.

The technique I was thinking about. The Assassin's Cloak. I believe with some modifications it may prove useful.

'What does it do?' Taylor was intrigued.

It's meant to be a form of perceptual illusion, originally intended as an assassination aid. But I think I can modify it to hide your tail.” She raised an eyebrow as it spoke. “Note that this doesn't actually mean it's not there, merely that most people, hopefully everyone, would be unable to perceive it in any meaningful way. The way it works would cause it to be essentially invisible and to make anyone who noticed it indirectly, for instance if you hit a chair with it, to either ignore it completely or come up with some rationalization for the effect they noticed. It was very effective for the original users, they completed a large number of kills with the victim never knowing they were there until it was far too late.

'That's… kind of creepy,' she replied with a shiver. There was the mental equivalent of a shrug.

Assassination was a common tool among the humans on my original world. I would be surprised to find it is any different on this one. It is, after all, a very effective solution to certain classes of problem if done correctly.

'Still, it's not a nice thing to think about.' She pondered the idea for a moment then shivered, dismissing it. 'Will this magic work on cameras? There are a lot of them around, unlike in your world as far as I can tell from what I've learned.'

The Varga was silent for a second or two. “That… is a good question. I'm not sure. I think it will work but without testing it there's no way to be certain. However, with a few more modifications to the spell...” He trailed off thoughtfully. Taylor waited, watching her father pace back and forth having some sort of internal dialogue judging by his expression, until her invisible compatriot seemed to come back to her. “I believe this modification will work against any form of mechanical vision. We will need to test it to be completely certain though. Until we can do that I would suggest staying out of areas you know have any form of machines watching them.

'That's going to limit it,' she sighed mentally. 'Everywhere has cameras these days. But let's try it.'

I will apply the spell and we can see what happens,” the Varga told her. “You will probably sense something a little unusual, don't worry about it. With time I expect you will be able to develop a certain proficiency with magic yourself, or at least my form of it, but for the moment I will handle that side of things.

Nodding, she waited, until there was an odd, not-quite-tingling sensation that seemed to begin right in the center of her head and radiate outwards, ending up running down her spine to the end of her tail. “That's… weird”, she mumbled out loud, causing Danny to stop pacing and look quizzically at her.

“What's weird, Taylor?” he asked curiously. She shrugged, not sure how to explain it. Suddenly, his eyes widened, as he looked more carefully at her.

“Haaang on,” he said very slowly, looking her up and down. “Something's… different.”

With a smile she stood up, still watching him. He studied her for several seconds. “What's different, Dad?” She turned on the spot, ending up back facing him.

Danny's face went through a number of interesting expressions, ending up very thoughtful with a slight wince. Raising his hand he rubbed his forehead a bit, turning his head to stare at her out of the corner of his eye. “Tail,” he finally said. “You have a tail, but I can't see it properly any more. What happened? It's like something is trying to make me forget about it.” He blinked furiously and rubbed his eyes, then stared some more. “When I look right at you I can't see it at all but I get hints out of the corner of my eye if I look somewhere else.”

Grinning, she laughed delightedly. “It works! Wow, Varga, that's incredible.”

Squinting now, her father was beginning to look like he was developing a migraine. “What did it do?”

“He, Dad. And he made a sort of magic to hide my tail.” Taylor was both impressed and pleased, although a little concerned about the way it seemed to be affecting her father. “Hey, Varga, why is Dad having so much trouble? Is everyone going to react like that?” She spoke out loud for the benefit of Danny.

Your father already knows about your tail and the magic is conflicting with that pre-existing knowledge, Brain. It won't have the same effect on people who don't already know about it. His reaction does prove it works, though.” Taylor passed the answer on to her father who had looked away and was now massaging his forehead with his eyes shut.

“Can he make it not hurt so much, please?” Danny requested in a pained voice.

I'll modify the spell to exclude your father.” Responding to her father's question without being asked, the Varga's voice sounded amused. “There. That should fix the problem.

“Try looking again, Dad,” she suggested. “He says he's fixed it.” Danny, slightly reluctantly, did so then sighed in relief.

“That was… unnerving,” he slowly said. “My mind was sure there was something wrong by my eyes were saying everything was fine.” Shaking his head in wonder he looked hard at her, blinked a couple of times, then nodded. “It's OK now.”

Taylor smiled, pleased.

“That was real magic, then?” he asked curiously.

“That's what he said,” she assured her father. She explained what the great creature had told her about the magic. When she was finished he stared at her with a weird smile.

“A genuine SEP field. I never thought I’d see one.”

Taylor looked confused. “SEP field?” she queried doubtfully.

Danny sighed in a good-natured way, shaking his head. “Kids these days. They haven’t read the classics.”

She put her hands on her hips and gave him a look, the tip of her tail twitching irritably. “Explain, Dad. And I’ve read a lot of classics. Ulysses, War and Peace, Anne of Green Gables, you know that. Mom was always giving me books to read.”

“Ah,” he smiled. “Those are all good books. But, they’re not The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, are they? I mean, War and Peace is a classic but it doesn’t have a lot of laughs.”

Now somewhat amused, remembering the way her parents used to argue over Danny’s love of science fiction versus Annette’s love of nineteenth century literature, she keep looking at him expectantly. Eventually he gave in, grinning a little.

“SEP. Somebody Else’s Problem. Douglas Adams came up with it for his book. The idea was it was a type of machine that would make people ignore something obvious if you made it look unusual then turned the SEP on. Everyone would assume it was something someone else should be concerned about rather than them then ignore it as a result, no matter how peculiar that made life. The example was hiding a mountain by painting it bright pink then putting an SEP field around it.”

She stared, then giggled. “That’s completely ridiculous, Dad.”

“But funny.”

Also not an entirely incorrect description of the assassin’s cloak technique, in fact,” the Varga put in, chuckling in her head, which was an odd sensation. She passed the message on which made Danny grin again.

“Anyway, whatever you call it, it could be very useful. We'll need to test it with cameras, though, or you're right, it will be of limited use in many places.” Thinking for a moment, he suggested, “Do we still have that crappy little digital snapshot camera your mother bought years back?”

After considering the question, Taylor nodded a little doubtfully. “I think it was in a box of stuff in the basement, at the back. I remember seeing it about two years ago but I haven't looked at that stuff since.”

“Go and see if you can find it and we can do a quick test,” he advised. Wincing, he added, “I need an aspirin and another cup of coffee while you do that. My head still hurts.”

With a nod she headed for the door to the basement, turning on the light and descending the stairs. It took close to half an hour but she finally emerged dusty yet triumphant, holding the latest in technology from two thousand and six, or in other words, a completely obsolete piece of junk by modern standards. Looking at it she popped open the battery compartment, shaking out four extremely dead AA cells. “Do we have any fresh batteries, Dad?” she asked as Danny came over to look at it.

“In the drawer in the kitchen, there should be a pack of them,” he replied. Shortly she was installing the new batteries. Prodding the power button made the camera beep and extend its lens with a slightly protesting whirr. “Good, it still works,” Danny smiled, taking it from her. “OK. Stand there, side on.”

Holding it up he looked at the tiny LCD screen on the back, then over the camera at her. “That's not bad at all. I can't see your tail on the display but I can with my eyes. This might actually work.” Snapping a couple of stills he looked at the results, nodding with satisfaction. “Nothing. It seems to block at least this type of technology.”

“But that thing is ancient, though. Will it work with newer cameras?” Taylor asked, peering past his shoulder at the camera display. Danny held it out a little so she could see it better.

He shrugged. “I'm not sure. I have no idea how they work in the first place. But it's good enough to let us know we have a possible solution.” Handing her the device he thought for a moment. “I can borrow a newer camera from one of the guys at work, he's into photography as a hobby. Not very good at it but he has several cameras, he's always picking them up from pawn shops.” Rubbing his chin, he added after a second or two, “And, thinking about it, I can probably get a thermal camera as well. I know there's one in the electrical department, they use it to look for hot spots in wiring.”

“That should cover most things,” she agreed.

Sitting down again, she put the camera next to her having turned it off, then asked, “This changes things, doesn’t it? I mean, if everyone could see my tail, there was no way to hide the fact that I’m a cape of some sort. But now, with any luck, it might be possible to keep it a secret. That should give more options.”

Danny resumed his seat in his chair, looking thoughtful. Eventually he nodded. “Yes, you’re right. I have to admit I was very worried about what we would do next. The obvious course of action would be going to the PRT and the Wards. But...” He trailed off, looking a little dubious.

“But?” she prompted, curious.

“But, I’m not entirely sold on that idea, I have to admit.” He sighed heavily, looking at her for a few seconds without saying anything. “I was always scared you might end up a cape. It wasn’t a very likely thing but in our world it’s obviously not impossible. I have to say that the idea terrified me. Annette and I talked about it a couple of times, years ago, trying to decide what we’d do if that ever happened.”

“Really?” she asked, surprised.

He nodded slowly. “When you’re a parent, you worry about things that might affect your child, even if they’re very unlikely. You can’t help it. Trust me, you end up with a lot of sleepless nights making contingency plans, even if you’re pretty sure that they’ll never be needed. Your mother knew a couple of capes, you know, and she looked into the whole thing quite a lot, mainly out of interest.” Shaking his head his expression became even more troubled.

“It’s not a safe lifestyle at all. New capes, especially younger ones, have an appallingly short life expectancy. Not to mention there are about three to four times as many who end up on the other side of the law than become what everyone calls heroes. From what I remember, a lot of the time that’s not from choice. Annette was pretty convinced that the PRT, or what she called the Public Relations Team, was at fault for much of that sort of thing. She didn’t trust them."

“Why not?” Taylor asked, surprised. “They’re the ones fighting the villains, aren’t they? Without them the country would be much worse than it is.”

Danny gave her a very small shrug. “That's certainly what they want you to believe and I guess it's probably true for the most part. But, when you read some of the background to the more high profile cases that have happened over the years, you can see that there's a very strong political motive in a lot of them that benefits the PRT and the Protectorate in general. Maybe I've been involved in local politics and dealing with nearly desperate people for too long and I've got cynical in my old age, but...” He sighed slightly. “Over the years I've come to the conclusion she had a point. I don't trust them completely, I have to admit. I think if it came to your well being on one hand and the PRT's reputation on the other, for an example, they'd toss you under the bus without any regret.”

He sighed a little, while Taylor listened. “OK, I know it's unlikely that something like that would come up but even so I wouldn't dive into a relationship with the Wards without being very careful about reading all the documentation first. Based on the sheer marketing around the whole thing it's pretty obvious that their motives aren't simply helping keep people safe from parahuman crime. It's murkier than that.”

After a moment, when he fell silent, she nodded. “I think I understand, Dad.” Suddenly smiling at him, she added when he looked puzzled at her abrupt good mood, “I'm still really happy that we can talk like this after so long with both of us just… existing.” Getting up and going over to him, she bent down and hugged him hard with little warning, giggling when he grunted a little, before putting his hand on her head and stroking her hair. “I'm glad you're back. I missed this Dad.”

He looked a little surprised, then regretful and guilty. “I'm sorry, Taylor. I know I've been handling things wrong for a long time, but I swear to you, from now on, my first priority is you.” Putting his arms around her he returned the hug.

Straightening up she released him, then sat down again in her previous spot. “OK, then, you're not sold on the wards. That's good, I don't really want to do that either,” she admitted. “I was thinking about it when I woke up and I just can't see myself with them. I mean, it would be nice to have friends you could depend on, and I suppose that might happen, but if it didn't? I always thought Emma was by best friend forever and look how that turned out.” She shivered as Danny watched her sympathetically. “It would be worse if it was a bunch of teenagers with superpowers. Emma and Sophia are bad enough, without that advantage.”

“You'll find new friends sooner or later,” he replied when she stopped speaking, an expression of sorrow on his face. “But one thing you have to realize, one thing that everyone finds out as they grow up, is that people change. Sometimes they can change enough that they turn on you. It's not your fault Emma has become this horrible person, you didn't cause it. You might never find out why it happened. Unfortunately all we can do is deal with it and move on.” He looked depressed again, alarming her, but seemed to deliberately pull himself out of it.

“I hope Alan isn't aware of what his daughter is doing, but even if he isn't, he'll probably take her side at least publicly. His first priority will be to family, any father would think like that.”

Taylor smirked at him, sudden good humor filling her. She'd been feeling weirdly good since she got up, partly because the presence of the Varga in her mind had somehow given a definite boost to her confidence, and partly because she suddenly seemed to have the father she remembered back again against all odds. “Will you protect me against the world, Dad?” she joked.

Inspecting her for a moment, Danny smiled back. “Of course. Although as a cape your duty will be to protect me, you realize? I'm just a poor normal person while you're the one with superpowers.”

They shared a laugh, before he got up and resumed his thinking and pacing. She relaxed on the sofa again and watched him. Eventually he stopped again, turning to her. “How much do you care about those girls getting what's coming to them?” he asked slowly. Sitting up, she stared at him, then considered the question carefully. “What I mean is, I can see two possible paths at the moment, one which gets you out of the situation, the other one does that and, hopefully, sticks it to them pretty hard. But, the problem with the second one is that you'd have to go back to school.”

At her alarmed and worried expression, he held up his hand. “No, not permanently, and I know you said you never would. I agree with that. But it would be needed for this to work.”

Taylor regarded him doubtfully for a moment then said, “You need to explain it more, Dad.”

“OK. Path one, I call the school, shout at your idiot of a principal for a while to make me feel better about it, get her to send your paperwork over, then pull you out of school. We find an alternative method of schooling for you after that. It would probably have to be home schooling at least for the rest of the year, although I'd prefer getting you into Arcadia. We might be able to use the fact that you were headed there before going to Winslow to get them to talk to us, we might not. I know a few people who might be able to help as well.”

He sat beside her on the sofa and took her hand in his. “It's not that I don't think you have the discipline and intelligence to do well at home schooling, dear, please understand that. But it's important for a teenager to have friends her own age and not end up a hermit in her room.” She stared at him, then smiled.

“I understand, Dad, I think.”

“I'm sure you do,” he grinned. “You're like your mother, much smarter than I am. Don't let it go to your head.” Giving him a deliberately smug look, she flipped her other hand dismissively.

“Tell me the other plan, servant,” she said in a superior tone, as she remembered her mother doing when she was in a particularly amused mood. Danny briefly gaped then laughed a little.

Miming tugging his non-existent forelock in a suitable submissive manner, he retorted, “As the lady wishes.” She dissolved into giggles for several seconds.

“If you're done?” Danny looked pointedly at his watch, making her stop giggling and try to look serious. She nodded for him to continue.

Smiling a little still he went on. “The problem with that approach is that we're more or less admitting defeat. Not that that's the wrong thing to do, necessarily, but in this case I have to admit it annoys me.”

“Me too,” she sighed, good humor evaporating abruptly. “I don't want to see any of them ever again but I also don't like the idea that they'll think they managed to drive me away and probably just go on to bully someone else. I mean, they tried to kill me!”

“To be fair I doubt that they were actually deliberately trying to kill you, Taylor,” he replied after a moment of reflection. “I doubt they really thought it through properly at all. Yes, locking you in like that could well have been fatal eventually but from their point of view it was probably just a particularly vicious prank. Not that that excuses it in any way at all.”

She very reluctantly conceded that he had a point, although she still felt it was more serious than the word 'prank' described. “So what's the second plan?” she asked.

“The second approach is more complicated and relies on being able to get a few things from someone I know,” he replied thoughtfully. “But, if it works, I think we might be able to wring some concessions out of the bastards and even if that part doesn't happen, we'll have enough to get the police involved properly. One way or another everyone involved would end up regretting it. The only problem is that you have to go back. Hopefully not for long.” He looked over at the pile of paperwork on the table. “Based on your notes those girls did something more or less every day, right?”

Taylor nodded sadly. “They never stop. If I get there and things seem less serious for once I know it's just because they're setting me up for a big one. The locker was like that. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop all day, since nobody did any of the normal things up to that point.” She shivered at the memory, prompting him to put his arm around her shoulders. “The waiting and knowing that something was going to happen was almost worse than what actually happened, most of the time. Not this time though. It was the worst thing I've ever even heard of.”

They were silent with their own thoughts for a while, Danny's evident on his face and based on his expression involved a certain amount of violence. She could hear grinding teeth again.

Eventually he calmed down enough to resume his explanation.

“Basically, the thing we're missing at the moment is real evidence.” She opened her mouth to object and he raised a finger, causing her to stop. Indicating the pile of paper he added, “That stuff is very useful circumstantial evidence but I think it would be considered hearsay more than anything else in court. The only direct evidence is the photos you took and all that shows really is that you were in the locker and what else was. There's no proof of who put you there. We both know who did but they could argue the point for so long they win by default. We need actual proof, ideally a confession.”

Taylor looked puzzled, glancing at the paperwork, then him. “How the hell will we get them to confess?” she demanded. “They'd have to be insane.” Thinking about what she'd said, she added morosely, “More insane than they are anyway.”

“Ah. That's where the clever part comes in,” he told her with a small grin. Explaining, he soon had her grinning as well. “Think it would work?”

“Probably.” She thought some more, then nodded. “Almost definitely. They like the sound of their own voices.”

“Can you handle going back for a day?” he asked, with concern evident in his voice. She thought, then slowly nodded.

“I think so. I have you and Varga on my side, after all. Between the three of us they don't stand a chance.”

Danny snickered at her comment.

I believe the plan your father has will work, Brain,” the deep voice of the Varga said approvingly and with a certain amount of amusement. “If it does not, we can always find these people and deal with them later.”

'We're not supposed to do things like that, Varga,' she told the demon. There was an impression of a shrug.

I would expect that physically and mentally torturing people for amusement is also one of things that is supposedly frowned on although it doesn't seem to have prevented these people from doing exactly that,” he replied offhandedly. She was forced to agree. “In any case, it is unwise to leave an enemy who has shown an ability and a willingness to kill you alive. Sooner or later they may well try again. Best to deal with the issue immediately and permanently.”

She sighed mentally, provoking a deep chuckle. 'Dad would be annoyed if I just killed anyone who got in the way. They have a word for people like that.'

Yes. Normally that word is, 'Emperor'. Or in this case, 'Empress'.” The Varga sounded very amused now. She started giggling again, causing Danny to look curiously at her.

When she calmed down she summarized the conversation with the great demon, which made him smile as well. “I don't think proclaiming yourself the Empress of Brockton Bay is a wildly good idea, Taylor,” he told her. “Neither is simply killing anyone you disapprove of. If I did that most of the local government would be six feet under by now. Leave that behavior to the villains like Kaiser and Lung.”

“Oh, all right, Dad,” she replied with mock sadness. “Seeing as it's you asking.”

“So, then. Which path? Clean break with Winslow or complicated plan?”

She had already decided. “The second one. Even if it fails, we tried. And we can always do the other one in that case, right?”

Danny nodded, smiling at her. “Right.” He glanced at his watch, which showed it was just before 8 AM, then headed for the phone. “It's about the right time. Let's get things rolling.” Looking up the relevant number, he dialed, while his daughter turned to listen and watch. “Principal Blackwell, please. This is Danny Hebert.” There was a pause. “Yes, that Hebert. Yes, Taylor is my daughter.”

A few seconds went by. “Hello, Principal Blackwell. Yes, I wanted to tell you...” Danny trailed off, listening, then his face flushed red, before paling a little in obvious anger. “Principal Blackwell. Principal Blackwell! Be quiet and listen to me,” he said in a controlled voice that radiated danger. “No, you will listen to what I have to say. If I have to come down there and tell you face to face I will do so, and I guarantee you won’t enjoy the experience.” Taylor listened wide-eyed to her father, who looked like he wanted to reach down the phone line and strangle the woman.

“I am calling to tell you that I am keeping Taylor out of your school for a week due to your total inability to control your students. She has been the victim of a serious bullying campaign that has lasted, from what she tells me, for close to two years, and last night ended up in a serious assault which could well have killed her. As a result I no longer feel that your school has her best interests at heart. She's going to be staying home until she recovers from the attack. After that, I am going to be talking to you about what you're going to do to facilitate a transfer of my daughter to a real school, or if that fails, I'm going to be talking to the police.”

He listened for a while. Taylor could hear the voice of the principal squeaking through the handset and resisted the urge to listen more carefully with her new hearing which she suspected could easily make the voice clear enough to understand. She didn’t really want to know what that woman had to say. “I see. And you feel justified in accusing my daughter of befouling her own locker with the… items… in question? I see. And then, when she had performed this disgusting act, she decided to lock herself inside with it?” His voice had gone calm and gentle, as if he was negotiating someone down off a ledge.

“You are exactly as she described,” he said after a long pause. There was a squeak from the phone that seemed to convey insulted anger. “You can take that any way you want, Principal Blackwell. Now, stop digging yourself in deeper, and listen to me. It's January seventh today. In one week, on the fourteenth, I'll be bringing Taylor to school and I will want to talk to you, so I'd suggest you put that date in your appointment book. This is not something I'm going to negotiate on. I'm in a very unforgiving mood right now.”

There was a prolonged burst of furious squeaking, during which Danny listened carefully.

“You do that. But remember one thing. I may only be a, as you so elegantly put it, ‘blue collar worker with delusions of grandeur’, but the DWU knows a lot of people in local government. Push me too hard and I may start calling in some favors which would cause you a lot of problems.”

He listened again, a small vicious smirk on his lips, as Taylor saw a side of her father she’d never suspected existed. “No, it’s not a threat, or blackmail. Just helpful advice. Don’t push me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Taylor couldn’t help snickering at the line, making him shoot her a dark grin for a moment.

“I’ll expect you'll be ready to talk next Friday, Principal Blackwell?” he asked politely, still in that hard cold voice. Whatever he heard seemed to satisfy him. “Thank you. Good bye.” Putting the phone down with gentle care he stared at it, visibly trying to relax. “God. What a bitch.”

His mild comment had her giggling for nearly a minute, while he looked a little embarrassed at his own words.

Sitting down beside her he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his side. “Taylor, I’m more sorry than I can possibly say that I didn’t do something sooner,” he finally told her, sounding sad. “I’m at least as much to blame as she is, or those horrible girls. I should have seen what was going on and stopped it.”

Sighing, she shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Dad, I was hiding it from you right from the start. I know we’ve had problems since Mom died but I should have told you even so. And what could you have done, anyway?” She looked up at him. “We don’t have the money to sue them, I know it’s really expensive for that sort of thing, and if all this has taught me anything it’s that power wins. They have it, we don’t.”

Danny looked at her, frowning slightly, then sighed as well. “That’s not a lesson you should have to learn, especially at your age, but you’re not entirely wrong. Alan is rich and I have no doubt that he could make it difficult for us if we sue. Hopefully we can come up with something more effective. I don’t want to let them all get away with it, but being realistic it’s much more important to get you out of this whole mess than get revenge. Or justice, I suppose.”

Shaking his head, he looked annoyed. “Life isn’t fair, kid, and everyone eventually finds that out. You just did it earlier than I’d like.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. After a while, Taylor stirred, glancing at Danny again. “Could you really call in favors from people?” she asked curiously, amused at the way scenes from 'The Godfather' went through her mind. He twitched, apparently lost in thought, then grinned.

“Well, possibly not like you’re probably thinking, but… I know a few cops who would likely be interested to look into the issue, it’s barely possible I could persuade the mayor to take an interest, that sort of thing. But, on the other hand, the Union has a lot of contacts with other unions. Between the plumbers, welders, carpenters, electricians, and transportation unions, I could probably cause her a hell of a lot of problems. She might find that all of a sudden none of the maintenance the school needs could be done for all sorts of reasons.” Danny looked darkly amused as Taylor laughed. “I could get her and her damn school blacklisted for months. I’ll bet that would get her attention.”

“You’re an evil man, Dad,” Taylor giggled. Her father looked proud.

“Thanks, I think.” He checked his watch again, then shook his head. “The rest of the plan will take some time to put together, but several of the people I need to talk to won't be available until later. That can wait.” The pair of them were silent for a minute or so, before he turned to her. “Well. Now, I suppose, we need to work out what we're going to do about the real issue.”

She flicked the end of her tail where it was dangling off the sofa between them, both of them looking at it.

Chapter Text

 After a few seconds, he asked, “Do you know what abilities or powers you have?”

Slightly hesitantly, she nodded a little. “Um, kind of. Apparently I'm much stronger, although I don't know how much stronger. Varga says I should also be tougher as well. Also, he said that I'll have… how did he put it… access to certain physical skills of previous brains.”

Curiously, he asked, “What sort of skills?”

Thinking back to her dreams, she slowly replied, “Swordplay, I think is one of them. Princess Luna, the last brain, was an expert swordswoman even at my age. She was also very acrobatic and good at some sort of hand to hand combat. Varga says it will take practice to get as good as she was but the basic reflexes and knowledge should be there already.”

“OK, that's pretty impressive,” he admitted with a smile. “Now all you need is a sword, of course.”

She looked at him, then turned her attention inwards. 'Can you give me a sword?' the asked the Varga.

Hold out your hand, Brain,” it said, which she did, immediately finding herself holding the hilt of a blade nearly three feet long. She recognized it as the same as the one the blonde princess had utilized, smiling a little. Danny stared at the thing with his eyebrows up.

“That's even more impressive,” he said in a low voice. Reaching out he flicked the side of the blade with a finger, making it ring. “It's real.”

“Of course it's real, Dad, it's magic. Magic wouldn't give me a fake sword, would it?” She smiled as he chuckled

“I have no idea. Can I see it?”

Nodding she carefully handed him the weapon, which he nearly dropped. “Christ, this thing is a lot heavier than it looks,” he muttered, recovering and closely inspecting the blade. “You are stronger. You made holding it look easy.”

“It doesn't feel very heavy to me,” she replied with interest, watching as he tested the blade with one finger then yelped, pulling back a digit dripping blood.

“It's incredibly sharp as well,” he commented, impressed. “I barely touched it. I wonder what it's made of?” Running his finger down the flat of the blade he looked curious. “Doesn't feel like steel, or titanium either. Mind you, it's too heavy for titanium.”

She looked at the gray metallic surface, tapping it with a finger herself. The metal was glass-smooth and almost frictionless from what she could feel. “Weird.”

“It is that, yes,” he acknowledged. Handing the blade back he watched as she hefted it easily, turning it around to admire. “That thing is more than a little lethal, though. If you hit anyone with it they're going to be missing body parts instantly. That might not be a particularly good idea except in life or death situations, which I'd hope you'll stay away from as much as you can.”

Nodding absently, Taylor experimentally poked the coffee table with the tip of the sword, then blushed when a large shaving of wood peeled away as a result. She felt no resistance at all. “Oops. Sorry, Dad.”

Danny sighed good-naturedly, shaking his head. “Perhaps you should practice somewhere with less breakable things, Taylor,” he said. “Can you, or Varga rather, make something less dangerous?”

“Like what?”

He thought for a moment, then suggested, “Perhaps a baseball bat? It's not exactly harmless but at least you're not going to be slicing and dicing people accidentally.”

Taylor nodded. It seemed a sensible idea. A quick conversation with the Varga and she was holding a metal bat, apparently made of the same material as the sword had been. The handle was almost identical to the hilt of the sword, only missing the guards. Hefting it she wiggled the end, smiling, then handed it to her father when he held out his hand.

Again, he came close to dropping it, grunting with effort and using both hands. “This must be solid metal,” he muttered. “Normal aluminum ones are hollow. You'd never be able to actually use it for baseball, it would be impossible to swing.” Standing and carefully swinging the thing around, he shook his head and handed it back. “Still too dangerous. If you hit anyone with that even with normal strength you'll break bones for sure, and if you really are much stronger you'd kill them on the spot. How about something like a police baton? Lighter, which would make it less lethal.”

After a brief discussion with the Varga about the form of the proposed baton, she hefted the resulting weapon with a smile, inspecting it. Danny took it from her and looked it over curiously. “Still pretty heavy for its size but much better. I wonder how strong it is?” He tried bending the thing without any effect at all.

I used a very strong material for it,” the Varga said with amusement as he watched Danny's efforts through her eyes. “It won't break, trust me. I learned that lesson with the previous brain, she lost a sword that I gave her which was made out of a very good steel but came up against a much heavier weapon. From that point on I used the good stuff. It's more effort to make but it's worth that effort.” Taylor nodded, smiling at his comments and watching her father still trying to bend the half-inch diameter baton. Eventually he gave up, slightly red faced.

“That's not bad,” he admitted, returning it to her. They both watched as it vanished into a very brief cloud of sparkles when she told the Varga she didn't need it any more. “So in addition to being stronger and tougher, and probably faster as well, you have combat skills, hand to hand skills, and the ability to make unbreakable weapons, edged or otherwise.” He thought for a moment, then added, “And that Assassin's Cloak magic as well, which I guess could hide you completely?” She checked with the Varga.

“Yes, he says that's easy. It's what it was intended for in the first place.”

“Even just that is a pretty effective power set, I'd think,” her father told her. “What else?”

“It's more than just weapons, Varga can make pretty much anything needed,” she told him, causing him to raise his eyebrows. “He said not complicated machines without knowing how they work but he's not limited to just swords and batons.”

“How about handcuffs?” Danny inquired, looking fascinated.

'Can you make handcuffs?' she asked the Varga, who gave her the audible equivalent of a long-suffering look.

“Certainly I can,” he said calmly. “Although if you want to restrain someone it would be just as easy to produce restraints tailored specifically to the situation and the person. From what I know of your world many of these 'Parahumans' are, like you, much stronger than normal humans. Even the material used in the swords might not be sufficient in the form of handcuffs as are used by your police. I can provide something much stronger.”

She expectantly held out her hands, suddenly finding herself holding a set of heavy manacles with flexible cables nearly half an inch thick linking them together. Danny stared in amazement. “That would do it,” he said after a moment. Picking one of the manacles up he inspected it. “Overkill for most people though.”

"Varga said they'd hold someone much stronger than normal,” she informed him, causing him to nod thoughtfully.

“Interesting. Good idea as well.” Handing it back he watched as once again it evaporated. “That's really amazing to watch. OK, so as far as equipment goes you're pretty much self sufficient. A bit like Miss Militia although not restricted to guns.” After a moment, with a slightly worried expression, he asked, “Can he make guns?”

She checked.

“He says probably but he's never tried. Guns were very uncommon on his world and really primitive by our standards, something like old muskets, I think?”

Danny nodded again. “OK. That's enough of that for the moment although I'd love to find out how strong that metal really is sometime. So what else can you do?”

“Well, my senses are much stronger now,” she said thoughtfully. “Varga says his own senses are vastly better but in human form I can't use them nearly as well, although I've noticed they're really good. I can smell everything, for example. You wouldn't believe how many smells there are than normal people just don't notice at all.”

“Isn't that kind of horrible?” he asked, looking worried.

She shrugged. “You'd think it would be but to be honest it seems fine to me. Yes, some smells are really bad, but not as many as you'd expect. Mostly it's interesting. I think he's filtering it somehow so it doesn't cause problems.”

“Is your hearing and sight also better like that?” Danny asked curiously. She nodded.

“My sight is perfect now, I can read the smallest writing on the spines of the books over there,” she replied, indicating the bookshelf on the far wall with a finger, some twenty feet away. “He says there are also special vision modes but I haven't tried them yet.”

“Like what?”

She blinked furiously as the world suddenly changed. “Hey, what happened?” she yelped.

Your father wished to know what alternate vision modes are available in your human form,” the amused voice of the Varga told her, chuckling. “So I am demonstrating so that you can tell him first hand.

“Thanks for the warning you idiot lizard,” she muttered, provoking a laugh from her head companion. Holding a hand up she flexed it, staring in bemused interest.

“What did he do?” Danny asked, having worked out from context that the Varga had done something.

“He turned on some sort of heat vision, I think,” she replied absently, looking around in fascinated awe. “Everything is… glowing. Sort of. Not really… I can't explain it properly.” Looking at the glowing blob of her father, she stared as he got up, leaving a visible afterimage in the chair. As he walked across the floor she could see he was leaving footprints behind that slowly faded away. “Wow.”

Peering around the room she could make out glowing lines in the walls as well, although the glow was different from what seemed to be heat. After a moment's thought she realized what it was. “And I can see electricity I think.” Getting up she walked over to the wall and ran her finger down it. “Is there a wire here?”

Danny thought, then replied, “Probably. That's directly in line with the wall switch there, the wires must go into the fuse box in the basement from there.”

“This is really weird, but sort of fun,” Taylor giggled, wandering around inspecting everything like she'd never seen it before.

The enhanced vision is limited in this form, Brain,” the Varga rumbled sounding pleased. “It can be better.

“This is still incredible,” she admitted. Looking at the front wall, beside the window, she noticed she could see hot spots moving around somewhere outside. A little thought showed her they were probably cars. Even a couple of pedestrians walking along the sidewalk were barely visible. “I can see right through the wall of the house in a way,” she said, turning to Danny, who was watching her closely. “It's sort of… low resolution, like computer graphics compared to real life, but it's still usable.”

Snapping her fingers as she remembered what it reminded her of, she added, “You remember that movie 'Predator'?” The glowing figure of her father nodded. “It's kind of like that. Not the colors, that part is wrong, but the effect is a lot like it. Hot things are standing out like crazy against the background and anything with power in it is also visible.”

She pointed. “That's where the fridge is on the other side of the wall, I can see something that must be the motor running. And there's a square hot area above it, which must be that radiator thing on the back of it.”

“Not bad,” he said, sounding quite impressed. “I can see where that could be useful. Anything else?”

Standing close to him she studied his face, noticing with interest the patterns the blood vessels made under the skin. At close range she fancied she could even see something that she suspected was electricity in his brain, remembering something she'd read about how nerves worked. It was overwhelmed by the thermal glow more than a few feet away. “I can also hear incredibly well but I seem to be able to control it,” she told him. Tilting her head to the side she listened carefully, deliberately allowing herself to hear more than she'd permitted earlier. The world got louder, and very complicated from an auditory viewpoint, making her wince a little until she got used to it.

“Let's see… Mr Atkinson across the street is watching the news on Channel 9. They're doing the local crime statistics at the moment. The people two doors to the left are arguing about buying a new car. Those people on the other side three doors up who moved in before Christmas are...” She went bright red and suddenly stopped concentrating on listening.

“Are…?”

“Are doing something I'm too young to talk about and definitely too young to talk about with my father,” she muttered, provoking a snort of laughter from Danny when he worked it out.

“That right there is why eavesdropping can be a bad idea,” he pointed out with a smile, making her glare at him.

'Turn the heat vision off, will you please, Varga?' she requested silently, finding it a little disorientating. She was going to have to practice with these new senses a lot before they were second nature. The odd effect vanished and she was back to looking at her father normally, seeing he was still somewhat amused.

“That was embarrassing,” she mumbled, still slightly red faced.

After a second or two, clearly biting his lip to stop laughing, Danny replied, “We can add super senses to the list. You're building up quite a repertoire here, Taylor.”

You have many options for combat,” the Varga put in, apparently pleased. “To strike fear into the hearts of your enemies and protect your people.” She sighed a little, but admitted to herself that the comment made her feel happier.

“I'm scared, Dad,” she finally admitted, making him stop in his track where he was heading into the kitchen holding his empty coffee cup, apparently looking for a refill. Turning to her he inspected her, then put the cup down and held out his arms. She collapsed into them, the good mood she'd been feeling since she got up a couple of hours ago suddenly dissipating.

“Why are you scared, dear?” he asked, holding her as she started crying, an expression of sympathy and slight bewilderment on his face. She felt an odd mental effect from the Varga, which seemed to be also sending her encouragement, warming her from the inside.

“All of this. It's… Everything happened at once.” She looked up at him. “I was in hell, living with those bitches fucking me over every single day for nearly two years. I didn't know what I did to cause it. For a long time I thought that if I could just work out what that was, Emma would be my friend again.”

He hugged her tighter as she cried for a second or two, his face like stone. “But I finally worked out that she was never going to be my friend again. I still didn't know what I did wrong but I realized that it didn't matter. She hates me, Sophia hates me, Madison… I don't think she actually cares one way or the other but she's perfectly happy to go along with those two. I couldn't see any way to stop it that didn't just cause me more problems than it solved, short of burning the whole fucking school down with them all in it. Which would have stopped one problem but caused another one.” She sniffed, wiping her eyes with her hand, as he produced a small flicker of a hard smile.

“And, of course, I was terrified about telling you. I kept thinking that you'd be disappointed in me. Back when Mom was alive we talked all the time, but since she…” She trailed off, swallowed hard, and tried again. “Since she died we hardly talked at all. We used to joke and laugh all the time, like we've been doing just now. I missed that so much.”

Danny looked horribly guilty, holding her tightly.

“Then, the worst thing that ever happened to me somehow turned into what I think is possibly the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed help, I asked for help, and someone answered! I have no idea who or how but in only about twelve hours I've made a new friend and we're talking again, you know about all the problems, we have a plan to deal with it that might actually work, and I have powers.” She sniffed again, hard, as her nose started running.

Leading her to the sofa Danny gently made her sit, then disappeared for a moment, returning with the roll of paper towels from the kitchen, which she used a sheet of to blow her nose with.

“That sounds like you should be happy, though,” he finally said, when she was finished, holding the damp paper in her hands and staring at it.

She raised her eyes and met his. “But what happens next?” she asked. “I've thought before that there was light at the end of the tunnel. But it was always a train. I'm scared that with all these plans, somehow, even so, they'll get away with it, and cause both of us problems we can't overcome. Now you're involved in it. One of the reasons I never said anything was that I didn't want you going over and beating Mr Barnes up.”

Danny smiled a little, causing her to shrug.

“I remember that time with the drunk driver.”

He looked mildly embarrassed.

“I know you'd win the fight, but Mr Barnes has a lot of money. You said it yourself, he could cause problems for us. He's a lawyer, after all.”

“He's a divorce lawyer, Taylor, which doesn't mean he's an expert in all fields of law. Although it does certainly seem to be profitable.” Danny sighed. “I understand your fear. This plan isn't foolproof, of course, but I think it has a good chance of working. Even if it doesn't we'll be able to recover from it and cause them all a lot of trouble if we need to.”

And if it fails even so we can crush them like grapes,” the Varga told her solemnly, which amused her in a weird way. “I dislike these people even without meeting them. I will teach you ways to make them suffer if you wish, or we can simply kill them. Certain individuals are better off dead in my experience. It causes much less in the way of long term problems.

'You really are sort of bloodthirsty, aren't you?' she asked silently, finding the whole conversation somewhat funny.

I am a demon, Brain. We tend to be direct. Especially when people we value are threatened.” The great creature sounded pleased that she had slightly cheered up, which she suspected was the whole point.

Returning her attention to her father, who had been watching the expressions cross her face, she told him, “Varga had some advice as well. It's… a little extreme, but probably effective.”

“Please don't kill anyone without telling me first, dear,” he said calmly, making her shake her head despairingly.

“Men are all so violent,” she complained.

“Excuse me? Who just suggested burning the school down with people in it?” Danny grinned at her. She blushed slightly.

“Um...”

“I think I understand your problem, Taylor,” Danny assured her. “Having these powers and abilities will be something you're going to have to think very carefully about, but I'm sure you can be responsible about it. You don't have to use them, after all. It's not like you need to go and pick a fight just because you have the ability to take a boot to the head more than most people.”

Now laughing a little, Taylor leaned back when he released her, nodding.

“I know. I mean, it's not like I have a sudden urge to kick a crack head in the face or anything like that,” she grinned, making him smile. “But, I did tell the… Voice… that I would try to help people with the power it, or he, gave me. If I see something happen that I can stop and other people can't doesn't that mean I should help?”

Danny looked troubled, turning to stare out the window into the dull January day as he thought. Absently, she noticed it had started snowing, the rain from last night now coming down in white flakes. “I can't argue too much with that,” he finally admitted. “I don't like the idea of my little daughter going out and beating up criminals, and I'm damn sure I don't want you even thinking about it until we have a better idea of what you can do and you've practiced a lot. Promise me you're not going to sneak out at night and do something silly.”

“I promise, Dad,” she replied. She even meant it.

Chapter Text

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, before he turned to her. “All right then, we have quite a list of things you can do. I'd like to figure out some way to actually test some of your limits soon, without either giving your secret away or hurting you, but that can wait. Is there anything else?”

Biting her lip, she looked back, then slowly nodded.

“Those abilities are pretty powerful but they're only the ones I have in human form,” she finally admitted cautiously.

Danny appeared somewhat puzzled. “Human form?” he echoed curiously.

“Yes.” She tried to think of the right way to put it for a moment. “My tail is the visible part of the Varga, but… It can go a lot further.” She remembered some of the visions she'd had of the previous Brain, Princess Luna of the small kingdom of Rimsbell, some unknowable distance in time, space, and dimension away.

“How much further?” he asked, studying her with interest.

“Um...”

He looked worried.

“Is it bad?”

“Not bad, as much as… kind of big.”

Danny stared, then closed his eyes for a moment. “How big?” he asked in a tone of voice that suggested he wouldn't like the answer. “Too big to fit in this room?” he added when she didn't respond.

His eyes opened when she snickered. “A bit, yes.”

“Come on, out with it,” he demanded, rolling his eyes a little. “How bad can it be? Menja or Fenja sized?” Her smirk made him frown. “Bigger?”

She nodded. “Remember that Aleph movie of “Godzilla” from the late nineties?” she asked slowly. He nodded, then his eyes widened significantly.

“About that size. Maybe a little bigger.” He was staring in shock, making her slightly nervous as she went on. “I'd guess about two hundred and fifty feet tall or so, maybe a little more? God knows how much it would weigh. It even looks a lot like that version of Godzilla.”

There was no response for a while, long enough that she was getting worried.

I think you may have broken him, Brain,” the Varga chuckled. “Incidentally, the form I used with my last brain was not actually the largest possible size. It depends on available power. Our greatest foe, the Dark Varga, was substantially more powerful and noticeably larger, but we did defeat him in the end. More by luck than anything else I'll admit and we lost several good people in the process, not to mention destroying a large city, but we won. I absorbed all his energy in the process. I am quite a lot more powerful than I was when my last brain merged with me.

'Really?' she asked, thinking about some of what she'd been shown as she slept.

Oh, yes,” it confirmed. “We were very effective after that against many other threats but that first one was by far the hardest to deal with. We very nearly lost. If it hadn't been for the willing sacrifice of Lord Yude, we would have done, and it was a near thing even then. I was much reduced from my prime due to the long period of inactivity while the Dark Varga was near the peak of his power. This time I am close to my peak, or possibly even past it. The greater power who you encountered would have appeared to have removed a number of restrictions placed upon me in ages past as well, something that you will find useful I have no doubt. Some of the resulting abilities are interesting.

About to ask what it meant, she noticed her father was trying to say something and returned her attention to him. “Two hundred and fifty feet?” Danny croaked.

She nodded, worry mixing with amusement at his reaction. “Varga tells me he could probably manage something even bigger now.”

“No, I think that's big enough.” Danny looked stunned. “What… I mean, how...” He seemed to be struggling with working out what question he wanted the answer to.

Taking pity on him, she explained what she currently knew. “Princess Luna used the Varga form quite a lot. When she did it, he was that sort of size, with her kind of growing out of his head between his eyes, her feet and her rear end sunk into his flesh.” Danny didn't look much less stunned by this. “It was a little embarrassing for her the first time from what I saw. She had control of the whole body although the Varga could also use it, and she could see through his eyes, hear with his ears, that sort of thing.”

“Holy shit,” he finally managed to say, making her snicker for a moment. “That makes the Endbringers look tiny.”

“I don't know how strong or tough he is compared to them but he's a damn lot bigger,” she nodded. “They took on several things as large or even larger just in the first month or so and won against all of them, although the final one was almost too much. It was another of the same type of creature but really evil and really strong.”

“How did they fight?” he asked, a little pale. “Just hand to hand? At that size they could pick up skyscrapers and hit each other with them.”

“There was a lot of physical combat,” she nodded. “But he also has a very powerful attack, one that Princess Luna called Blast Voice. It made things… go away.”

That attack is a manifestation of a matter deconstruction method, Brain,” the Varga told her. “The sound is caused by the air being annihilated.” She passed the information on to her father, who paled again.

“Matter deconstruction?” he queried, looking appalled. “That sounds like it would be… well, I can't think of many things that wouldn't deal with.” After a moment, he asked, “What range would it work at?”

She listened to the Varga, then had a brief conversation over unit conversions, until they were both reasonably sure the answer was correct. “He says somewhere between eight and ten miles with maximum power. The visions I saw showed it was like a beam, it left huge trenches in the ground when they used it. The Dark Varga made a real mess of the city they found him in with that attack. Their final fight blew it up entirely, it looked like it got nuked. It was some sort of magical explosion. Princess Luna and the Varga survived even that although they were both weak for a while.”

Danny seemed speechless again. It took him nearly a minute to be able to carry on.

“That is… absolutely terrifying,” he finally said.

She nodded soberly. “That's one of the things I'm scared about. Just using that form will probably make everyone freak out even if I just stood there. They'll be calling me a fourth Endbringer.” Shivering a little, she didn't protest when he put his arm around her.

“It's probably a little much for normal problems,” he agreed wryly. “So, basically, you have two power settings, pretty damn dangerous for a more or less normally sized human, and something that can stomp Behemoth flat by stepping on it?”

“I think so,” she agreed. “But I don't know if stepping on an Endbringer would actually work. If Alexandria and the Triumvirate can't deal with them, I can't see how I could even with the Varga.”

“Hopefully we'll never find out,” Danny told her, at the same time the Varga said, “It would be an interesting experiment.” The contrast made her giggle again, forcing her to explain. Her father smiled.

“You are not to go picking fights with Endbringers, Taylor,” he said firmly. “That goes for you too, Varga.”

Grumbling a little, the demon in her head agreed, making her smile. After a moment, she said, “The problem is that I can't see where I could even try that transformation. The Varga is so large you'd see him from space. Anywhere in the city would make it obvious.”

We could utilize the Assassin's Cloak,” the Varga suggested slyly. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“Would that work?” she asked out loud. Danny looked curious but said nothing.

“Yes. I can easily power it even at full size, at least for a while,” the Varga said smugly.

But what about footprints?” she asked after a moment's thought. “You're absolutely huge. We'd leave footprints you could park a car in. That would attract nearly as much attention as seeing us would.”

Apparently guessing the thrust of the conversation, Danny sighed and covered his eyes. “An invisible Godzilla with my daughter attached to it. Just what this city needs,” he groaned, making both her and the Varga laugh. “Please don't.”

After a second or two, he asked, “Isn't being exposed right on top of his head a little dangerous?”

Taylor shrugged. “You'd think so, but the memories I have showed that Princess Luna survived being under water for ages with no problem, attacks from demons, a crazy man with a beard and a huge weird sort of ax, and all sorts of things.” Curious, she asked the Varga, 'How could she do that?'

There was a long pause, then the demon slowly explained, “I was trying to work out the best way to tell you. You are not exactly human any more.

'What!?'

There was a mental sigh. “When we merged, you took on many of my characteristics, it is the only way to allow you to survive the process. Your tail is the externally visible part of what is basically my body, which you are part of. Or it is part of you. The distinction is essentially meaningless now.

'I feel normal, except for the tail,' she admitted. 'Although even that is feeling normal now.'

“It is, from your new point of view. Your biology is much closer to mine than a normal human now, although the magic means you are still compatible with ordinary humans. But the main point is that, although you look more or less normal, you aren't. That means in the full Varga form you share the same toughness as the rest of the body. In fact, your consciousness in that case wouldn't even be in your human head. Strictly speaking it isn't right now. My type of creature exists outside normal reality in some senses and you now share that. Your body is… modifiable and replaceable. To a point.

'Does that mean I can't be killed?' she asked numbly.

No. As I explained last night, you are neither immortal nor truly invulnerable, in the true senses of the words. However, you won't suffer any diseases or old age and it would take something fairly exceptional to kill you. You will find that you are difficult to damage, the level increasing when in the full Varga form to an extreme amount, and damage done can be easily repaired unless it is total.

She sat in silence for a while as she considered the words of her head-guest. 'What about you?' she asked in the end. 'Does the same thing apply to you?' There was a pause.

Anything that would definitely kill me would have killed you and most likely your entire country,” it finally replied. “My kind is almost impossible to destroy. It took a number of greater forces, the like of which don't exist in this reality to the best of my knowledge, to manage the feat. Lesser powers could seal us away but not destroy us.

After absorbing the information for some time, she passed it on to her father, who took it fairly well. When he'd finished thinking it over, he smiled a little crookedly and said, “At least I can still have grandchildren.”

She giggled at the thought.

“Would they have cute little tails?” she asked out loud.

The Varga chuckled. “Most likely. The line of the demon touched often have reminders. My other abilities would not transfer, though.

Passing this information on as well she smiled when Danny seemed to accept it, although he still seemed a little shocked. That was fair, she was as well. It hadn't been something she expected at all.

Brain?” the Varga said.

'Yes?' she replied, curious.

I have been checking what the lowered restrictions mean in practice and I have discovered something you may find interesting.” Its silent voice carried a note of sly amusement, making her suspicious.

'Like what?' she asked cautiously.

Hold out your right hand,” the great demon suggested, still radiating an air of someone about to play a practical joke. With a certain amount of worry she did as requested.

A sensation similar to the one she’d felt from the Assassin’s Cloak technique went through her hand. She made a small eep sound and stared. Danny, who had been watching her with a curious look, did almost exactly the same. Both of them were silent for a moment or two, until he finally said, “What the hell?”

I am able to do more than I could with the last Brain, it turns out,” the Varga said with satisfaction. She nodded slowly, flexing the taloned, scaled digits of what her hand had become in numb amazement. From the wrist down it looked like it belonged on a lizard of some sort, the scales the same deep blue-black of the ones on her tail, with nearly inch long razor sharp talons tipping each finger. The fingers themselves were long and slender, oddly elegant in fact.

“Are you saying that I’m some sort of shape-shifter now as well?” she asked out loud in a rather overwhelmed voice.]

Essentially, yes. I can apply a variable transformation to you, rather than the minimum and maximum level only. We can basically mix differing amounts of Varga and Human together in a number of interesting ways.

She absently repeated this to Danny, who was still staring at her hand. Feeling the transformed appendage with the other one, she jumped when her left hand changed as well. “Hey!” she yelped.

“That’s… nice,” her father managed to say in a weak voice.

Clenching both hands into fists then relaxing them, she wonderingly held them up and inspected them, a grin beginning to form. “Oh, my god,” she muttered.

I have taken the liberty of designing what I think might be a suitable combat form, Brain,” the Varga put in with a tone of eagerness. “It is human scale so you can interact with them without too much trouble although obviously we can increase the size up to full scale if required. It combines the best of both our forms.

“Combat form?” she echoed. Danny looked somewhat nervous. “Let’s see it.” She was, for some reason, finding this all suddenly fun rather than something to be worried about as might have been expected to be the case.

You should clear a space in the middle of the room,” the Varga said.

Hopping to her feet, Taylor looked at her father. “He says we need to move some things around to have some space,” she told him.

“Oh, god, why do I have a bad feeling all of a sudden?” Danny sighed, but helped her move the sofa out of the way to the edge of the room, then the two chairs and the coffee table. Taking a seat in his chair, he watched as she moved to the middle of the room.

“Do I have to do anything?” she asked.

The Varga chuckled. “My previous Brain always shouted ‘Varga Change!” at this point, but then she had a flair for the dramatic and had grown up reading tales of magic and adventure. It seemed to be something of a trope with her world’s literature to call out attacks. It’s not necessary, and is a little over the top in my opinion. Just tell me when you want it.”

Amused, she nodded. “OK, then, go for it.”

The tingle was all over this time and her viewpoint shifted, rising a little and widening significantly to cover much more of the room. She looked around with interest, seeing that she had even better vision now and the thermal part seemed to be mixed with normal vision in a strange but easy to understand manner. Smells and sounds burst in on her as her already superhuman senses became vastly better.

One smell caught her attention, seeming to say ‘fear’ to her. She sniffed curiously, then followed it around to the side, to see her father staring at her with wide eyes and clenched hands. “Dad?” she inquired. “Are you OK?”

“That is still… you… isn’t it, Taylor?” he asked in a halting voice. She could hear his heart hammering away at a rate that sounded too fast to be safe. Concerned, she turned to face him and smiled, which oddly enough made him pale dramatically.

“It’s still me, Dad. What’s the problem?”

Very slowly relaxing, although still looking and sounding like he was on the verge of fleeing, Danny looked her up and down then pointed at the mirror that hung on the wall between two bookcases full of her mother’s books. “You should look,” he said weakly.

Puzzled, she walked over and peered into the mirror, then froze. “Holy shit!” she gasped.

Staring for a long time she raised her hands and felt her face, or more accurately, her muzzle. Her head bore no resemblance at all to a human now, not a trace of the one she’d had all her life present. It was instead something out of a documentary on dinosaurs, a wedge-shaped head with eyes set more to the sides than normal, although less so than something like a bird. She still had binocular vision. Those eyes were completely orange-yellow and seemed to be glowing slightly, with black vertical slit pupils like those of a cat. Blinking them she found she still had eyelids, unlike a snake, although her head did bear a distinct likeness to such an animal.

Opening her mouth she found it was packed with a totally ridiculous number of extremely sharp teeth, most of them nearly an inch long with a few at the front on the sides close to twice that. It was a mouth that would give an angry lion cause to think twice. Her tongue was long and forked, again like that of a lizard or a snake. Closing her mouth then smiling, or at least doing what would normally be the muscular operation to smile when human, made the corners of her much larger mouth pull up and expose fangs, explaining nicely why Danny had looked very worried.

After a moment, she stepped back and looked down, then over her shoulder, finding in the process that her neck was longer and flexible enough to allow her to turn her head completely around like an owl without effort. “Holy shit,” she said again, more faintly.

The rest of her body was best described as a mix between something not entirely unlike a Velociraptor out of Jurassic Park, the memories she had of the Varga’s full form, and her own. It was vaguely centaur-like, down to the waist her body was more or less humanoid, although scale covered and showing only hints of a female form. Her clothes had vanished but she didn't need them like this. She had the slightly bitter thought that this was actually a pretty good description of her aside from the scales, then went back to cataloging the changes.

The upper torso was mounted on a scaled down and modified version of the Varga’s body minus the head, about where the shoulders would be, which mean she actually had six limbs, seven including the tail. At what she still felt as her waist there was another, larger, set of arms or possibly forelegs, with hands that were much less human although still with an opposable thumb. Flexing them she felt the strength in them, they felt like they could tear armor plate with ease. The talons of her forelegs were much longer than those on her real fingers.

Below all of this was the rest of the bipedal lizard-like body which had extremely muscular rear legs on three toed feet, tipped with the largest talons of all at about three inches or so. She was standing easily on her toes in a way that felt completely natural. Behind her, her tail had lengthened substantially, resting on the floor and balancing her in a rather forward leaning posture with her torso raised and tilted back so that she was from the waist up in a normal vertical position. She lifted a leg to inspect it, balancing without effort, and feeling the interplay of the new muscles and joints.

Her knee was much higher than normal and the joint that looked like a backwards knee was actually her ankle, she found. She also discovered that there was a rearward facing toe on the rear of her foot which normally cleared the ground, but she could flex it and sort of make a fist with her toes, enough to probably let her hold onto a surface. Putting her foot down again she moved her middle limbs experimentally, finding it took no more effort than the arms she’d been born with.

Does it meet with your approval?” the Varga asked in a way that sounded a little apprehensive. “I can modify it if required to a certain extent. But it should allow the most effective use of the abilities you’d require in combat.

Can I use the blast voice like this?’ Taylor asked curiously, still moving her second pair of arms with interest.

No, I’m afraid not. The power required for that can only be brought to bear in full Varga form, or close to it, but with time I may be able to work out a method to allow some access to it.” the demon told her sounding regretful. “You are limited to physical techniques like this currently. Although it is as strong and tough as I can make it, you will be more than a match for most opponents. Your strength will scale up with size. You can use a sword as well of course.

She held out her hands and the Varga obligingly formed a suitable scaled sword for her, which she posed with. “Hey, Dad, does this look badass or what?” she asked, a laugh in her voice.

He didn’t respond for a moment. Glancing at him she saw he was gaping incredulously at her. “Oh, dear,” he finally mumbled. “Poor Brockton Bay. I wonder if we could sell the house and move somewhere safer?”

“Dad!” she commented, crossing her secondary arms and glaring. He laughed nervously.

“Just a joke, dear. You look… dangerous.”

“Really?” she asked, oddly pleased by the comment. He nodded rapidly.

“Oh, believe me, yes. Like some sort of warrior dinosaur out of one of the old books I used to have. Or something out of a really good fantasy computer game.”

Spinning the sword in her hands in a manner than twenty-four hours earlier she’d never have believed she could do, but now seemed instinctive, she grinned to herself. Somehow this form felt comfortable in a way she was having trouble putting into words even in her own head. She wasn’t sure why her father was still pale. Sure, the teeth were a little over the top but as long as she kept her mouth closed you couldn’t see them.

“You’re right, I’ll need to practice, but this feels… fine,” she told Danny, lowering the sword. A quick request to the Varga and it vanished. “He said I’m much tougher and stronger than normal like this as well. Not that I know how much stronger I am normally, even, never mind like this.”

“We’ll have to test it somehow,” he replied, slowly regaining his normal color.

“He says I can get bigger as well,” she informed him, making him pale again rather suddenly. “Let’s see… How about large enough to let me touch the ceiling with my head?” She looked around then nodded. “I think that would fit.”

As you wish,” the Varga said happily. The world dropped around her with a creaking sound of stressed wood.

“Be careful of the floor,” Danny squeaked, looking up at the now nearly nine foot tall monster that was his daughter. She laughed, requesting a return to normal. Or the new normal, anyway. He sighed in relief when she shrank back to only about six and a half feet tall and much lighter.

“This is great,” she exclaimed. After a moment she snickered maliciously. “Oh, god, I just got a mental image of Emma’s face if I turned up hiding in her bedroom one night like this. She’d shit a brick.” Taylor laughed for a moment, while Danny sighed heavily.

“That’s… probably not a good idea, kid,” he said patiently. She put her hands on her hips and frowned, which came out as a proper glare with teeth. He leaned back a little.

“You need to work on your body language when you’re like that,” he suggested carefully. “It comes across as… a little intimidating.”

“OK, Dad,” she responded, feeling her head with her hands curiously.

Shaking his own head in wonder, he checked his watch. “Nearly eleven. Look, why don’t I go and get those cameras so we can see if this technique your huge friend came up with works on them, and also swing by the people I need to talk to. I’ll grab some takeout on the way back. When we’re sure that going out in public isn’t going to cause a riot we can go shopping.”

“Shopping?” she asked, puzzled.

He nodded. “We’re buying a cell phone each, and I’m getting a better computer for you and decent internet. You’ll need it whatever happens for studying and it will be useful for looking up information on the cape scene around here. I’m very out of touch on most of it, Annette was the one who followed that whole thing.”

“Are you sure about the phones, Dad?” she asked carefully. He nodded again with a sad sigh.

“I think it’s time, and we need them.”

“Can we afford all that?” she asked, worried.

“I’ll feel it, definitely, but I have money put aside for your future. Not a lot but enough. I think this counts.” Danny smiled at her, then flinched when she returned it. “That will take some getting used to,” he mumbled, making her laugh.

“What do I sound like?” she inquired, interested in the answer.

“Pretty normal, actually,” he frowned, obviously puzzled by this. “I have no idea how a normal voice comes out of a face like that.”

“Oh, thanks, Dad,” she sighed, making him smile.

“Your voice is quite a lot deeper and there’s a sort of strange overtone to it, if I didn’t know it was you I’d never guess, but it’s otherwise completely understandable and not something that stands out too much,” he added.

“That’s useful,” she commented, pleased.

“OK, then, I’ll be back in about two or three hours, Taylor,” he stated as he rose, heading for the coat rack. She followed him into the hallway, not even thinking about maneuvering her bulk around in the house, her tail missing everything. She glanced out the window beside the front door.

“Be careful, Dad, it's still snowing,” she advised, which got a nod and a smile in return.

“I'll be fine.” Looking at her, he said, “Can you change back? I'd like to give you a hug but at the moment...”

She laughed for a moment. “Do I feel horrible?” she asked, holding out a hand. He took it and ran his fingers over the scales.

“No, not at all. It's warm and smooth, quite nice actually. But I'd like to look my daughter in the eyes she was born with.”

Smiling to herself, she asked the Varga, and felt the tingle as she reverted to her normal form, complete with clothes provided by her companion. Danny stared, then sighed. “He has a sense of humor doesn't he?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look.” Danny pointed to the small mirror next to the coat rack, which she turned to.

Her eyes were still the reptilian, glowing orange-yellow ones.

Sighing herself, she said out loud, “All the way, please,” provoking a deep chuckle from inside her head. Her vision flickered a little, an indefinable something going out of it, as her eyes regained human form.

With a laugh Danny hugged her. “If you go outside, please remember to do it in human form,” he requested. “If the neighbors see a six foot plus lizard thing wandering around outside there's going to be a lot of talk.”

Giggling, she nodded, then watched as he left, getting into the car and driving slowly and carefully away. A snow plow went past spraying snow everywhere just as he got to the end of the driveway and he fell in behind it. Closing the door she went into the kitchen, rummaging around in the fridge for a few seconds and finally coming up with an apple.

Munching it she wandered back into the living room, looking around at the moved furniture. When she finished her snack she spent a few minutes putting everything back where it had come from. Heading up to her bedroom she lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling for a while, thinking.

If you have some spare time, I can begin to teach you how to do the transformation yourself, Brain,” the Varga said after she'd been lying there for about fifteen minutes.

'I'd like that, thanks,' she responded, a little surprised, but pleased.

Let's begin, then,” the great creature told her, sounding like he was enjoying himself. “The first part is visualization...

The lessons went on until Danny came back nearly four hours later. When he entered the house, he called up the stairs, “Taylor? I'm home. Sorry it took so long. The traffic was very slow and a couple of the people I needed to see were stuck as well. I've got chinese for lunch.”

“OK, Dad,” she called back, getting up from her desk where she'd been sitting propped on her tail, making notes. When she entered the kitchen she found him unpacking the takeout, several bags on the table. He looked over his shoulder at her with a smile, which froze. She innocently looked back.

“What?” she asked.

Her father sighed. “He's a bad influence on you, young lady,” he said. She cocked her head to the side in an inquisitive manner.

“I have no idea what you mean,” she said calmly.

Reaching out Danny took the Varga-produced, very weird looking sunglasses that were balanced on her reptilian muzzle from her, then studied her closely. She currently had the combat form head resting on her normal shoulders, the rest of her body unchanged. “You have no idea?” he repeated. She shook her head, blinking glowing orange eyes at him in a manner that made his lips twitch.

“Nope, not a clue,” she chirped, moving past him to peer into the bags. Finding a bag of spring rolls she popped one into her mouth and swallowed. The reptilian head made chewing more or less optional. He sighed, then went to get some plates.

“Is this going to be a habit now?” he asked over his shoulder. She giggled, reverting her head to normal.

“It's not impossible. I need to practice,” she told him, taking the plate he handed her.

“Try not to do it where other people can see,” he advised, sitting down at the table. She propped herself up with her tail on the other side. Both of them helped themselves, then began eating.

“Did you get everything?” she asked after she'd taken the edge off her appetite.

Danny nodded. “I did. Mike was glad to help when I explained the situation. He has a daughter as well and feels very strongly about bullying. He explained how everything works, but he's going to come over in a couple of days to show us again. I've also talked to some of the boys, there were lots of volunteers. I've got the cameras as well.”

They talked about nothing in particular during the lunch, basically just reconnecting after over two years of being virtual strangers to each other, and both of them very much enjoying it. Afterwards, they went back into the living room. Danny opened a camera case he brought in from the hall and removed a quite impressive SLR digital camera from it, looking carefully at it then turning it on. After the startup sound had finished, he motioned to her. “Stand in the middle of the room again,” he asked.

When she was positioned correctly, he looked at the viewfinder. “Hmm. No trace on this either. It seems to work with new technology as well. I wonder if it works with tinker tech?”

“Unless we can get some I can't see how we can find out,” she said, reasonably. He agreed with a small nod, taking a few pictures as she struck different poses. Reviewing them he shrugged.

“It looks fine. Hopefully that means that at least normal security cameras and that sort of thing won't see it either. Let's try the thermal camera next.”

Putting the SLR away he opened another case, a hard shelled thing about the size of a small briefcase, to reveal a device that looked quite unlike a normal camera. Taking it out of the protective foam he held the hand grip and thumbed the power switch, waiting until the small display on the back lit up a few seconds later. “This thing is pretty expensive, but the electricians find it really useful. If a fuse box is overloading this will show it from a hundred feet away just from the heat.”

He pointed the silvery lens at her, then frowned at the display. Fiddling with it, he finally nodded in satisfaction. “OK, that's working. Wow, it looks weird. But...” He squinted, motioning to her to turn around with his free hand. “I can't see your tail with this either. Looks like we're probably safe, at least for the moment.”

“Great,” she sighed, somewhat relieved. “I wasn't looking forward to everyone staring at me and pointing. Being known as the girl with the tail would get old pretty fast.”

Grinning as he put the device away again, he placed both cases back into the hall, Taylor following him. “The snow stopped a while ago and the sun's out now. Why don't we go and get a couple of phones, a laptop, and arrange a better internet connection?”

With a smile she reached for her coat, then stopped. A request to her companion and she was wearing a duplicate of the one hanging on the coat-hook. Danny grinned again.

“That will save a lot of money.” Putting his own coat on he opened the door, waved her through, then followed, locking it behind him, both of them getting into the car. Shortly they were headed downtown to the nearest mall with a decent phone shop and computer shop.

Chapter Text

Coming out of the phone shop, Taylor played with her new phone with a smile on her face. It was a fairly basic clam-shell version but the sales droid had told them it was waterproof, solidly made, and had a very good battery life. That seemed to tick all the boxes as far as she was concerned. Danny had put his in his pocket to look at later, still apparently not entirely enthused with the whole concept even though it had been his idea.

They already had a decent albeit basic laptop from another shop, and were heading towards the local telco outlet to arrange an internet upgrade from the horribly slow dial-up they currently had. Passing the food court she noticed a somewhat older and very good looking blonde girl accompanied by a very attractive young man, whose dark complexion and good looks she caught herself looking twice at. Or maybe three times.

OK, so it was four times, but who's counting?

On the fifth time, she saw that the blonde had noticed, flushing slightly and looking away quickly. As they walked past she quickly glanced sideways to see a smug grin on the face of the blonde, which rather suddenly turned into a grimace of pain, then a very puzzled expression. Averting her eyes and raising her hand to cover them the young woman exhibited all the signs of a sudden attack of migraine, her companion talking to her in a low voice. Taylor felt sorry for her and deliberately didn't try listening in on the conversation.

“We should probably pick up a few disposable phones as well,” Danny suddenly said as they passed a large outlet store, making her forget the blonde and turn her attention to him. “Just in case. These ones can probably be tracked, so if for whatever reason we need to make an anonymous call to the police or something like that I'd prefer not to have to throw away a hundred dollars worth of phone.”

Nodding with a small smile, she replied, “That sounds like good thinking, Dad.” She paused, then added, grinning a little mischievously, “You're really getting into this, aren't you?”

He gave her a long suffering look. “Not by choice, believe me. If I had any say in the matter I'd lock you in your room or a decent school until you were at least twenty, to keep you safe.” She snickered when he smiled, reaching out and ruffling her hair affectionately.

“Hey, mind the hair,” she griped, running her fingers through it. “I like my hair.”

“So do I,” he smiled again. They entered the store and wandered around, picking up various odds and ends that they needed, such as some more AA batteries to replace the ones that had been used earlier. Taylor spent some time looking at the better clothing in the relevant department, allowing the Varga to memorize the patterns, which he'd assured her was simple for him. She'd done the same thing at some higher end stores as well.

The ability to have any clothing she wanted with a thought was something she found both amusing and desirable, even though she'd never been much of a clothes-horse, unlike Emma. She abruptly found herself wanting to show off some really nice clothes to rub the bitches' face in it, but was sensible enough to work out that was a probably not a good idea.

The whole time they'd been out she'd been waiting for someone to notice her tail, wincing at first when anyone paused and looked at her as she went past. No one seemed to notice it at all, allowing her to gradually relax. Even the time she turned around in one store and accidentally swept half a dozen items off a low shelf with the appendage didn't attract any more than an annoyed shop attendant who put them back while muttering about shop stockers who piled things too high.

Finding themselves in the electronics department they poked around for a bit, coming up in the end with some really cheap disposables for about ten dollars each. Danny dropped half a dozen into the shopping cart.

Heading towards the tills Danny detoured through the entertainment section, browsing the DVDs on release and picking up one of the second Die Hard movie, which they didn't have. Looking across at the CDs, he stopped, then walked across to the classical music section, reaching out and picking up one particular one and studying it. Taylor curiously read the title, seeing it was something called 'Divenire' by a musician by the name of Ludovico Einaudi, a name she vaguely recognised. Danny looked sad.

“What's wrong, Dad?” she asked quietly. He didn't respond for a moment, then sighed.

“I bought a copy of this for your mother just before she died,” he finally said. “She loved this guy. I threw it away after, it reminded me too much of her.” After a long moment he put it in the cart. Taylor slipped her arm around his waist and held him for a few seconds.

With another sigh of regret he shook his head once then resumed pushing the cart towards the exit. Shortly they were leaving, crossing the mall to the shop where he then spent half an hour carefully going over the options with another sales droid, finally signing the paperwork for the internet upgrade.

“It will, allegedly, be installed on Monday,” he told her. He didn't seem to think this was particularly likely.

When they left, they stopped at the car to lock all the purchases in the trunk, before going back into the street outside the car park. “It's nearly four,” Danny noted, looking up at the dark sky. “God, I hate the winter. It should be nice and bright at this time of day as far as I'm concerned, not nearly night already.” Returning his attention to his daughter, he said, “Want to go and get a pizza? I still have some cash left.”

“Sure, Dad, that sounds like an idea,” she smiled.

Shortly they were happily munching through a couple of large deep dish pizzas, hers with extra chicken, his with anchovies, which made her wrinkle her nose. She'd been cataloging all the new scents she could detect the entire time, many of which would have been unpleasant before if she could have smelled them although now they were mainly only interesting. Anchovies still turned her stomach even so.

“How can you eat those things?” she asked with disgust, watching him nom down a slice of pizza covered in them. He grinned and picked one off the rest of the pizza, dangling it at her and making her recoil, her hand over her nose.

“They're really nice. A bit salty though.”

“They're horrible,” she protested through her fingers.

“You like fish, I know that. These are fish. What's the problem?” Tilting his head back he dropped the ghastly little thing into his mouth and chewed happily. Taylor gagged.

“Yuck. Those aren't fish, they're little slimy salty slices of hell.”

The comment made him snicker, although it had no effect at all on his appetite.

On the way back to the car, a loud BOOM made her jump, spinning around to see smoke coming from an alley a few hundred yards away. Danny yelped and ducked behind a phone booth, pulling her with him. “What the hell was that?” she said, shocked.

“Something we should stay out of,” he told her sharply, peering around the side of the booth with her below him. Both of them watched as a weird looking motorcycle roared out from the side street into the main road, swerving around a car which slammed to a halt, then stopping on the other side of the road. On it was a large figure wearing a costume she thought was vaguely familiar, possibly from a movie or something. She'd had the momentary idea it was Armsmaster but unless the master Tinker had rather suddenly rebranded himself it seemed unlikely.

Behind the bike was something even stranger. A ten foot high bipedal robot or something along those lines, with a pair of arms coming out the sides and mounting the most insane amount of armaments she'd ever seen, stomped along, a smaller man wearing a high tech suit visible inside the cockpit of the walking mech. He was driving it with aplomb, spinning the top section at the waist to point behind him, then releasing a small missile which screamed away down the alley. Another earth-shattering BOOM sounded.

“Oh, god, it's those two idiots,” Danny sighed. She nodded.

The presence of a small floating ball which was covered in lenses and seemed to be darting around videoing the entire mess confirmed the identities of the two Capes as Über and Leet, a pair of video game themed small time villains. She was familiar with their work, having watched their Youtube channel on many occasions. Sometimes their videos were screamingly funny, sometimes they were cringeworthy, but she had a guilty like of them.

“What do we do, Dad?” she asked, as Über jumped off his futuristic motorcycle and unlimbered an odd looking pistol, which he leveled at the so far unseen opponent that was apparently in pursuit of the duo.

Grenade!” a mechanical voice announced, just before he pulled the trigger twice. Two projectiles shot from the weapon down the alley, producing another pair of loud explosions. “Halt, Citizen!”, he shouted in a loud commanding voice, thumbing a control, which made the weapon announce “Armor Piercing!

“We do nothing except wait for it to end then leave quickly,” he hissed in her ear. “Unless you really want the whole city knowing about you. There are more phones out there than there were in the store and they all have cameras on them.”

She nodded quietly, conceding the point. In any case, she was interested to see what happened next. She'd never seen an Über and Leet operation live. So far it seemed rather loud. Sidling out from behind the booth a little further she watched intently, the end of her tail twitching about with her curiosity like a cat's.

“Interference with the operation of a Megacity Judge is a class one felony, the penalty for which is five years hard labor.” Über's voice was confident and smooth, making her smile despite herself, the situation, and the sheer stupidity of it. He fired the gun again, several shots sounding in rapid succession, then ducked suddenly as a moped flew out of the alley at his head, missing and disappearing into the front of the book store behind him with a huge crash. “Hey!” he yelped, dropping the act for a moment. “I mean, Cease your activity, Citizen, or I will be forced to raise the threat level to lethal.”

More missiles shot from the mech war machine that Leet was piloting, while a crowd of people gathered at a safe distance and recorded everything on their phones. Taylor looked around and formed the definite impression that the residents of Brockton Bay were not entirely normal, being apparently more blasé about the live weapons fire than they should be. Shrugging she went back to watching.

The cape they were fighting finally made an appearance, a statuesque blonde in a white and gold outfit, wearing a tiara, but with no mask, hovering a foot off the ground. “Glory Girl,” Taylor said in a low voice. She was a little overwhelmed, the young woman was beautiful to a level that would make Emma green with jealousy, and from the way she was standing, knew it.

“Why the hell are you two fuckwits robbing a pawnbrokers?” the heroic cape demanded loudly. Über pointed his pistol at her and fired once, making her step back a couple of feet. She floated sideways and ducked the next shot with ease.

“We are in the process of reclaiming stolen goods, Citizen. Please stand aside and allow us to go about our business or I will have no choice but to place you under arrest.”

“I'd like to see you try, you twit,” the blonde sneered. She ducked another missile from the mech, which shot past her head and impacted on a car on the main road, the vehicle promptly exploding enthusiastically. Leet, from what she could see of his face under the high tech visor through the windscreen of his machine, winced.

“If you insist, young lady,” Judge Über said in a deep voice, sounding suddenly amused. He fired again at her, then again, tracking her across the face of the buildings as she tanked the first shot then avoided the rest. Taylor wondered why she didn't simply let them all bounce off her rather than allow them to hit the scenery and damage it. She was famously bulletproof, so it seemed odd to her.

Taylor could see what was going to happen several seconds before it did, watching wide eyed as Über neatly maneuvered his blonde opponent into a crossfire from Leet's mech, that didn't have any bystanders near her. Just as she ducked the last shot, Leet fired again. This time instead of a missile a large cylindrical object shot out of one of the arm cannons, unfurling into a net of metal cables which wrapped around her. She dropped to the ground and struggled but the net held, for long enough at least for Über to casually walk over, produce another, smaller cylinder from somewhere, then pull a pin on it and drop it at her feet.

He stepped back smoothly and watched with a grim smile visible below his visor as the grenade went off with a splortch sound, a mass of yellowish foam boiling up Glory Girl's legs to above her waist. Taylor recognized it as PRT issue containment foam, something strong enough to hold even the New Wave heroine for some time. She'd seen it used on the news a couple of times.

The foam set solid with a faint crunching sound, causing Glory Girl to yell obscenities at Über, who ironically saluted her then turned away while holstering his pistol. His eyes ranged across the crowd and she could see a small smile on his lips when he looked at her. She couldn't help smiling back, the entire thing was very well done, the way he'd allowed Glory Girl's own confidence to walk her right into his trap.

“They're idiots but I have to admit they have style,” Danny sighed softly. She glanced at her father, seeing he was also slightly amused. “But that's going to make New Wave go after them twice as hard next time. They completely humiliated that poor girl.”

“She walked right into it, Dad,” Taylor commented. He nodded, still watching with the rest of the bystanders.

“It was a tactically sound move indeed,” the Varga rumbled inside her head, sounding like he found the entire thing immense fun. “This Über person is a good warrior although his choice in costume is dubious.”

“Sentence executed,” the imposing Judge Über commented loudly, looking pleased. His head came up as a sound in the distance made everyone look, to see several PRT vans with sirens blaring round the corner a few blocks away, the familiar form of Armsmaster's own bike in the lead. “Ah. Well, our task here would appear to be complete.” He looked around at the crowd recording him. “Remember, Citizens, to go against the instructions of a Judge invariably brings trouble. Obey the Law.” He snickered, and Taylor could see Leet laughing in his mech. She found the comment pretty funny herself under the circumstances.

Judge Über hopped back on his bike, started it, then zoomed off, the giant mech striding off behind him with diminishing clomping sounds. Seconds later, Armsmaster roared past with his jaw set grimly, hot in pursuit. Two of the PRT vans followed while the remaining one stopped, disgorging a number of uniformed agents who began taking statements from the nearest in the crowd. One of them unlimbered some sort of backpack sprayer with which he hosed down Glory Girl, who by this time was purple about the general facial area with impotent rage. As soon as she was free of the sticky goop she rose into the air, dripping with goo, and shot off down the street after the fleeing villains without even thanking him.

“We should probably go,” Danny said, pulling her away from watching as the PRT officers wandered about looking officious. “I don't really want to get caught up in this any more than we are, it could take hours.”

Taylor nodded, following him and the rest of the crowd who had apparently come to the same conclusion. When they were safely back in the car and heading home, she rolled the window down for a moment, listening. She heard more explosions in the distance, ones she thought were Leet's mech missiles, other that were Uber's grenades, and a whole series she couldn't place. It terminated in an almighty boom that even at this range made her jump. Silence fell.

Rolling the window up she looked at her father. He'd obviously heard the last explosion although the rest were probably too faint for normal hearing. “I think that was the end of their game,” she said wryly. “I wonder if they got away?”

“I wouldn't be surprised,” he chuckled. “They seem to pull an escape off more often than seems plausible. Even when they get caught they escape in hours.”

“I'll have to check their Youtube channel when we get the internet upgrade,” she laughed. “I'm curious to see if I can see us on it.”

“One good thing came of all this, we have proof that no one seems to see your tail,” he said after another few minutes. She looked at him, then down at the end of the appendage in question which was tucked into the footwell, nodding.

“Seems like it. That's good.”

When they arrived home, she took the laptop upstairs to begin setting it up, connecting it in place of the ancient machine she had under the desk. The dial-up was so slow she couldn't actually download any upgrades without a wait long enough for her hair to go gray, but she soon had it running well enough to allow her to start poking around on the PHO board, looking for comments about the scene they'd just witnessed.

She could hear the complex strains of music being played by a real expert coming up from downstairs, reminding her of when her mother was alive. Annette had loved classical music.

“Your form of music is very interesting, Brain,” the Varga noted after the CD Danny had bought was on its third track. “Very complex, but at the same time, oddly simple. It is... relaxing.”

“There are many forms of music on this world,” she absently said out loud in a low voice, while clicking a link to another thread which had more reactions to Uber's little stunt earlier. “Mom liked that form very much. I like it as well, but not to the extent she did.” She listened for a while, then added, “Although it does grow on you.”

Eventually she was laughing helplessly at some of the things people were saying. Glory Girl's reputation had taken a definite hit, which made her feel a considerable amount of sympathy for the young woman, but she couldn't deny that some of the people posting on the board had a way with words.

Except for one guy called XXVoidCowboyXX, who was clearly an idiot of the highest order. She resolved never to reply to any of his postings, it seemed to just encourage him. This was obviously a bad thing.

“This person is a total fool,” the Varga commented at one point as she was scrolling through the thread. She nodded with a smile. “Someone should do something about him before he lowers the collective intelligence of your species any further.”

Laughing, she replied, 'If we had to deal with every idiot on the internet no one would ever be doing anything else.' There was a soundless grunt of annoyance, but she could tell the great demon was enjoying reading the PHO boards as much as she was. He suggested several things to look up, which kept them both amused for hours.

Danny played the entire CD three times, then went to bed. She could hear him cry for a little while, then fall asleep, blinking back a few tears of her own, but happier than she'd been for a long time.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Lisa looked around the food court while Brian fetched their order from the teriyaki place, idly cataloging the various issues different people had. That business man was having an affair with two different women, who themselves were having an affair with each other, none of them the wiser. The couple to the right were apparently laughing and happy, but they both knew the woman had a terminal disease. She winced sympathetically at that one.

Over to the left was a group of teenaged boys who were whispering with their heads together, glancing at an older man. They were going to rob him when he left the mall. Wondering if she should do anything about that, she looked up as she felt Brian's presence beside her, picking up on what would normally be subconscious cues but to her were like shouting.

“Here you go,” he said, handing her a tray, which she took with a smile, then sitting down opposite her with his own. She deliberately suppressed her abilities so she wouldn't get far too much information about the way the food had been prepared such as the hygiene or lack thereof of the people making it. It was a somewhat repellent byproduct of her power, unfortunately.

“Thanks, Brian.” Opening the box she picked up the plastic fork and began eating, listening as he related the latest annoyance caused by his sister being difficult, something the damn girl had down to an art form.

Still listening and putting in agreeable grunts at the appropriate times to make him happy, she looked up, watching people passing on the other side of the waist height dividing wall that separated the food court from the rest of the mall.

An obvious father-daughter pair was slowly walking past, talking to each other. She could see the resemblance even without her power. The girl was glancing at Brian with what seemed to be more than casual interest, making her smirk a little to herself and look at her friend and team mate with amusement. He was, of course, completely oblivious to the effect he seemed to have on some women. It was one of the things she liked about him. For a so-called 'villain' he was something of a gentleman.

Studying the brunette she engaged her power, wondering what it would say about her target. Instantly she found herself puzzled. The information she was getting about how the girl held herself and walked was… weird. Nonsensical, in fact.

Trying for more on the girl herself, her interest piqued, she got a sudden impression of something vast looking at her with a certain amount of disapproval. She flinched, feeling a wave of power-induced migraine jump out of nowhere and slam into her brain like a brick to the face. There was also a sort of mental static out of which she could only get intermittent flashes of information.

Dangerous.

Not hostile.

Dangerous.

Hiding something in plain sight.

Really
dangerous. Do not threaten.


Her migraine increased to blinding levels and she closed her eyes, her face twitching.

“Are you OK, Lisa?” Brian's concerned voice penetrated the fog of pain the blonde was in, making her nod, then shake, her head, regretting both motions instantly.

“Not really, no,” she said in a faint voice. “Do you have that bottle of Advil?”

“I thought you said painkillers don't work,” he said in a low voice, despite that rummaging around in his coat pocket.

“They don't work very well, no, but to be honest I'll take anything I can get right now,” she muttered, holding out her hand. He shook two tablets into it. “More.”

A little reluctantly he gave her two more. “That's it, any more than that and you're going to have problems.” She nodded slightly, placing the tablets in her mouth, chewing which made both of them wince, her from the incredibly bad taste and him in sympathy, then flipped the lid off her Coke and drank the entire thing. Putting her head on the table she waited.

After ten minutes or so she felt well enough to look up. Her head still hurt like hell but she at least didn't want to take the pistol in her handbag and put the muzzle in her ear now. “Ow,” she said.

“What the hell brought that on?” he asked curiously, still looking concerned.

“I think I saw something I wasn't supposed to,” she sighed. “I don't know. Just… if you see a tall fifteen year old girl with long curly brunette hair, brown eyes, and a wide mouth, turn around and walk the other way. I think it would be healthier.”

Obviously very confused, he merely nodded, watching as she put her head on the table again and closed her eyes once more. After a moment he reached out and stole her nearly untouched meal, eating it while he waited patiently for her to recover.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Hey, look at this.”

Über, real name Randall Martins, looked away from his huge TV at the sound of his partner's voice. Pausing the game with the press of a button on the controller he got up and wandered over to the workbench on which an elaborate computer rig was set up, their little floating camera ball connected to it.

“What's up?” he asked curiously.

His old friend and literal partner in crime Leet, or Kevin Sherrill, pointed at one of the monitors. “Look. I was editing the show together from the footage from today and I saw something weird.” Randall watched the video segment play, grinning at his recorded self in the Megacity One Judge's costume exchanging comments with Glory Girl. Rubbing his bruised chin he reflected with some chagrin that winding the blonde up like that, while extremely funny, had been a little over-effective. They'd been lucky to get away more or less undamaged although his bike was a write off. It had exploded all by itself just before he'd managed to hit the self destruct to cause a diversion. Luckily, the unscheduled violent disassembly had still worked to that end.

“It looks good. What's the problem?”

“Here, in the background. See that tall girl with the nearly black hair? About fifteen, sixteen, maybe?”

Über leaned in, peering at the monitor. After a moment he nodded.

“What about her?”

“Watch.” Kevin scrolled back through the video frame by frame with a jog wheel on the keyboard. Randall kept his eyes on the girl, who was moving in reverse, going back behind the phone booth she'd apparently been hiding behind. “There. See it?”

“Not with you,” Randall was forced to admit. Leet sighed heavily.

“OK. Look here.” He put his finger on the monitor, right at the girl's feet. “Now watch carefully.” He wound the recording forward again, then stopped it. Flipping it back and forth a few frames, he looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Please tell me you can see that.”

Randall watched a few cycles of the recording, then slowly nodded. “What is it?”

“A tail.”

There was a long pause.

“A tail?” Über's voice was puzzled.

His friend nodded. “Yes. A tail. A great big tail like you'd expect to see on a dinosaur.”

Squinting at the monitor, Randall shook his head. “Are you sure?”

YES, I'm sure,” the smaller man insisted in an irritated manner. He clicked the mouse, bringing up another clip. “Look, you can see it better here.” Sure enough, this time Randall was forced to admit the girl did indeed have a tail, coming out of an apparently tailored opening in the rear of her pants. The way she moved it seemed completely natural.

“Hmm. That's a bit strange,” he said slowly.

Leet looked over his shoulder at him and rolled his eyes. “A bit strange. OK, let's go with that. But, you want to know the really strange thing?”

With a shrug Über replied, “What's the really strange thing?”

“Look at this.” His partner clicked on another recording, showing the scene from a different angle. “This is something one of the crowd recorded and posted on PHO. Look, there's that girl again, really clearly. What do you see?”

Carefully studying the video as it played, Über suddenly reached out and paused it. He leaned close to the monitor for a moment.

“I see a distinct lack of tail,” he commented slowly.

“See? I said it was weird, didn't I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“She's obviously a cape, although I don't recognize her. Maybe a case 53 I guess. But how is she hiding that tail? No one in the crowd seems to see it. As far as I can see any normal camera would miss it completely as well. The sensor in the snitch is very unusual, and even then it's only just making it out. I had to boost the gain a lot and run some signal processing on it to see it that clearly. It's a damn good trick.”

Randall unpaused the video and played it some more. Suddenly he saw something else. Hitting the space bar he stopped it again, then studied the man next to the girl.

“What do I do with the recording?” Kevin went on. “I don't want to out a cape, but this is one of the best parts.”

“Delete that part, anything with that girl in it,” Randall told him firmly. Kevin looked up at him, a little puzzled by his expression.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“See that guy there?” Pointing at the tall balding man with glasses who was standing next to the girl with the part time tail, he waited for his friend to nod. “That's Danny Hebert, the de-facto head of the Dock Worker's Union. He's a decent man.”

Kevin studied the man for a moment. “And?” he asked, still sounding puzzled.

“That girl is his daughter. Look, you can see the resemblance very clearly. She must have triggered recently.” Über sighed. “I don't want to be the one who outs her. And I really don't want to be the one who pissed Danny Hebert off.”

“He's just a normal, isn't he?” Kevin asked. “I remember him now, we did a little job for the DWU a couple of years ago. He seemed pleasant enough.”

“Oh, he is, although I think he's been depressed for a while. I heard his wife died or something. But the point is, he has a bit of a temper. Like, get him on the warpath and you'd better hope he doesn't meet you down a dark alley bit of a temper. Causing his daughter any trouble would not go down well.” Randall smiled grimly. “Normal or not, he'd be a problem. So, aside from any other reason, let's not poke that particular sleeping bear, OK? Delete the recordings. We have more than enough aside from that angle, right?"

Kevin nodded slowly. “Yep. We're covered. This show will be one of the best yet.” With a few quick motions of his mouse, he made the files go away.

“Good. And thanks.”

Über slapped his partner on the back and went back to his game, leaving the smaller man rubbing the impact spot and muttering something rude.

Chapter Text

 “This should do for now,” Danny said, waving his hand at the cavernous interior of the warehouse. His voice echoed around the huge building, overlaid with the sound of dripping water from somewhere in the distance. “It used to be used for overhauling trawlers years back but no one uses it for anything but storage of old crap these days. It's still fairly secure, though, so those damn junkies haven't moved in. No one else is around now, it's nearly six PM, so we can make some noise if we need to."

Taylor looked around the vast room, nodding slightly. It was lit rather unevenly by industrial lamps in the ceiling, at least half of which weren't working. She couldn't see any windows and only the door they'd come in through, and on the other end a pair of enormous double doors that opened in the direction of the bay. Set into the floor were several sets of what looked like train tracks, greasy and oily for the most part but rusty in other places.

Overall, it looked like exactly what it was, a nearly abandoned warehouse, although in this case it was also a fairly good place to see what she could do.

Off to one side were a couple of dozen three foot square metal cubes, some sort of big dented bins, which seemed to be full of scrap metal. On the other side was a pile of cylindrical metal poles about six inches thick and six feet long. She looked at them, then her father. He answered the unasked question. “They're rollers for putting certain types of ship on. They weigh more than a quarter of a ton each.”

“So what should we try first?” she asked.

He thought for a moment. “Easiest thing would seem to be finding out how strong you are. Find something heavy and try picking it up.”

She shrugged, walking over to the row of steel rollers. He looked startled. “You really think you can manage one of those?”

“I won't know unless I try, right?” she asked, smiling at him.

“OK. Don't hurt yourself,” he replied after a moment. Nodding, she looked down at one of the rollers, poking it with her toe. It didn't flinch, clearly unimpressed by her.

After thinking it over, she positioned herself in the middle of it, squatted down, and grabbed the thing. Trying to lift it produced nothing except a yelp of surprise when her hands slipped on the greasy metal, making her nearly fall over and Danny muffle a snicker. Glaring at him she held up her hands, watching his face as they shifted into something with a lot more grip and long talons.

Grimly, she wrapped her now-reptilian hands around the metal, squeezing hard and bracing herself with her tail, then tried again. She nearly fell over once more, this time in shock at how easily the huge piece of steel came off the floor.

“Holy shit,” Danny breathed in stunned amazement.

“This is a lot easier than it should be,” she laughed, hefting the roller. She had to be careful because the off center weight nearly made her fall over, but with a little juggling she had it in a stable carry. Walking slowly across the floor carrying it she could hear little crinkling sounds from the concrete under her feet since the weight was now concentrated in a much smaller area. The old material was flaking and decaying, so it didn't take much to cause it to crumble.

He stepped out of the way as she went past carrying over six hundred pounds of solid steel. A little more experimentation and she had carefully lowered it to the floor again, then grabbed one end and heaved it up to a vertical position, and from there onto her shoulder. Taylor started jogging around the room carrying the load, grinning like an idiot.

“Could you manage more?” he asked in shock.

She nodded, still grinning. “Sure. I think I could probably get four or five times this off the floor. But I can't pick another one up without dropping this one.”

He pointed at the metal crates across the room. “Those must weigh at least three times what that thing does, the five on the end are full of old scrap cast iron of various sorts.”

With a nod she returned the steel bar to where it had come from, lowering it to the floor then whipping her taloned fingers from under it, letting it drop the last half inch with a huge clang. Going over to the metal crates she looked at them, then picked one that was about half full. Grabbing it at the two points that seemed to be for connecting the crane that was silent on the ceiling, slowly decaying away, she heaved, leaning back.

Again, the impossibly large load came off the floor, although it certainly wasn't as easy this time. She lifted it against her chest, leaning far back to balance it, and turned around. “Where do you want it?” she asked with a grin. Danny shook his head in wonder.

“Put it over there on that big steel platform,” he said, pointing. She did as requested, casting him a curious look. “It's a scale. I want to see how much it weighs.” He went over to the large round dial she'd missed at first due to the way it was completely covered in dust and wiped it clean with a rag he picked up from an old workbench next to the scale. She saw it was reading nearly two and a half thousand pounds, the outer needle which read up to five hundred pounds having gone around several times and the inner one going up two divisions.

“Well over a ton,” he whistled in awe.

“I'm going to try a heavier one,” she said eagerly, grabbing the first crate and putting it back. He stayed well out of the way as she picked one that was nearly full. This was quite a strain but she managed to stagger over to the scale with it and dump it on the platform. When the needle stopped spinning around and settled down, they exchanged a glance of amazement.

“Four thousand eight hundred pounds. Shit. Over two tons.”

“It was pretty heavy,” she admitted. He stared at her, then laughed.

“I'm not surprised. That's more than a lot of cars weigh.”

“I don't think I could manage much more than that, Dad,” she said. “Not in this form.”

“OK. The thing I'm wondering is how on earth you can be that strong and not simply tear everything to pieces without even trying,” he replied, looking at her thoughtfully.

“I am managing your strength to prevent exactly that happening,” the Varga interrupted, making her nod and pass on the information.

“Ah. That would explain it. Thank you.” Danny smiled. “OK then, Taylor, why don't you try your other form and see how it compares.”

She nodded with a smile and headed back to the rollers, changing between one step and the next, her clothes vanishing as she did. Reaching them she leaned over, putting her forelegs on the ground and adopting a quadrupedal stance for stability, then grabbed one of the rollers with her right hand. Squeezing she lifted, easily heaving it off the floor. Looking over her shoulder she snickered at her father's expression, which paled even further when she picked up another one with the other hand.

“That… is very scary,” he said in a small voice.

“It's very easy as well,” she laughed. “They feel about the same weight as if they were made of polystyrene.” Hefting the rollers, she tapped them together, wincing a little as her sensitive hearing protested at the surprisingly loud metallic ringing sound.

“Ow. That was loud,” Danny commented wryly, wiggling a finger in his ear. She would have blushed if she had the right physiology for it.

“Sorry, Dad,” she apologized.

Putting one roller down again, she looked thoughtfully at the one still in her hand, then grabbed it with the other hand. Sliding them apart as far as she could, which was close to the ends, she heaved.

The six inch thick solid steel bar groaned in protest and slowly bent, smoking in the middle as it heated up. Danny went very still. She kept bending until it was a U shape, then put it down. Looking over at him she made the toothy smile she could manage in this form. “That's pretty impressive, right, Dad?”

He nodded jerkily.

Considering the bar, she picked it up then tried straightening it again. It resisted much more vigorously this time, making her mutter to herself. She performed the internal action the Varga had taught her to increase her size, growing larger while still heaving. When she reached about ten feet tall she found the bar bent back fairly easily. She wiggled it back and forth a couple of times, amused at the way the middle was beginning to glow dull red. “Wow. Why does it do that, do you think?”

You are stressing the internal molecular structure of the steel and causing it to emit heat from friction,” the Varga told her, somewhat to her surprise. He picked up on this, laughing slightly. “I am not a scientist but I am also not entirely without education in such matters.

'Fair enough,' she thought at him with amusement. Experimentally she gingerly moved her finger along the metal, trying to work out when it was hot enough to burn her. To her surprise she found that she could place her hand directly on the red-glowing part. It felt warm, but not uncomfortably hot.

Squeezing she watched as the metal flowed around her fingers like modeling clay, leaving deep impressions. At her current size she could wrap her fingers entirely around the bar with no problems. “Hey, Dad, look at this,” she said in an amused tone, waving the glowing bar at him. She was a little puzzled by the way he was simply staring.

“Doesn't that hurt?” he finally managed to say.

She shook her head. “No, it's pleasantly warm, that's all,” she replied. Cocking her head she listened to her internal voice, then added, “Varga says heat resistance is a required part of being a demon.” She giggled at the comment, while Danny sighed again.

“Of course it is,” he mumbled.

Putting the distorted bar down she shrank back to normal size, then went back to the scales, walking on all fours like it was the most natural thing in the world. Her body seemed at home on either two legs or four, the arms at her waist making good legs. Grasping the sides of the crate on the scales she easily lifted it off, shaking her head a little in the process.

“It's too light. I can lift a lot more than this.” Returning it to the row of similar ones, she looked through them, not finding anything much more heavily loaded.

Suddenly having a thought, she snapped her fingers, the talons clicking together. “I'm an idiot,” she exclaimed.

“What do you mean?” Danny asked from where he was now sitting on a pile of wooden pallets.

Instead of directly answering him, she said out loud, “Varga, can you make me some weights to test my strength with, please?”

I was wondering when you'd think of that,” the amused voice of her constant companion said in her head. A sparkle of energy preceded the formation of a cube about two feet on an edge with a handle on each side on the floor in front of her, made of the same gray slick metal as the sword he provided. The handles were loops and covered in something that looked like it would provide a decent grip. “There you go. Try that one.

“Thanks,” she said, inspecting it curiously. Bending at the waist she grabbed the handles and lifted. “Ack. This is heavy!

That's what you asked for.” The Varga laughed slightly.

Straining hard and leaning back, she managed to get the block of metal off the floor and over her forelegs, staggering in a weird four-legged manner over to the scales while leaving impressions in the concrete behind her. She put the block down carefully. The dial whizzed around, making Danny who was watching in awe whistle again. When it finally stopped he stared in shock, as did she.

“Thirty-three thousand pounds?” he squeaked.

“Holy crap,” she managed. “That's over sixteen tons.” They exchanged a glance, shocked even under the circumstances.

After a long moment, Danny got a thoughtful look on his face, inspecting the huge block of metal with a raised eyebrow. “Hold on. Something is wrong here.”

“What, Dad?” she asked curiously, turning her head to him.

“It's too heavy. What the hell is it made of?”

“Good stuff, the Varga said,” she replied. Her head voice wasn't much more informative than that.

Rooting around on the workbench Danny came up with an old steel yardstick, carefully measuring the block on each side. “OK. Just under two feet. Let's call it two feet. Close enough,” he muttered, pulling a small notebook from his coat pocket and a pencil from another one. Scribbling he kept muttering. “Volume is then eight cubic feet. Let's see...” He glanced at her, thinking hard, apparently trying to remember something. “Ah. I remember. Iron is around four hundred and ninety pounds per cubic foot, which means it would weigh… four thousand pounds. So it isn't iron.”

He thought some more, while in her head the Varga was chuckling as if he was having a wonderful time. “Copper is heavier. Five hundred and sixty pounds or so. But that only gives… just under four and a half thousand pounds. Ah. Gold. What's that...” He was obviously very curious and on the trail of something interesting. Taylor watched for a moment while his lips moved silently, then lowered herself to the ground, lying on her belly like a giant cat. She waited.

“Aha! No. Damn. Gold would still only be about ninety-six hundred pounds. Osmium maybe?” Danny shook his head in frustration. “I can't remember the density of osmium exactly but it's nowhere near high enough. This stuff has a density at least three times higher than anything I have ever heard of. “

He looked frustrated. “That's why your sword is so heavy. I wonder what the hell it really is?”

“He won't say, he just laughs when I ask,” Taylor replied, shrugging. She stood up. “I'll find out sooner or later. At the moment it's a useful weight.”

“I suppose,” her father said doubtfully, still staring at the block with a puzzled expression.

“I'm going to try going bigger,” she told him.

“The scales only go up to fifty thousand pounds,” he warned.

“I don't think it matters. We know how much that one weighs, so we can work out the weight of a larger one just by measuring it.” He nodded thoughtfully.

“Good point. OK, go ahead.”

Pacing over to the middle of the floor, she looked around, then suggested, “Varga, can you make a big plate of that stuff to stop the floor getting dented any more? I left footprints in it the last time.”

Certainly, Brain,” the demon replied, doing as she wanted. A flat covering of the gray metal grew across the floor from under her feet, coated with a thin transparent layer of something her feet could grip.

Curious, she asked, “Can you make that stuff anywhere?”

Within a short distance, yes,” he replied. “It needs to be in proximity to you, though, as you are basically the conduit through which I work the matter creation. I can't do it at arbitrary distances. Let's say, within about fifteen feet or so from you.

“OK. Cool. Right, then, make a block twice the volume of the last one.”

As you wish.” The requested block of metal appeared in front of her. She experimentally tried picking it up, finding it impossible at her current size.

“Nope, too heavy,” she reported to Danny, who was watching with interest. She increased in size, still heaving, until the block moved. “Got it,” she grunted, finding that she was having trouble picking it up without tipping over. She was now about eight feet tall.

Putting it down, she then requested on twice the volume of the previous one. The block vanished, to be replaced with the bigger one. She repeated the process.

Eventually she worked up to a block nearly the size of a car, which by their calculations should weigh over a thousand tons. She was large enough that her head was level with the crane, forty feet in the air. “I think that's enough, Taylor,” Danny called. He had been taking notes with an increasing air of disbelief.

“OK, Dad,” she rumbled, her voice having become deeper and deeper as she grew. Flipping the internal switch she almost instantly shrank back to the normal size of her combat form, rising to her bipedal stance and walking over to peer over his shoulder at his notes. “Wow,” she mumbled.

“Wow indeed. I wonder how strong that is compared to Alexandria,” he asked, shaking his head in wonder. “And you seemed to be getting stronger faster as well. Each increase in size was smaller. At two hundred and fifty feet?” He let out a disbelieving breath. “You really would be picking skyscrapers up if you could get the leverage.”

“I wonder how much I weighed at that size?” she mused out loud.

“Hop on the scales and we'll see if we can work it out,” he suggested. She did exactly that, reading the result with interest. “Two hundred and ninety three pounds,” she announced.

“OK. That's actually lighter than I expected,” he replied. “Let's measure how tall you are.” He used the yardstick while she stood next to the wall in quadrupedal mode. “Five feet six inches when you're standing like that.”

“It's a little weird, I feel short like this,” she told him. Looking over her shoulder, she added, “but long as well. The end of my tail is about ten feet away.”

“All right, if you double in size your volume should go up by a factor of eight. Doubling in each of width, depth, and height. So, at forty feet, which is about where you were at the end, that's… roughly seven point three times as large as you are right now. So that makes it something like three hundred and eighty nine times heavier, which is… good grief, nearly a hundred and fourteen thousand pounds. Around fifty seven tons.”

She stared in disbelief, then looked at his calculations. As far as she could see he was right.

“How is that even possible?

“How are powers of any sort possible?” he retorted. She had no answer.

“What about if I go full Varga?”

Never go full Varga,” he quipped, but worked it out anyway. When he arrived at a final calculation he stared, then wordlessly handed her the notebook. She read the figure in complete shock.

“Thirteen… thousand… tons?” she whispered.

“Thirteen thousand seven hundred and fifty seven or so, actually,” he said in a faint voice, groping for a seat again, finally slumping onto the pallet stack and staring at her. “Assuming you topped out at two hundred and fifty feet like you said, in that form, just bigger. If the Varga is actually more like that Godzilla from the movie, which from what I remember was more heavily built, it would be more. Probably a lot more. Twenty thousand plus?” He shook his head. “You'd certainly be able to leave footprints in the street. You'd probably leave them in solid rock.”

They gaped at each other for quite a while.

Please don't leave huge foot prints down the middle of the Boardwalk,” Danny finally said, which made her start laughing helplessly. He joined her.

When they finally calmed down, he looked at his reptilian seeming daughter fondly. “So, if nothing else, you're probably the Brute to end all Brutes. Let's see something new.”

With a nod she returned to her base form, requesting a sword as she did so. Walking to the middle of the room once more she felt for a stable stance, concentrating on the swordplay skills she seemed to have picked up from Princess Luna. Slowly, she began what she thought was a training exercise, going through the motions carefully with the ridiculously sharp blade. Danny watched with great interest as she moved through a stylized set of exercises, her speed growing as her confidence increased.

Fifteen minutes later she was moving at a blinding speed, alternating thrusts, parries, blocks, and cuts seamlessly, while moving around the still present metal floor covering in what was very close to a dance, her tail moving to keep her perfectly balanced even when she leaned forward in a thrust. Her repertoire of movements had steadily increased through the process.

He twitched in surprise when between one movement and another she resumed the combat form, stumbling a little as she got used to the different balance, then picking up speed again until she was back to the same level as before. She pushed it harder, the sword going from making tearing silk sounds to producing small whip-crack sounds when particularly rapidly swung. She attacked an invisible opponent, slicing at it, then spinning around and lashing out with her tail in one movement, which would clearly have decapitated a normal human. The appendage literally whistled through the air it was moving so fast.

“I think that's probably enough, Taylor,” he finally called. She slowed down then stopped, turning to face him. Her glowing eyes in the gloom of the warehouse stood out in a way that was unnerving even knowing it was his daughter there in front of him. “You should probably also think about having the Varga come up with a form that's not so… terrifying,” he commented. She tilted her head like a curious puppy, making him grin.

“I have no idea what you mean, Dad,” she said, a laugh in her voice.

"I'm sure,” he replied, getting up and walking over to her. She waited for him, flexing her shoulders. The exercise hadn't been particularly tiring although she felt like she'd had a good workout. It was fun if anything.

“I have to say that based on what I saw, I think you have some fairly serious skills in swordplay,” he went on. “I don't know all that much about it but it looked pretty formidable.”

She nodded, looking at the sword she was still holding, then out of curiosity went over to the wrecked roller she'd bent with her father following. Inspecting it, she raised the sword, then swung it down at the metal, gaping when it went nearly all the way through.

“Holy crap,” she exclaimed. “I hardly put any effort into that.”

Wrenching it free she examined the blade, seeing it was as perfect as before. Shrugging, she swung again, harder. This time she chopped a six inch chunk off the end of the bar and buried the blade deep into the floor.

“Hey, watch it, dear,” Danny protested. “If you cause too much damage someone is going to notice. We're still going to have to get rid of that.” He pointed at the bent roller. Taylor dipped her head in embarrassment.

“Sorry, Dad.” She asked the Varga to get rid of her sword, then bent down and picked up both pieces of bar. Heading towards the doors facing the bay, she listened carefully, then used a secondary hand to slide one half of the doors open having lifted the locking bar that clamped them shut.

“What are you doing?” Danny asked, coming up behind her.

“Getting rid of the evidence,” she said with a smile in her voice. Sticking her head out she looked both ways, using the heat vision to be sure. No one seemed to be anywhere in the area. Sliding the door further open she looked at the bay, fifty feet away on the other side of a decaying concrete dockyard, then heaved the smaller piece in her right hand with a hard overhand throw. Both of them watched with astonishment as the forty pound lump of steel disappeared into the distance, a very tiny splash barely visible in the dim moonlight from the partially overcast night sky several seconds later.

She glanced at her father, then transferred the larger piece to her right hand, repeating the feat. This piece went nearly as far. “That's impressive,” Danny mumbled.

“I don't think anyone will find it now,” she told him with satisfaction then slid the door closed again with a rumble from dry bearings, locking it with the bar once more.

“No, I don't think so either,” he agreed.

“What else can we test here?” she asked, resuming her human form, the Varga without comment again producing suitable clothes in the process. She was becoming very used to that facility even after only a couple of days. She had the brief notion that she was more or less wearing a figment of her imagination then tried not to get embarrassed, her cheeks pinking a little.

Danny looked around, thinking. “I'm not sure,” he finally admitted. “We have an idea of your strength, which is just ridiculous, your speed which is impressive, and we're pretty sure you can probably fight quite well, at least with a sword. What's left?”

“Speed running in combat form?” she suggested after thinking it over herself.

“In here? You'd run into the walls. It's big, but not that big.”

“How about on the freeway?” Taylor grinned at his expression. “Using the cloak technique, of course. That should stop anyone reporting a dinosaur running in the overtaking lane.”

“Assuming it works,” he grumbled, but eventually nodded. “All right. We'll drive home, when I get to the freeway on ramp you jump out and run. Make sure you're cloaked. I don't want to have to explain to some nice police officer why my reptilian daughter is charging down the road with no clothes on.”

She started laughing, shaking her head at the look on his face. “You can't see anything,” she said, giggling. “My scales cover all the naughty bits.”

“You're still nude. Don't make me insist you put a shirt on.”

Snickering, she followed as he picked up the various things they'd used and put them back, requesting that the Varga get rid of the improvised floor cover in the process. Taking the phone he handed her she followed him out to the car, getting in when he unlocked it.

“At least it's dark now,” she said, looking at the clock on the dash. It was nearly nine at night, they'd been experimenting for over three hours. “Even if anyone saw me the color of my scales should blend in with the night pretty well.”

“Try not to be seen in the first place,” he growled, driving through the darkened industrial wasteland. “I can't believe I'm letting you do this.”

“Can you think of a better way to find out how fast I can run?” she asked. He shook his head.

“Unfortunately, no. Not without a very strange treadmill. I'm sure the PRT has something like that, but...”

She nodded, understanding his point. After another few minutes he slowed down, looking around. “OK. The on ramp is just down that way. Use that cloak technique, then get out of the car. I'll wait for you.”

“Yes, Dad,” she agreed. 'Varga?'

You are cloaked from anyone but your father, Brain,” the Varga told her calmly. “You may proceed.” It seemed, as it often was, somewhat amused by their experiments. Taylor opened the door and got out quickly, shutting it again.

“You've definitely got your phone in case of trouble?” Danny asked suddenly through the open window.

“I have,” she said. Then she frowned. “I'll have to hold it.” Pulling it from her pocket she willed the change, then waited. Danny nodded, slipping the car into drive and accelerating, with her jogging along beside it. After a moment or two he sped up. She matched the pace effortlessly.

Half a minute later he indicated left, then pulled onto the freeway, heading home and slowly increasing speed. Within a short time he was matching the speed of the other cars, with her behind him following at the same velocity. She trailed him for several miles until he indicated and took the turning that eventually led to home. Half a mile further on he pulled into a dark alley, allowing her to stop next to him.

“Now, that was really impressive,” he said, smiling up at her. She was breathing hard but steadily. “I hit over sixty along there for nearly five miles. You didn't seem to have much trouble keeping up.”

“It was pretty easy, to be honest,” she told him. “I think I could go faster. And of course I could get bigger, my legs would be longer so I'd run faster then as well.”

“I'm not sure it's quite that simple, but I'd agree you're pretty quick. How tired are you?” He looked curious.

“I could easily do it again,” she said after considering the question. “It feels like that sword exercise did. A good workout but not to the point I can't stand up. I think I'll sleep well, though.”

“Interesting. OK, change back and get in. I need something to eat. How about spaghetti?”

“That sounds great, Dad,” she told him, coming around to the passenger side and climbing in having gone back to human form.

When they were headed back home, he glanced at her where she was looking out the window, a small smile on her face. “I'm proud of you, Taylor. Always remember that.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

They sat in silence the rest of the way, but it was a comfortable one.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

“How about this?”

Danny stared, then shook his head slowly.

“No, that's… just disturbing.”

Taylor sighed, feeling one of the horns sticking out of the side of her head with a taloned finger. “But it looks cool,” she said, “Like a fantasy dragon.”

“It also looks like you eat hobbits for lunch and laugh about it,” Danny protested.

She mumbled to herself, then had another conversation with the Varga, which was almost constantly snickering as they tried various forms to see if there was a practical one that was also, to use her father's rather descriptive words after turning around and seeing her grinning at him in the kitchen that morning while trying out a new one, not 'pants-shittingly terrifying'. The demon had found this extremely funny, although Danny had not, going pale and squealing like a little girl before he recovered.

She tried again. He stared once more then closed his eyes. “Are you actually trying to give me a heart attack?” he moaned.

She shook her head. “No,” she said more or less honestly.

“Lose the teeth.”

“Thy'r f'ngs,” she muttered through a mouthful of ivory that would have made a rampaging T-Rex run away whimpering.

“They're horrifying,” he retorted, opening his eyes briefly then closing them again. “Try again.”

Sighing, she did. When he felt it was safe, he opened his eyes once more, then gaped, before rolling them.

“What do you call that?” he asked, exasperated.

She looked down at herself, then back at him. “Something you could ride to work?” This form was an even more quadrupedal version than the original combat form, obviously built for pure speed, like a horse crossed with an iguana. There were only four legs, no arms, and a row of spikes down the spine from the back of her head, along the long neck, and right down the length of her tail, terminating in something that looked like it came from a stegosaurus.

Her head was slightly less ferocious looking than that of her normal combat form, inasmuch as it had smaller teeth and no horns this time. The glowing yellow slit-pupilled eyes were the same, though.

“It's not very practical, though, is it?” he asked patiently. “I mean, you don't have any hands, just those sort of paw-like things, and trust me, there's no way you'd get anyone to sit on your back with those spines in the way.”

She performed an odd shrug, the spines melting away. “How's that?”

“Still no.”

Laughing, she went back to her base form, moving to hug him. “Sorry Dad, Varga is giggling himself sick now, he thinks the whole thing is ridiculous. He said that becoming cuddly and friendly is almost the exact opposite of his nature. We can try again later.”

“All right.” Danny gave her an affectionate if long-suffering look. “Let's go over the plan for tomorrow one last time, then I'm going to bed. Try not to stay up all night on the internet.”

He fixed them some nachos and they sat at the kitchen table for an hour going over everything until they were both sure they knew their parts in the next stage.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Friday, January 14, 2011

Taylor sat in the passenger seat and stared at the form of her biggest nemesis.

Winslow High School.

It stared back, the blank gaze of the windows across the front of the building giving off an air of contempt.

She shivered a little, then took a deep breath. “I can do this,” she said quietly. Danny put his hand on her shoulder.

“I know you can. Just don't lose your temper. We have to let them do the work and if you give them any excuse they can twist it.”

She nodded, suddenly tired of all this running around. “We could simply jump up and down on that building, Brain,” the Varga suggested with malicious amusement. “You would feel much better afterwards.”

Snickering, she conceded the point, but replied, 'It would be great but it would also cause more trouble. Let's try Dad's plan. Jumping up and down is the last resort.'

As you say.” It seemed mildly disappointed, making her laugh again.

“Please don't do whatever your friend just suggested you do,” Danny sighed, recognizing the symptoms of her conversing with the demon. “When you get that tone in your laugh I worry.”

She grinned at him, looked back at the building, then craned around to peer out the back window at the car behind them, before replying, “Let's get it done.”

“All right,” he responded, putting the car in gear again and pulling into the visitor car park. The other vehicle stopped beside them as they both got out, two men exiting and waiting.

One was an absolutely huge black guy, about mid thirties, bald, and over six and a half feet tall. He looked like he could snap Danny in half without even trying. The other one was white, less than six feet tall, but nearly that across, his face bearing a faint but impressive scar running from above his left eye all the way down and around his face to under his chin. This one looked like he ate gravel for breakfast, without milk.

They were a couple of men Danny had borrowed from the longshoreman's club at the DWU, people he trusted and who trusted him. Both of them looked like they were having fun. They were wearing suits and sunglasses, with long coats over them. Overall the impression was of competent danger.

“OK, you two, remember, no rough stuff unless they start it, and don't laugh.” Danny looked at them severely.

John, the white guy, saluted him with two fingers, grinning for a moment then making his face go blank and cold like a hit-man waiting to be paid, while the other one, Zephron, nodded. “You got it, Boss,” he said in a voice so deep Taylor could swear she felt it through her shoes.

“And knock off the Boss stuff, we're not in a Godfather movie,” Danny added.

“Si, Padrone,” Zephron quipped, making John and Taylor both snort with laughter.

“You see the level of people I have to work with, dear?” Danny complained, turning to his daughter.

“I do, Dad. It must be hard.” She caught the huge bald man's eye and he winked, then quickly schooled his expression when Danny looked back suspiciously.

Sighing faintly while still looking mildly amused, Danny cast his gaze around the car park while he adjusted his own coat. His eyes stopped on one particular BMW, then narrowed. “Interesting,” he muttered.

Taylor looked to where he was, before asking, “Isn't that Mr Barnes' car?”

“Yes, it is. That is… a little unexpected. But I think it makes this even better.” He turned to her with a small hard smile. “Let's go and show them what happens when you mess with a Hebert. Give us ten minutes, then go inside, like we agreed.”

She nodded, waiting patiently as he walked across the car park through the slush with a steady gait, disappearing into the building with his two companions in formation behind him on either side. Students who were milling around the doors took one look and melted out of the way, even the ABB and E88 gangers looking a little nervous. Taylor grinned viciously. She was abruptly intensely proud of her father and looking forward to what happened next, all her earlier fears gone.

He is a formidable man when angered, your father,” the Varga noted quietly. “I am glad that this entire sequence of events has apparently started him on the road to recovery. I like him.

'Thanks. So do I.' She glanced at her watch again, then took another deep breath.

“Showtime,” she said in a low voice. She adjusted the sleeves of her hoodie, making sure that the specialist equipment in it was operating, tapped the frame of the new pair of glasses she was wearing in a specific place twice, then started walking, slightly slouched over with her head down, the very picture of a dejected, depressed loner, her bag hanging at her side.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Danny Hebert, to see Principal Blackwell,” Danny said calmly as he looked expectantly at the bespectacled middle-aged woman sitting at the secretaries' desk, who looked back with a supercilious expression, one slightly modified by the presence of his two looming book ends. “With associates.”

She looked down and made a big production of looking through her appointment book, making little officious sounds. “I'm afraid I can't see an appointment here, sir,” she said after a moment. He raised an eyebrow.

“Really? Perhaps you need new glasses.” He put his finger on one line on the currently open page, reading the entry upside down, a skill that had stood him in good stead during many contract negotiations. “It's right there, see? Eight AM, Hebert, Danny.”

The woman frowned, but was forced to admit that he had a point. “I'll just see if she's ready for you,” she said, picking up a phone handset.

“Oh, don't go to all that trouble, I know the way,” he told her airily, turning and striding off towards the door leading to the principal's inner office, John and Zephron following his cue with aplomb. Outraged cries of indignation came from behind them but he ignored the sounds, knocking once on the door, then swinging it open. His companions took up stations on either side, folding their arms and looking blankly at the secretary, who had scuttled after them. She paled a little and stopped, then returned to her desk.

Inside the office, Danny closed the door behind himself, looking around at the surprisingly large number of people packed into it. “Well, well, well,” he said quietly. “Quite a crowd. How unexpected.”

“Mr Hebert, I don't appreciate you bursting into my office like this,” the severe pinch-faced blonde woman sitting behind the desk said coldly.

He smiled pleasantly at her.

“Pity,” he replied. Looking at his watch, he added, “I'm on time, so I wonder why not?”

Glancing around again, he nodded to a familiar face. “Alan. I'm rather surprised to see you here.” Alan Barnes looked both worried and apprehensive, although it was only his long history with the man that let him see that past the professionally blank facade of a practicing lawyer.

Sitting next to him was a black woman about his age, who wasn't hiding the worry nearly as much, and a short man in a nice suit who seemed a little puzzled by his own presence. Danny turned back to the Principal, putting his briefcase on the floor beside him. “I have to ask, why are these people here? I didn't ask for them.”

“Since you are here about your daughter's alleged bullying, I thought it prudent to make it fair by ensuring all parties were represented.”

He studied her for a few seconds, long enough that Alan Barnes shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Did you now. That is interesting. When we talked, I didn't mention that the three girls who were the ringleaders of the campaign against Taylor were Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess, and Madison Clements. The fact that you know that already and called them would appear to back up my side of the issue.”

Blackwell looked annoyed, and also like she'd suddenly realized she'd made a tactical error. Danny grinned at her, channeling the effect his daughter could produce with her combat form remarkably successfully. Blackwell swallowed a little, then attempted to cover it by shuffling papers on her desk.

“So, since I know Alan well, that would presumably make you Sophia's mother, and you most likely Madison's father,” Danny said, turning abruptly to the two unknown people present. They nodded, Madison's father getting half way through putting his hand out before he thought better of it.

“What's this all about, Danny,” Alan asked, everyone turning to look at him. “Taylor and Emma have been best friends since they were five. You can't honestly believe that Emma would turn on her? Bully her?”

Danny stared at him. “I trust my daughter implicitly and she has told me some extremely disturbing things, Alan. If she says Emma has been bullying her, I believe it.”

He glanced at his watch for a moment.

“Mr Hebert, while I understand that you may feel concerned about bullying, let me assure you that, while it does occur in this school as in every school, we are very proactive about stopping it and preventing any serious problems,” Principal Blackwell said in an obviously prepared way. He looked hard at her.

“Really.”

“Oh, yes, I can say without fear of contradiction that nothing beyond schoolyard pranks could happen here. I admit Taylor has made allegations, but she could never produce any proof. We investigated each allegation thoroughly and diligently and found nothing to back up her stories. I can show you the files if you would like to check.” She pushed a folder on her desk forward.

Danny looked at it, then his watch again, before sitting in the seat in front of the desk, which he was amused to see was low enough that it left him looking up at her. An old trick in negotiations. It had no effect if you realized it, of course. Picking his briefcase up he put it on his knees then opened it, removing the stack of paperwork Taylor had given him. He also pulled out a number of glossy printouts he'd made on the color printer in his office, spreading them across the desk. Principal Blackwell looked confused, then as she saw the images, disgusted and angry.

“I have files as well, Principal,” Danny said mildly. “And these. You do recognize them, I hope?”

“I hardly think that showing inappropriate photographs of filth is…” He raised a hand, cutting her off mid word.

“Perhaps I should make sure that everyone is on the same page here.” Reaching out he picked up one photo, turning in his seat to display it to the three others present, all of whom were looking slightly lost. Apparently while the Principal had called them in she hadn't got around to mentioning exactly why yet.

“This is a photo of the inside of Taylor's locker taken at twelve thirty eight AM on the morning of the seventh of January.” He held up another one. “Just after the previous one. Those are her footprints on the floor.” He handed them to Alan who was nearest, the lawyer taking them and looking at them with a weird expression. The other two peered at them as well, Mr Clements seeming at a loss.

“You'll note that the handprints on the locker are remarkably clear. You can even make out the fingerprints if you look closely,” he added casually. Principal Blackwell looked furious.

“What's that stuff in the bottom of the locker?” Mrs Hess asked with an expression of curious disgust.

“That would be the large amount of used tampons and other biological waste that your daughters put in there, before they pushed my daughter inside and locked her in,” he replied, in the same mild tone but with an undercurrent of danger. All three parents looked shocked.

“She was in there for over twelve hours, by the way. Someone finally let her out, but...” He glared at the principal who glared right back. “I have to wonder how the hell a fifteen year old girl could be locked into a school locker in a public area in the middle of the day, with all the various people wandering back and forth, students and staff alike, and not one single one of them apparently even noticed.”

“You have no proof,” Blackwell started, at the same time Mrs Hess burst into tears and Alan Barnes exclaimed, “Danny, you can't possibly think Emma was involved in this?”

He looked at the principal, then back to his old friend. “Taylor is convinced that it was Emma and Sophia directly involved in filling her locker with that… stuff… and that it was Sophia who pushed her in and locked it. And from what she tells me probably intimidated the students to the point that none of them were willing to get involved. Why the staff wouldn't I don't know for sure but based on her records and what she told me, a serious house cleaning is needed.” He was quietly furious but containing it, his anger lending his words an edge that seemed to make most of them listen despite not wanting to.

Turning back to Blackwell, having checked his watch again to get the timing right for best effect, he continued, “And as for proof...”

Reaching into his briefcase again he removed a laptop computer with a box of electronics festooned with antennae connected to it, putting in on the desk and opening the screen so that everyone could see it. Pressing a button made it wake up, displaying an image of the door of the school, which was bobbing up and down in a way that made it clear that the camera was being held by someone who was walking.

“… I think we'll very soon have all the proof we need, if events work out the way Taylor thinks they will.”

Blackwell glared at him and opened her mouth. He raised a warning finger. “No. Not this time. It's this or I just go to the police and file a complaint of attempted murder with you as a co-conspirator. Even if I lose the case the publicity will kill your career and you know it.” She closed her mouth with a snap and gave him a look that promised death and destruction, with a little sowing of the ground with salt afterwards thrown in.

Danny smiled grimly and returned his attention to the screen, reaching out to turn the volume up.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Entering the school, Taylor couldn't help the shiver that ran down her back and along her tail, feelings she'd been trying to bury for the last week coming to the surface. “You can do this, Brain,” the Varga murmured gently in her mind. “These people are beneath contempt. Do not let them intimidate you.”

She nodded very slightly, not trusting herself to say anything even in the mind-speak they shared, then looked up. Eyes were looking back at her. Lots of them.

As far as she could see damn near every student in the hallway was either staring outright, or looking at her when they thought she couldn't see. She could make out quite a number of smirks and several people laughing, one or two of them pointing at her.

Taking another calming breath through her teeth, she tried to remain passive and blank, although she had a sudden wild urge to grow scales and claws and just scream her rage. The Varga sent her calming sensations, which helped a lot.

Walking through the corridors towards her hated locker her tension grew with every step. People mainly stepped out of her way, but more in the manner of someone who didn't want to either stop something funny happening, or else didn't want to get involved. She could hear cutting comments from around her, decrying her looks, her clothes sense, and her overall hygiene, but she pushed them to the back of her mind. They were so normal to her school experience she hardly noticed any more.

A glance over her shoulder showed a number of girls she recognized from Emma's clique following behind, at enough distance to have plausible deniability, but closely enough that they wouldn't miss anything. She sighed internally and went back to her practiced depressed slouching walk.

“Are you certain that these people would be missed, Brain?” the Varga inquired. “I can think of a number of training exercises that require live targets.”

The comment made her snicker under her breath, very quietly. She kept her head down but felt better. She had more backup than these idiots could possibly imagine, a thought that made her feel warm inside. Hoping that the cameras in her glasses were working correctly, she turned into the corridor leading to her locker, seeing at a glance that Emma, Madison, and Sophia were waiting for her. They were making it look like a casual encounter but she could literally smell the anticipation wafting from them all, dwarfing the scents of either pleasure or fear she was sensing from the rest of the students.

Stopping for a moment, she looked at the three girls, who looked back, all four of them knowing this encounter was inevitable, then walked the remaining twenty feet and started working the combination lock. The scent she associated now with Sophia grew stronger as the girl wandered over, and she could also hear Emma and Madison making their way around to the other side. The slight draft in the corridor was blowing their scent away from her.

When the lock clicked, she pulled the door open and looked inside, half expecting to see stale blood and hand prints, even though her nose told her the thing had been scrubbed repeatedly with bleach. It was, of course, completely empty.

“I can't believe she bothered to come back,” she heard Madison mock-whisper behind her. “I mean, look at her. She's a wreck. Poor girl should be in a home or something.”

“She smells horrible as well,” Emma whispered back, equally loudly. Sophia snorted with muffled laughter, leaning casually on the locker beside hers. She glanced at the other girl for a moment, then went back to taking books out of her bag and putting them in the locker.

“Surprised you showed up, Hebert,” Sophia said. She looked over Taylor's shoulder, probably at Emma, then returned her attention to her target, a small malicious smile on her face. “Considering.”

Taylor turned to her. “Considering?” she prompted, her voice flat. “What's that supposed to mean, Sophia?”

“Considering what a pathetic excuse for a human being you are. Sorry, was I too subtle for you?” Sophia smirked while Emma and Madison giggled.

“Why do you do this, Sophia?” Taylor asked, genuinely wondering what the answer was. “Why go to so much trouble to cause me problems?” She waved at the open locker, making the girl glance at it then smile again nastily.

“You're weak, Hebert. The natural order of things is that the strong prey on the weak.” Sophia looked like she wanted to say more but caught herself.

“What happened to you, anyway, Taylor?” Emma asked in a solicitous manner, causing her to turn to the other side. Her former friend was standing with a small smile on her face, toying with her hair. Madison was listening next to her, her own expression not exactly pleasant. “You used to be fun. Not good looking, I guess, but at least OK to hang out with.”

“You know the answer,” Taylor replied evenly, keeping her temper although she wanted to reach out and pop the girl's head off like a champagne cork. Closing her locker having put most of her books away, she slipped the lock through the metal loops, clicked it shut, and spun the dial.

“I heard you had something go wrong with you which is why you were away for a week,” Madison commented in her cute voice. “Was it serious?” She tapped the side of her head meaningfully. “I know you have problems.”

“You all know what it was,” she replied, looking between the three of them. “I can't figure out how you did it, I have to admit, but I know it was you.”

Sophia grabbed her by the shoulder and slammed her into the locker, spinning her around and putting her other arm across her shoulders, holding her there. She allowed it to happen, curious to see what the next step was.

“If you go around saying things like that you might get hurt, Hebert,” the girl hissed into her ear. “More, I mean. Just keep quiet and take what you deserve.”

“Deserve?” Taylor queried, her forehead resting on the cool metal of the locker and her eyes shut. “Why do I deserve it? Why do I deserve any of this? What fun do you get out of torturing me?” Her voice was ragged, her breathing irregular. “You locked me into a pile of bloody crap for half a day and nearly killed me. What have I ever done to deserve that?”

“We'll do it again if we want.” Sophia sounded pleased. “It was a lot of effort collecting the… stuff… but it was worth it. I only wish I could have seen your face when you got out.”

“Did you cry, Taylor?” Emma asked gently. “Like when your mother died?” Despite herself, Taylor stiffened. She restrained herself from removing the redhead's face with immense difficulty. The Varga sent her more calming waves of reassurance although she could also feel he was furious. Emma apparently turned to the other two.

“She told me she was crying for a week. Maybe that's why she was away all this time. Is that it, Taylor? Were you curled up on your bed crying like a little kid?” She sounded creepily calm and happy, making Taylor for the first time think that there really was something seriously wrong with her former friend.

“Actually, no,” she said in a low voice. “I was recovering from the physical trauma of being locked in a tiny metal box by three psychopaths.”

Spinning her around roughly, Sophia pushed her face right up against Taylor's, glaring at her from inches away. Taylor thought idly that the shot the hidden camera must be taking right now was pretty damning. The girl looked enraged, her already dark skin darkening even more as it flushed. Interested, she switched on her Vargavision, as she thought of it, seeing all the blood vessels in the other girls face glowing in a way that was almost pretty.

When Sophia opened her mouth to say something the inside of it was glowing with heat. Taylor could feel the breath against her cheek. “You're prey, Hebert! Prey doesn't get to say things like that. Prey simply accepts its place in the world and lets its betters do what the fuck they want to it.”

“Does that make you a predator, Sophia?” Taylor asked, somewhat curious about the answer. In her head, the Varga snorted.

“You're fucking right I am,” the girl snarled, clearly letting her temper get the better of her. “I'm the biggest predator in this entire school. I say jump, you don't even ask how high, you just jump.” She shook Taylor hard to make her point. Madison was watching with a certain amount of worry, Taylor noticed when she looked to the side for a moment, seeing the heat map of her face and features. She was becoming aware that she could probably work out moods quite well with this sort of help and wondered if it would work for detecting lies. Filing that thought away for further inspection at a point when she wasn't being manhandled by a lunatic, she looked at Emma, who was smirking.

“Look at me when I'm talking to you, bitch,” Sophia growled. Taylor, with an inner sigh, returned her attention to the girl who was doing her level best to lift her off her feet with the arm across her throat, pushing her into the door of the locker.

“Are you going to take much longer, Sophia?” Taylor asked in the same flat inflectionless voice that she'd used so much over the last couple of years, trying to keep her feelings hidden. “The bell will be going soon and I need to get to class.”

Looking surprised, the girl actually released her, stepping back a pace. “Impressive, Hebert. That was almost defiance. I thought we'd beaten that out of you by now.”

“I told you she was worth it, Sophia,” Emma said, sounding pleased. Puzzled, Taylor looked at her for a moment, then picked up her bag which she'd dropped when Sophia grabbed her.

As she moved to walk away, the other girl shoved her hard, making her stumble sideways and nearly drop the bag again. “Don't get mouthy again, Hebert,” Sophia said menacingly. “We'll see you later.” There was a promise of future violence in the comment. Taylor simply stared passively at her for a moment, then shrugged, turned away, and started to walk off.

“Whatever, you lunatic,” she mumbled under her breath.

A sudden grip on her shoulder spun her around again, to see Sophia, who had apparently heard the comment, cocking a fist back.

Let her,” the Varga said.

She did.

The punch to the mouth would have laid out a decent sized adult male. On someone with Taylor's slim build, it should have been devastating. It was obvious that the girl knew how to fight, and had had significant training. Taylor was knocked flat, half turning in the process, to end up in a pile at the base of the lockers on the other side of the corridor. The two or three dozen other students who had been hanging around to watch went quiet.

Stomping over, Sophia kicked her target in the ribs several times. “You… Don't… Get… To… Call… Me… THAT!” she said loudly and savagely, adding a kick with each angry word.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Sophia, I think that's enough,” Madison said in a small voice, staring at the panting teenager, who still looked furious and vengeful.

“Did you hear what that bitch called me?” Sophia demanded, pointing at the slumped girl, who was making muffled sounds and twitching. “No one calls me that.”

“She deserved it, Mads,” Emma said from beside her, looking pleased. “She needs to know her place.”

“What are we going to do now?” Madison asked, looking around nervously. “The locker was one thing, but kicking the crap out of her right in the middle of the corridor is something else.” The corridor had emptied remarkably fast, no other student apparently wanting to remain and be a witness.

“Don't worry, no one cares,” Sophia said dismissively, wiping her face with a tissue she pulled from her pocket, then producing a mirror and checking what the result was. Snapping it closed she put it away again. “Let's get to class.”

The muffled sounds from the downed girl grew louder. They all looked at Taylor. “Oh, the poor thing, she's crying again,” Emma said in a sing-song voice. She stared at her friend. “Just like when we took her silly flute.”

About to walk away, they stopped when the girl on the floor rolled over then stood up, raising her head to look at them. Madison stared in surprise.

She wasn't crying.

She was laughing.

Taylor walked closer, grinning in an unnerving way. She stopped a couple of feet from Sophia, looking down at her. Now that she wasn't slumping, Madison was shocked at how tall the other girl was, dwarfing her own five foot nothing by at least eight inches. She was noticeably taller than Sophia as well.

Sophia looked startled, while Emma was staring mutely. Taylor inspected each of them in turn, then leaned closer to Sophia.

Got you, you bitch,” she whispered.

Turning around she walked off with her head high, whistling happily, a completely different figure than the one that they were used to. The three girls exchanged glances, wondering what the hell had just happened.

Right at the point that rage was suffusing Sophia's face, displacing the befuddlement that had been there before, and she was obviously about to charge after her target, the elderly PA system crackled a few times, then spat out an announcement.

Sophia Hess, Emma Barnes, and Madison Clements will report to the Principal's office immediately. That means, right now, ladies.

The PA clicked off with an air of finality.

Looking at each other, then after the figure of Taylor who was disappearing around the corner in the distance, they all reluctantly headed to their destination.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Danny watched the entire trip through the halls from his daughter's viewpoint with a sinking heart. Reading her journals, and talking to her, had given him what he thought was a good idea of what she went through on a daily basis.

He'd been wrong.

It was so much worse, he felt like crying. How on earth a fifteen year old girl could take that sort of thing for so long without going mad was beyond him. How had he possibly never noticed the effect it had on her?

With waves of guilt going through him he kept his eyes locked on the screen, several windows showing video from the main two cameras in the special glasses Taylor was wearing, one with the same field of view as a normal human, the other on the other side a wide angle one capturing everything in front of her.

There was another one in the back of her hoodie, protruding from a small nearly unnoticeable hole, which got everything behind her. They all had microphones although the audio they were currently listening to was coming from the first one. The glasses transmitted a short range signal to the pack of electronics concealed in the garment, which relayed it to the laptop. The audio and video quality was superb, which helped them a lot but also showed everything in merciless detail.

He definitely owed Mike a favor or two for this. The ex dock worker was now a fairly successful private investigator with a considerable expertise in surveillance, which he'd been more than happy to help the man who got him his first job with, leaving aside his personal feelings.

At the point Emma made the comment about Annette's death, which made him clench his fists, Alan suddenly jumped to his feet. “Enough!” he shouted. “You've made your point. I don't want to watch any more.”

“Sit down, Alan,” Danny said calmly, not looking away from the screen.

“No. This is just sick. OK, my daughter is in the wrong, I'll admit that. Stop rubbing our faces in it.” Mr Clements was silently watching, an expression of horror on his face, Danny noticed when he glanced over, while Mrs Hess was crying softly. Principal Blackwell was sitting rigidly still with a face like a statue, radiating impotent fury.

“We're going to let it finish. Sit down, Alan.” Danny didn't raise his voice.

His old friend headed towards the door. “No. I'm putting a stop to this right now.”

“Zephron?” Danny pitched his voice louder, still watching the screen of the laptop. The door opened, the form of his colleague filling the aperture almost completely. Alan stopped dead.

“Mr Hebert would like you to sit down and be quiet,” Zephron rumbled, looming in a surprisingly professional manner and fixing Alan with his eyes, hidden behind his sun glasses. They'd been Taylor's idea and Danny had to admit they added a certain air of menace. Presumably the reason people like the Secret Service always seemed to be wearing them.

Alan went a funny color, looked around helplessly, then made his way back to his chair. Sitting obediently he looked cowed. Danny wasn't happy about acting like this but he needed to make the point.

“Thank you, Zephron,” he said.

“You're welcome, Mr Hebert,” the huge man replied. Danny got the impression he was enjoying himself. Closing the door with him on the inside this time, the man leaned against it and crossed his arms, making everyone but Danny look a little nervous.

Hearing the confessions of not only the locker incident but the theft of the flute his wife had played so well made him both pleased and furious. When Sophia punched Taylor he nearly jumped to his feet himself, even though he knew full well she could take a lot more than that without harm, and that it was almost handing them victory on a plate. Finally, the whole sorry thing came to a halt when Taylor expressed her feelings and walked away, whistling what he recognized with amusement as one of the melodies from the CD he'd bought the previous week.

Prodding a couple of keys he put the machine back to sleep then put it back in his briefcase, to dead silence from the room. After several seconds, the principal cleared her throat, reached for the microphone on the corner of the desk, and pressed the button on it. Everyone heard the announcement through the door. Releasing the PA button she stared at him.

“I think that constitutes proof, don't you, Principal Blackwell? Admittedly it might not fly in court, depending on how good your lawyers are, but if it was to get out into the public domain...” He trailed off, then shrugged, as the woman looked like she wanted to strangle him. “I'm not saying I'd do such an underhanded thing but you know the modern world, there are hackers everywhere.”

“What do you want?” she gritted, almost purple with rage.

He stared into her eyes. “What I want is you and most of the staff out of a job in favor of someone actually competent, those three girls punished, ideally expelled, and to be honest after seeing what just happened, I think at least two of them need serious therapy. Right now.” He glanced at Alan, who was looking sick. “I mean it, Alan, there's pretty obviously something very wrong with Emma. You need to look into that.”

Returning his attention to the principal who looked on the verge of apoplexy, he said, “What I'll accept is an immediate transfer to Arcadia and away from this hellhole you seem to think is a school, a sensible settlement for the mental and physical trauma your little stormtroopers there put my daughter through, and a written apology. Accepting full responsibility of the school for the bullying campaign and acknowledging that Taylor was in no way to blame for any of it.”

“That's blackmail!” she finally shouted.

“No, it's negotiating. Something I have a lot of practice with. Blackmail would be more along the lines of threatening to have you all personally and the school in general black-listed by every member of every union in the entire city. You'd find it almost impossible to get a plumber, or electrician, or carpenter, or mechanic, or janitor, or cop, or delivery driver...” He shrugged, smiling, as she paled. “I think you'd find that running the school would become very difficult at that point, which could draw even more official attention, which I think you might not want. That would be blackmail. All I'm asking for is a reasonable solution to an unpleasant situation.”

He tapped the laptop meaningfully. “This is simply required proof should anyone deny things happened the way we all know they did.”

His expression hardened as he leaned forward, meeting her eyes. “Don't push me. I'm not happy at all about all this. The faster you get on with it the less likely I am to press a civil suit for damages, harassment, libel, slander, and anything else I can come up with, such as a criminal assault case against you and a number of students in your school.”

The woman behind the desk looked torn between wanting to kill him on the spot or simply start screaming with fury. In the end she looked over at Alan, then the other two parents, who seemed to be in shock. “I will need to consult our lawyers,” she finally said. Danny didn't smile, but he knew at that point they'd won.

“You do that. Arrange the transfer first, you don't need a lawyer for that, then call me when you've decided how you want to proceed with the rest of it.” She nodded stiffly.

Opening the laptop in his briefcase he turned it back on then copied the recordings onto a USB stick, which he slid across the desk to the principal. She looked at it like he'd just handed her a still warm dog turd, making no effort to claim it. “Here's a copy of these recordings so that you can show them to the lawyers. I doubt you'll have any problems at that point.” The glare he got should have killed him, but all it really did was make him feel warm inside.

“Do any of you want a copy?” he asked, turning to the parents. All three of them shook their heads. “OK. If you change your mind, Principal Blackwell has my contact details.” Turning the machine off again, he retrieved Taylor's notes and put them in the case as well. “You can keep the photos, I can always print out more. You might need them as evidence since I'm sure you cleaned the place carefully.” Snapping the latches shut he stood.

“Thank you for your time, Principal Blackwell. I'll be taking Taylor home now. I expect to hear from you in, say, a week? That should give you time to do what you need to.”

“I could call the police and have you arrested and those recordings confiscated, there are laws against recording on school property without permission from the administration,” she said as he was half-way across the floor to the door, which Zephron, playing his role perfectly, had swung open for him.

“You could,” he acknowledged without turning. “But they weren't only sent to the computer I have here, the transmitter has quite a decent range. Other recordings were made, and if I got arrested, I couldn't arrange to have them deleted.” He looked over his shoulder at her gritting her teeth. “Just a precaution, of course. Who knows what would happen to them if I was in jail?”

Get out!” she shouted. He nodded, leaving the room, his companion closing the door and falling in behind him as did John, who had been waiting. As they entered the outer office he could hear a massive argument starting behind them, making him finally allow himself a grin.

In the outer office the three girls were sitting silently, looking pissed off and worried. He nodded pleasantly to them as he walked past, Emma staring, then whispering to her friends.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taylor met Danny and the others back at the car, which she was leaning on, drawing patterns in the dusting of snow on the roof. “Did it work?” she asked, looking up as he came over.

“Pretty sure, yes,” he replied. They shared a smile. “I liked your line at the end, by the way, dear.”

She laughed. “Did the cameras all work properly?”

“Really well. It was as good as a news broadcast, unfortunately.” He put the briefcase on the roof then hugged her for a few seconds. “I'm sorry, kid, I had no idea. You're a much stronger person than I am to have put up with that for so long.”

“It's not your fault, Dad,” she replied, smiling a little.

He released her and turned to the other two who were watching quietly. “Thanks, John, Zephron. That really helped.” He shook their hands, as did Taylor. “Have you considered professional minion work?” he joked. Zephron chuckled, while John grinned.

“The pay is good but it can be very dangerous,” the large bald man replied with good humor. “The grunts are the ones who get shot at.”

“True, I guess,” he replied thoughtfully.

“It was fun, Boss,” Zephron added. “Let me know if you need a heavy again.”

“Stop calling me Boss,” Danny sighed, making the man smile once more.

“I didn't get to do anything but stand there,” John complained mildly. “At least you had a speaking part.”

“It was only two lines,” his friend protested as they headed back to their own car. Taylor watched them go, still arguing, then turned to Danny with a smile.

“What now?”

“Now we go and get something to eat, even though it's early, I'm starving after all that, then go home. We need to look up online make-up courses, because I'm sure that you haven't been taught properly and I expect Arcadia has higher standards than this place.”

They got into the car and he started the engine. “Anywhere has higher standards than this place,” Taylor remarked as she turned around to watch Winslow disappear into the distance for the, as far as she could ever manage, last time. Swiveling back to face forward she sighed.

“Thanks, Dad. For everything.”

“Just doing what I should have been doing all along, dear, being a father.” He glanced at her, then smiled. “Although I have to admit in many ways that was fun. I just don't want to have to go through it again. Watching that Hess girl punch you in the face was hard.”

“Not as hard as stopping myself changing and biting her head off,” Taylor giggled. “She probably tastes horrible, as well.”

She laughed harder at the look in his face, then settled back to enjoy the ride, content.

Chapter Text

 Thursday, January 20, 2011

“Thanks for the gear and the help, Mike,” Danny said to his friend, accepting a cup of coffee as he sat. He put it on the desk for a moment, then retrieved the bag containing the cameras, transmitter, and computer, handing it to his friend, who accepted it and put it on the windowsill behind him. “It worked perfectly. We got the documentation for the Arcadia transfer this morning, she's going for evaluation tests in a just over week, and with any luck she can start immediately. The poor girl has been studying like crazy all day for three days now.” He smiled, remembering Taylor's bleary face that morning at breakfast, before she staggered back upstairs to the computer.

“Great,” Mike, a short and amazingly nondescript man of something like forty, said with a smile. “I was happy to help. I haven't seen Taylor since she was about eight when you brought her to work one day because she wanted to see what you did. I remember she was running around asking everyone questions for hours.”

Danny grinned at the memory. “She's always been curious. I hadn't realized how bad it had gotten over the last couple of years or so, it was such a slow change. On both our parts. Since that horrible night I feel like I have my daughter back, and my life.”

“I have to say you look and sound a hell of a lot more cheerful than you've been for a long time,” Mike chuckled, sipping his own coffee. “Everyone who knows you has been worried for years.”

Sighing lightly, Danny nodded acknowledgment of the comment. “It was my fault. I couldn't handle losing Annette. God, I loved that woman.” He looked out the window at the shape of the Medhall building in the distance for a second or two, then blinked and went back to his friend's face, which was sympathetic.

“I understand,” Mike said quietly. “She was good for you. It was a terrible tragedy, what happened. When I think of what I'd feel like if I lost Julia or Sarah...” He shook his head. “No one blames you for it.”

“Thanks, Mike. I blame myself, but...” Danny shrugged. “It's in the past, I have to move on. Not doing that nearly cost me the only thing in my life I really value, so I have no choice. Annette would have kicked me in the head by now if she'd seen the way I've been handling it.”

Mike laughed out loud. “Yes, I could see that happening. You have a reputation as someone it's best not to rile up, but that woman was even worse if she got mad enough. Slow, cold, patient vengeance.” He shuddered theatrically, making Danny grin again.

They chatted for a while about the old days, then Danny checked the time. “Ah. Lunch is over, I need to get back to work.” He stood up, smiling at the other man. “It was fun catching up. We should get together more often. Kurt was saying just the other day he hadn't seen you for months.”

“Maybe we should restart the old weekly poker games,” Mike suggested. Danny looked dubious.

“I seem to remember losing a lot when we did that,” he said.

Laughing, Mike nodded happily. “You have one hell of a poker face, Danny, I'll give you that, but you don't play very well.”

Sighing, Danny shrugged. “I don't claim to be a good gambler. Just a decent negotiator.”

“You're certainly that.” Mike opened a drawer and pulled out a USB stick, holding it up. “What do you want to do with this? It's the only copy I saved of the recording I made in the van.” He'd been parked around the corner from the school with another receiver, making the backup copy. Frowning, he added, “I was pretty appalled. That situation was grim. And it went on for two fucking years?” Danny nodded slowly. “Jesus. That girl of yours is made of spring steel to take that without knifing the lot of them. And she sure can take a punch.”

Snickering, Danny replied, “She's not bad in a fight, actually. Look, I think it would be a good idea if you hung onto that. Put it somewhere safe. Until all this is over and they've signed everything I want, I don't trust them. Best to have backups.”

“Good enough,” Mike said with a nod, crossing the office and quickly spinning the dial on the front of the small but incredibly solid safe built into the wall. Opening it, which took considerable effort due to the significant thickness of the door, he put the USB stick inside then closed and locked it again. “Let me know if you need it.”

“I will do.” They shook hands, then Danny turned to leave. Stopping inside the door of the office he looked at the small glass display case standing there, which contained a surprisingly large collection of high tech surveillance gear, as a display of the sort of thing Mike used in his business. “Hey, these little cylindrical cameras here. Are they any good?” he asked curiously, a sudden thought crossing his mind.

Mike came over and stood beside him looking at what he was pointing to, then nodded. “Actually, yes, that's one of the best ones I have. They're made by that company run by the Tinker Dragon, in Canada. The technology isn't incredibly advanced in those terms, but they give a really clear picture and the battery lasts for hours. We use them mounted on cars and motorcycles.” He opened the case, removed one of the cameras, and handed it to his friend. “They're waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, pretty much everything proof. Why?”

Danny turned the device, roughly the size and shape of a tube of lipstick, over in his hands, looking at it. “I was thinking of a project I wanted to do with Taylor which would need a camera,” he said vaguely. “Something like this would probably work. Where can I get one and how much are they?”

“Not much. Keep it. I have a cupboard full of them.” Mike waved a hand dismissively. “We charge that sort of thing to the customer anyway. Here, this is the instruction booklet for it, the mounting kit, and the USB cable. Have fun. Say hi to Taylor for me.”

“Thanks again, Mike, I'll do that,” Danny smiled, putting the items his friend gave him in his coat pocket. Waving, he left the PI's office, heading back to the DWU headquarters while thinking carefully.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Writing the last calculation on the notepad, Taylor dropped the pen and flexed her wrist. “How is it that I can lift tons and punch a hole in a tank, but I get a sore wrist writing this much?” she grumbled.

Life is seldom perfect, Brain,” the Varga commented wryly. She nodded, rubbing her wrist briefly, then turned to the computer, clicking through to the page with the answers for the online test she’d been working on for basic Calculus. While it would have been simplicity itself to cheat she had no wish to, she honestly wanted to see if she could do it right.

Comparing her results and calculations to the ones on the page, she smiled. “That’s… ninety-two percent on this one. Not bad.”

Your educational abilities would seem to be surprisingly good all things considered,” her companion noted.

She nodded absently, turning to a new page in the notebook and going back over the questions she’d got wrong, redoing them. “I’m good at math, English, and general science. English because of Mom, the rest because they’re all math in the end. A lot of the other subjects I’m not as good on because they needed more work than I could be bothered to do considering the way all my assignments were sabotaged all the time. In the end I basically stopped trying very hard.”

You are still a very intelligent person with an excellent memory, so I fully expect you will be able to learn what you need to for this new school.” The Varga’s voice was encouraging, making her smile. He’d been helping a lot with this whole process. It was like having a live-in study buddy, one with a vast depth of knowledge on odd matters and a very sly sense of humor.

“Thanks. Oh, that’s where the missing integral went.” She flipped back a page and corrected her calculation, checking it against the web page, then grinned.

“Great.” Glancing at the clock next to her bed, she saw it was nearly five. “Time for a snack, then I need to start dinner, I think. Dad will be home soon.”

Standing up with a push of her tail, she stretched, then headed downstairs. As she reached the lower floor, there was a creaking sound from outside the front door which her absurdly sharp hearing caught, making her look around, then engage the thermal vision. On the other side of the door she could see a person shaped blob, not her father. An arm reached out and pressed the doorbell button.

I wonder who that is?’ she mused. They weren’t expecting any deliveries or guests and very seldom got visitors out of the blue.

Slightly suspicious, she asked the Varga for a short knife, which she transferred to her left hand behind her back where it was inconspicuous, then opened the door a crack. Bracing her foot behind it made it certain that no one short of a serious Brute-level cape was going to get the door open.

On the other side of the door Alan Barnes was standing on the porch, looking depressed and nervous. His car was parked on the road, she saw as she peered out.

“Oh, hello, Taylor,” Alan said, slightly haltingly as if he was embarrassed. He tried to see past her. “Is Danny home yet?”

“No, he’s still at work, although he should be back any time now,” she replied, even more suspicious, which apparently came out in her voice judging by the way he winced.

“Oh. OK.” Falling silent for a moment, he looked at her. “You look… well.”

“Thank you.” She didn’t add to the comment. He went silent again, looking even more embarrassed. They stared at each other for four or five awkward seconds. Or, at least, awkward for Alan. Taylor was simply waiting patiently to see what happened next.

“Look, I’m… I’m sorry about what Emma did,” he finally blurted out. “I had no idea. None of the family did. That Hess girl has obviously been a bad influence on her.”

Staring coldly at him for another few seconds, Taylor finally nodded once. “Apology accepted.” He looked relieved.

“So you’ll forgive her?”

“No.” She studied him as if she thought he was an idiot. Which she did.

“...” Alan opened his mouth, then closed it again, silently.

“How can I forgive what she did? I can never forget it, no matter how much I try.” Taylor tried to explain what she was feeling after quelling the sudden burst of anger that had flowed through her at first, drawing on the strength of her bond with the Varga, who was listening with interest.

“I’ve moved past that, Mr Barnes. Emma was my best friend, nearly my sister. Then she betrayed me for whatever reason she actually had, which even had me thinking it was actually my fault for a long time until I came to the conclusion it wasn't me at all. I can’t keep dwelling on that or I’ll go nuts, so I decided to write the entire thing off. As far as I’m concerned, my best friend died two years ago. The girl who has tortured me for all this time, she’s not my friend, and I don’t need to forgive her, just ignore her for the rest of my life. I’ll be going to Arcadia soon and I’ll probably never see her again anyway.”

She didn’t raise her voice or express any real anger, merely stated what she felt in a cold dispassionate manner that clearly made him uncomfortable.

He was silent for a little while, then replied, “Forgiveness is needed for closure, I’m told.”

“Acceptance is needed for closure. Forgiveness is entirely optional.” She cocked her head a little to the side. “I accept, I don’t forgive. Or forget.”

The veins in his face contracted, making it look colder, as he paled a little at her comment. “Christ, you really are Annette’s daughter, aren’t you?”

“Thank you,” she smiled, which didn’t seem to make him happier. If anything he was looking even more nervous.

Satisfied she had managed to get her point across, a point she’d arrived at after several long nights talking to the Varga, who was an excellent listener and gave good if occasionally rather bloodthirsty advice, she swung the door open wider. “You can come in and wait for Dad if you’d like. He’ll be back very soon.” She discreetly vanished the knife.

After a long moment, he nodded and entered the house, wiping his feet then going into the living room and taking a seat. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, thank you,” he replied, apparently not entirely sure how to react other than that. She nodded back and turned to go into the kitchen. “She’s sick, you know, Taylor,” he said, causing her to stop and turn back. “We’ve taken her to a psychiatrist. They tell us Emma might need to spend some time in an institution, and is going to be in therapy for years.”

“I’m not surprised,” she answered. He stared at her, then sagged a little.

“It doesn’t change your position, does it.” It wasn’t a question.

She shook her head. “No. It explains why she did what she did, but it can’t erase it. She still did it.”

“While the balance of her mind was disturbed!” he shot back.

“If she and Sophia had managed to kill me, it would still be murder, right? Even if one or both of them ended up being found unfit to be tried, I’d still be dead. Saying that they were crazy wouldn’t bring me back.” She shrugged as he deflated from the momentary anger. “That nearly happened. Be glad you don’t have a crazy murderer for a daughter, rather than just a crazy bully.” She watched him closely for another few seconds, then when he didn’t seem to want to keep talking, turned around again and went into the kitchen, filling the kettle and turning it on.

While she waited for it to boil, she began preparing a sort of chicken stir fry, using a modified version of a recipe the Varga has surprised her by suggesting. She was curious to find out if it was as good as he’d told her Princess Luna had claimed it was.

When she took the coffee, made the way she remembered Alan Barnes liking it, in to him, he accepted it with a mumbled thanks then went back to staring at the floor, sipping it occasionally. He looked depressed. Suppressing a slight sympathy for him, as she stood by her words and feelings, she went back into the kitchen and resumed cooking.

About fifteen minutes later she heard the familiar sound of her father’s car approaching, then pulling into the driveway and stopping. He came in shortly afterward, calling out, “Taylor, I’m home.”

“In here, Dad,” she called back. He appeared at the doorway, sniffing appreciatively.

“That smells incredible! What is it?”

“A recipe from a friend,” she smiled, tapping her head with a finger meaningfully. “He says it’s very good.”

“OK,” Danny replied slowly, looking surprised. After a moment, he asked, “Is that Alan’s car out front?”

“In there,” she pointed, handing him a coffee mug with her other hand. He took it, inspected her for a moment, then turned to go into the living room with a set face.

“What are you doing here, Alan?” she heard him say, then deliberately stopped listening while concentrating on her cooking. There were raised voices for a while, which she covered up by whistling softly to herself, contentedly making the various parts of the meal. By and large it had been a good day.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“That was very good indeed, dear,” Danny said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. Taylor smiled, then looked at Alan, who had somehow ended up staying for dinner, even though neither he nor Danny were entirely certain how. “What do you think?”

“She’s a better than decent cook, your young lady,” his old friend said quietly. Danny noticed that he was regarding Taylor with a certain degree of apprehension and wondered why, even though it made him just a little proud deep inside. “Annette’s legacy showing through yet again.”

Taylor gave a small nod to him, a little smile that was, once again, pure Annette with just a hint of huge world-eating demonic lizard, then stood, beginning to clear the table. “Thanks, Mr Barnes. It was a new recipe that a good friend gave me. I think it worked very well although I had to substitute a couple of ingredients. I’ll have to see if he can give me any more.” Smiling more affectionately at her father, she added, “I’ll put the dishes in the sink then I need to get back to studying. It’s your turn to wash up tonight.”

Laughing, he reached up and patted her shoulder, watching as she walked away, her tail swinging behind her, amused for some reason at the thought that Alan had no idea it was there.

“Quite a young lady you’ve raised, Danny,” Alan said after a moment, also watching her leave. They could hear clattering sounds in the kitchen for a little while then soft footsteps on the stairs, followed by the sound of a door closing. Knowing full well that she could still easily hear anything that they said if she wanted, Danny turned to his friend and college roommate.

“Why did you really come, Alan?” he said after a moment, leaning back in his chair.

Alan looked tired and sad. “I just had to say sorry. Taylor has made her feelings on the matter vividly clear, and after thinking over what she said, I have to admit I can’t blame her. I was hoping for forgiveness but I realize it’s a stretch under the circumstances.” He lowered his head to the table, resting his forehead on it for a moment, while Danny wondered what on earth his daughter had actually said. He resolved to ask when an appropriate moment arose.

“I’m so sorry, Danny. We’ve had our differences in the past, and I know we drew apart since Annette’s death, but please believe me, I would never have let this go on so long if I’d had any idea,” Alan finally said, raising his head again and meeting his friend’s eyes. “We’ve known each other for more than twenty years. Please tell me you believe me.”

Danny sighed. “I do,” he finally admitted. “I don’t think I can ever forget what your daughter did to mine, but I don’t really blame you for it. The girl is obviously seriously ill. That Hess character is worse in some ways, I really do think she’s at least some sort of sociopath, but from what Taylor tells me she’s violent to everyone, just more with her. I have no idea about the Clements girl, she seemed to be both enjoying it on that recording, and also scared about being found out. Hess didn’t seem to care. Or at least thought she could get away with it.”

Alan opened his mouth, paused, then closed it again, as if he’d wanted to say something but though better of it. After a second or two he tried again. “Sophia Hess is a disturbed young woman,” he agreed. “Unfortunately, she and my daughter became firm friends. I only wish it had ended up better. A teenager needs friends.”

With a nod Danny agreed. “I’m hoping desperately that this move to Arcadia will allow Taylor to make new ones. She needs it, I know. She’s been isolated for far too long.”

“I pushed Principal Blackwell to settle with you,” Alan suddenly said. “The Hess and Clements families went along with it. She won’t have any real choice in the matter, none of us will back her up if she tries anything. The school board is having a meeting this Wednesday to work out what they’re going to offer and I managed to get invited. I’ll make sure they do the right thing.”

Somewhat surprised, yet grateful, Danny nodded slowly. “Thank you, Alan.”

“After what happened it’s the least of what I owe you,” the other man sighed, running his fingers through his hair, then standing up. “I need to get home. We’re still finding out more things about Emma. Some of the things on her phone and computer…” He shuddered. “She’s completely grounded and cut off from everyone, more or less permanently. The only reason she’s allowed to leave the house is to go to school or therapy.”

Also standing, Danny held out his hand. Looking at it, Alan finally took it and shook. “I hope she gets better one day,” Danny said sadly. “I’m sorry it all came to this.”

“Not as much as I am, believe me,” Alan muttered, turning to go. “Not as much as I am.”

Danny watched from the front porch as his old friend, broken and defeated, got into his car, then drove away, sighed heavily in regret, then went back inside and closed the door.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Friday, January 21, 2011

“What’s this for?” Taylor asked curiously as her father slid a pile of odds and ends across the breakfast table to her, something on top that she recognized as some sort of sports camera, an armored cylinder half an inch across and about four long.

“It’s for recording what happens when you’re running around terrifying criminals, dear, if you need to,” he sighed, then smiled a little at her stunned expression. “I’ve come to the conclusion that you can take care of yourself, something I should have realized a week or more ago. You’re stronger, tougher, and faster than practically anything that you might run into, so you probably have a better chance of surviving life in this damn city than I do. Just because you’re only fifteen doesn’t change that, no matter how much I wish it did.”

She gaped at him for several seconds, then closed her mouth with a loud click. “You want me to go out and fight crime?” she asked in shock.

He grinned at her. “No. I accept that, sooner or later, you will go out and fight crime, whether I want it or not. You’ve been very good about keeping your word on the whole thing, something I’m immensely grateful for, but I know enough about Cape life to know it’s basically inevitable. They’re apparently pretty much all driven to fight one way or another.”

“I’m not driven to fight,” she protested. “I can stay at home and study no problem.”

“I know, and I’m pleased about it. But considering the sort of things that happen every day around here, sooner or later...” He shrugged. “Better to be prepared rather than caught out. If you don’t want to go out, don’t, it will make me wildly happier, but if you do, I want you to be ready for it. Study up on the other Capes, like you’ve been doing, practice with your weapons and your techniques, and read up on local gang politics.”

He raised a finger as she looked puzzled. “That last part is important. I know you could probably stomp half the E88 flat in a night if you really wanted to, but you need to pick your battles. This city is balanced on a knife-edge at the best of times, between the four gangs.”

“Four?” she asked, confused. “E88, ABB, Merchants…,” she ticked them off on her fingers.

“And the PRT. Don’t forget them.”

Looking at him with narrowed eyes, she slowly replied, “The PRT aren’t a gang, Dad.”

“No? Armed grunts, a few capes, tending to jump into a situation with force if they feel like it, not a small amount of collateral damage sometimes...” He smirked at her expression. “Politics is all about gangs, dear. The one with the most firepower or an equivalent of that ends up on top making the rules with everyone else both fighting each other and trying to take the top spot. It’s true all the way from countries right down to high school cliques. Us or them. Normally everything ends up balanced with people glaring at each other, no one wanting to upset the applecart, but if there’s a sudden vacancy, it’s chaos until it gets filled.”

“Do all adults think like you?” she wondered out loud, making him laugh.

“I may have an overly cynical view of the world but if you’d met the sort of people I’ve had to deal with for the last seventeen years, you’d think like that as well. Just bear it in mind. No disturbing the balance of power unless it’s really necessary, OK?”

“I’ll try not to, Dad,” she giggled. After a moment or two, she added slyly, “What about your gang?”

He leaned back, shock on his face over a smile. “My gang?” he echoed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She studied him narrowly, seeing the corners of his mouth were twitching. “Riiight. Sure you don’t. I’m pretty sure that if you really wanted to, you could get a lot of friends like Zephron to back you up. Most of the guys you work with are enormous, and they all seem to respect you.”

Danny put his hand on his chest, and a proud look on his face. “Of course they do, dear child, most of them have jobs because of your old man. Fighting City Hall day and night, going up against the Man for the little people...” He couldn’t keep it up, dissolving into laughter, as she snickered.

Your father has a keen grasp of political strategy, Brain,” the Varga chuckled. “His advice is sound and well meant. I suggest following it.

I will, don’t worry,’ she assured the demon.

“It’s true, honest,” Danny protested when he recovered.

“I know it is, Dad, and I’m proud of what you do,” she smiled.

“Anyway, the DWU can’t be a gang in this city despite your cutting words. A proper Brockton Bay gang has Capes. We don’t.” He grinned at her, apparently pleased with his argument.

She transformed her head into the combat form one, making him twitch a little. “You have at least one,” she chuckled at the look on his face. Picking up the little camera, she held it up to her head, moving it around on the scales to find the best place. “Now, help me figure out how to hold this thing on.”

Eventually they found that the best spot was in the middle of her head between her eyes, facing down her muzzle. With a little work from the Varga she had a harness that looked vaguely like a bridle holding it firmly in place. He told her he could easily expand and contract it as she changed size to make sure it fitted all the time.

Reaching up she tapped the record button with a claw tip, from memory, hearing a double beep that signified it was running. “How does it look?” she asked, peering around the room, then getting up and wandering about.

Danny stood and came over, studying the camera and mounting carefully, then nodded. “Seems secure and pointing in the right direction. The lens is quite wide angle so you’ll probably get some of your face in the bottom part of it, but other than that it seems fine. That blinking blue light is a bit obvious, though.”

Retrieving the manual from the table, she flipped through it, then read the relevant section. “It says here to hold the power and record buttons down for three seconds, then release the power one, then the record one, which will disable the recording indicator,” she said, showing him the page. He glanced at it, nodded, then as she bowed her head towards him, performed the relevant actions.

“OK, that worked, it’s out. Hold on.” She heard the camera beep once, indicating it had stopped recording, then beep twice again. “It seems to be working. Great.”

He stepped back and studied her. “I still have trouble sometimes with that, you know,” he smiled, waving at her transformed head. “But I’m getting used to it.” He laughed slightly. “I can guarantee that any poor bastard who sees you coming at them is going to run like hell, if not just keel over on the spot.”

She giggled, looking at her reflection in the bottom of a frying pan she picked up for a moment, then put it on the stove and turned the appliance on. Shortly she was making scrambled eggs while Danny prepared himself a coffee. Sipping it and leaning against the wall next to the door to the hallway he watched her move around the kitchen, grinning when she looked over. Raising an eye ridge, which she’d worked out how to do a couple of days ago, she gave him a quizzical look.

“What?” she asked, stirring the eggs vigorously.

“Oh, nothing, just thinking that I never thought I’d be watching my half-lizard daughter making eggs in the kitchen while wearing a camera on her head, that’s all,” he snickered.

Amused, she grabbed one of the unbroken eggs out of the box on the counter and tossed it into her mouth, swallowing. He went green. “They taste quite nice like this,” she commented.

“Is that why we seem to have been running short on eggs three days in a row?” he asked suspiciously.

She nodded, bowing her head, a little embarrassed. “Sorry, Dad. Sometimes I want a snack when I’m studying.”

“Most teenagers would probably go for an apple or a pop tart,” he sighed. “Not a whole raw egg, complete with shell.”

Grinning toothily, she flipped another one in, then dropped some bread into the toaster and pressed the lever down. “What can I say?” she asked rhetorically. “I’m weird.”

“Yes. Yes, you are,” he chuckled, putting his arm around her shoulder for a moment, then sitting as she started plating up the actually cooked food, reverting her head to normal after reaching up and removing the camera as the harness vanished.

When they'd finished breakfast, she quickly washed up, then turned to her father who was putting his coat on, ready to head out. “Oh, before you go, look at this!”

She changed, making him stare, then slowly nod. “What do you think? Tame enough not to scare people too much?”

Turning around in the middle of the kitchen, she showed her latest form off, then faced him again. He studied her carefully, looking interested and somewhat pleased.

She was wearing a modified version of the original armored outfit the Varga had given her, the breastplate a deep blue color with a gold logo in the middle that depicted something that made him smile, a jaws-gaping reptilian head in profile, fangs glinting in the morning light. The somewhat longer skirt was made of a larger number of narrower overlapping strips, which seemed to be attached to a cloth layer under that.

Rather than the boots she'd worn that first time, she had shin guards strapped to digitigrade legs which were a mix between normal human ones and the combat form ones, with feet at the bottom boasting much smaller yet still obviously very sharp talons which clicked on the floor when she moved.

Her tail came out from under the skirt, waving around behind her like a curious cat's as she watched him. Her arms looked more or less like normal human ones, although they, as was the rest of her, were covered in fine scales which were a somewhat lighter blue than normal, a sort of pleasant aquamarine color, with darker horizontal bands. Her hands were elegant and long fingered, tipped with short, sharp claws.

Raising his eyes to her head he saw it looked much less reptilian, yet still clearly not human. The shape of the skull was more elongated, with a short snout containing sharp teeth, although when she smiled he could see her face was nearly as flexible in this form as her human one was. Overall the effect was that of someone whose distant ancestors were reptiles rather than mammals. Importantly, there was no way anyone who knew Taylor Hebert would associate her with the lizard-girl standing in his kitchen.

Even her voice was different, deeper with a slight sibilant hiss overlaid on it, not obvious, but more like an accent. It made her unrecognizable.

Her eyes were the most obvious connection with the various Varga forms, still orange-yellow, glowing, with slit pupils which widened and contracted as she looked around, then down at herself, before back to him.

“We looked up all sorts of reptilian fantasy species from games and books and came up with this using bits of them,” she told him, smiling again, then laughing at his reaction. “Good, isn't it?”

“It's… not as overtly threatening as all the other things you two have designed,” he admitted slowly. “That part is true. But even so I wouldn't call it safe looking.”

“But I'm a cute lizard girl!” she protested, giving him a wide eyed look, which with those eyes was just disturbing. “Not some monster wanting to eat you.”

He blinked as she flowed into a new shape, the armor changing to fit, then added in a different voice, “Unlike this person.”

Her combat form now had segmented armor the same color as the underlying scales covering the bulk of it, even her tail, which terminated in a set of four metal spikes, two on each side, that stuck out a foot or so and looked unbelievably unsafe. She smirked as he twitched.

“How could you possibly have taken that form and made it more dangerous!?” he queried in an unnaturally high voice.

Shrugging Taylor turned her head around and studied herself, then looked back to him, feeling pleased. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said with a laugh in her voice. He sighed, shaking his head.

“Oh, god, those poor criminals,” he mumbled. After a moment, he added despairingly, “Were the tail spikes really necessary?”

“Hey, leave my thagomizer alone,” she complained. He looked oddly at her. “That's what it's called. I looked it up.”

“My daughter the infinitely variable dinosaur monster,” he sighed again.

Laughing, she went back to her 'cute lizard girl' form, which she quite liked. Walking past him into the hall, she peered at her face in the mirror, having to bend down slightly, since this form was nearly six and a half feet tall. “I'm not sure about the face, though. Should I make it more human?”

Following behind her, he studied her reflection, then shrugged. “It's not bad, actually. A shock if you're not expecting it, true, but it looks quite nice all things considered.” Pondering the matter he thoughtfully tapped his chin. “Can you get your hair back and keep the rest of the form?”

She looked contemplative for a moment, apparently having a conversation with the Varga. “He said reptiles, or his kind, which aren't strictly speaking reptiles at all, don't have hair.”

“True, but that's not actually what I asked.” Danny looked at her, while she smiled toothily at him.

“OK. Hold on a second.”

Moments later her curly hair draped down over her armored back. He nodded thoughtfully. “It makes you look more human, I think.”

Pulling a handful over her shoulder she stroked it, but looked dubious. He found it amusing how he could recognize his daughter's expressions on the completely inhuman features. “I like my hair but I'm not sure it fits the theme,” she said doubtfully.

“Put it in a ponytail to get it out of the way and it'll look fine.” She nodded while he checked the time. “Oops. I need to go now or I'll be late. Keep studying, I'll see you later. I might come back for lunch if I have time.”

“OK, Dad,” she smiled, hugging him. He grunted a little.

“Careful, that armor is damn hard.”

“It should be, it's good stuff,” she joked, making him grin, then leave. Inspecting herself in the hall mirror again, she put a hand behind her head and gathered her hair into a high ponytail, then tipped her head from side to side experimentally. “Might work, I guess,” she muttered, ignoring the Varga complaining mildly about only smelly mammals having hair, then headed for her computer, not bothering to change back.

She needed to get ready as fast as possible, she had a lot of tests waiting in only seven days, which her future might well depend on, and she was determined to do the best possible job on them.

Chapter Text

“I see.”

The squat, fairly unwell looking woman's voice was even.

“Yes, I agree. Thank you, Mrs Hess. I'll take care of it, trust me.” She reached out and turned the small digital clock on her desk to face her more directly, her eyes hard and a vein at her temple pulsing a little, the only sign of how furious she was. “Yes, I would like to meet with you as well. Let's say, half past three this afternoon? Certainly. Thank you for letting me know.”

The was a short pause. “Oh, I don't think you'll have to worry about that. Goodbye, Mrs Hess.”

Putting the phone handset down very carefully she closed her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, then picked it up again. Moving her mouse she clicked open a contact list on her screen, scrolled through to the right number, then dialled.

“Principal Blackwell, please.” Another pause, then she smiled nastily. “Hello, Principal Blackwell. This is Emily Piggot. We need to talk. Now.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

White-faced, Janice Blackwell put the phone down with a trembling hand. She was noticeably sweating, droplets running from under her hairline and coursing down her face. Taking a couple of facial wipes from a packet of them in her desk, she cleaned them away, then took a few deep breaths.

After a long moment she stood, adjusting her attire, before opening the door to her office. “Sandra?” she called to her secretary, who shortly appeared before her. “I'm going to be out for the rest of the day. Hold all my calls and rebook any appointments I have, please.” Making a note the shorter woman nodded, returning to her desk without comment.

Janice went back into her office and picked up her coat, putting it on reluctantly, still trembling a little. Emily Piggot, the local PRT Director, had a way with words.

Not a nice way, but a way.

Picking up her handbag she slipped the strap over her shoulder, checked her car keys were in it, then left the room, her heels clicking on the floor, closing the door behind her.

Thirty seconds passed.

The door opened again, Janice going back into the office. She stared at her desk for a few seconds, biting her lip, then sighed heavily, before going to it and unlocking a lower drawer. Reaching in she popped the memory card out of the audio recorder she had concealed there, putting it into her bag, then relocked the drawer and left again.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

PRT Agent Meredith Hamill looked up at the sound of a cough, to see her supervisor standing next to her desk. “The Director would like to see you, Agent. Right now.” Apprehensively she began to log out her computer with one hand and pick up her PRT issue phone with the other. “No, leave it, please,” the man said, his face blank. Behind him she saw two armed troopers who were waiting, apparently for her. Swallowing, she stood, then walked after him, one trooper behind and one in front.

Looking over her shoulder she could see two more agents already working on her computer and phone. Putting her gaze back to the front she wondered what to do.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sophia Hess, the hero known as Shadow Stalker, twitched at the unexpected hand on her shoulder and nearly dropped the crossbow she was polishing in the Wards common room. Turning her head to snarl at whoever was daring to touch her she blinked to see it was Miss Milita, with Armsmaster standing beside her, both of them with grim looks on their faces, although she could only see the former's eyes. Armsmaster's mouth was set in a compressed line that she knew from experience meant the Tinker was angry.

“You need to come with us, Sophia,” Miss Militia said quietly. “The Director is not in a good mood, so I wouldn't keep her waiting.”

Not completely sure what was going on, the teenager ran various options through her mind. She had a sudden urge to run for it but knew perfectly well that she wouldn't make it out of the room, never mind the building, due to the vast amount of electrical wiring that ran throughout the walls. After a moment she nodded sullenly, putting the weapon down on the table and picking up her mask which she'd removed because it was a bit uncomfortable. She stood.

“Hold out your left arm,” Armsmaster said in a neutral tone. Somewhat worried she did so, then watched as he clicked a high tech bracelet of some sort around it, the latch making a very solid sound. It beeped and a small LED lit up, blinking every couple of seconds. “That is a tracker and counter-measure for your phasing ability. If you attempt to shift state, it will deliver a sufficient electrical pulse to disrupt your power, and it would also be very painful. I'd advise not testing it.”

She growled under her breath but followed obediently as they led her to the door, which they'd somehow bypassed the alarm on, then waved her through.

She knew this was all somehow Hebert's fault. One way or the other she was going to make the uppity Prey pay for it.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

The room fell silent as the recording stopped, the screen on the far side away from the conference table retracting noiselessly into the ceiling. The silence went on for some time.

Emily Piggot slowly turned her head to fix Sophia Hess, Principal Blackwell, and Agent Hamill with a gorgon-like glare. They all swallowed, in a remarkably synchronized manner.

“How,” she asked sweetly, but with an undertone of imminent danger, “is it that I, the director of the PRT, located right here in Brockton Bay not ten miles from Winslow High School, am only now finding out about something of this nature that occurred a week ago! Something that I should have known about immediately, if not sooner, and something that should never have happened in the first damn place!

Her voice rose to nearly a shout, making everyone present lean away.

“The only reason I do know about it is due to an extremely uncomfortable conversation I had with your mother, Sophia, who asked the entirely reasonable question of why no one in the PRT seemed to have acted to punish her daughter, said daughter apparently going about business as usual. That might just be because no one mentioned it!

She pointed. “You, Agent Hamill, should have reported this to me the second it happened. Leaving aside the fact that you should have been reporting the little hobby dear Sophia here seems to have all along, for example any time in the last six months, rather than covering up for her as seems to be the case.”

The finger moved one space to the right. “You, Principal Blackwell, should have come directly to me the first time Agent Hamill failed in her duty. You most certainly should have consulted me before meeting with Danny Hebert. That was the arrangement when you were read into this program. Instead of that you decided it would be a wonderful idea to call the parents of the three girls involved in one of the most horrific attacks of bullying it's ever been my displeasure to hear about, then take on Danny Hebert, a man with a long memory, more negotiating experience than almost anyone else in Brockton Bay, and who is undoubtedly smarter and more cunning than you and Agent Hamill put together, in a battle of wits in which you were obviously completely unarmed.”

She paused for breath, wincing a little at the pain in her kidneys and shifting slightly in her seat. Blackwell went pale, then red, but didn't say anything.

“Yes, I've heard of him,” she added, as both Blackwell and Hamill looked slightly surprised. “The Mayor respects him highly although he also wishes he'd never met the man sometimes. He just doesn't give up. From what I just saw, neither does his daughter. She played you to perfection, Sophia.” Sophia looked up from where she'd been staring at the table, surprise on her face since she'd removed her mask again as everyone present knew who she really was anyway.

“What do you mean?” the girl couldn't help blurting out. Director Piggot narrowed her eyes at her.

“You didn't realize? All of that, the whole talking like an automaton, being all depressed and passive, that was an act, masterfully arranged to get you and your co-conspirators to confess on camera to several acts of assault, theft, and general bullying. Which you all obligingly did. Even the punch at the end, I'm certain she saw it coming and let it happen, just to make sure they had evidence of what you were capable of doing.” She shook her head as Sophia's face froze in anger.

“I'd have hoped you weren't open to such manipulation, but she's clearly a lot smarter than you. Why she let it get to the level it did I have no idea. If it was me I'd have shot you in the head a year ago and made it look like an E88 hit.”

Piggot smirked nastily as the girl flinched. “She's obviously a decent person. Too decent, for high school, or at least the version of it that you seem to run, Principal.”

Principal Blackwell was wise enough not to say what she was obviously thinking.

“I am absolutely furious about this entire debacle,” the director continued in a low voice. “Between you, you three have opened the entire PRT up to more bad publicity, potential lawsuits, and possibly worse outcomes, than anything I can think of for years. We'll be lucky in the extreme if we can keep a lid on this all. God help us if Danny Hebert ever even suspects that it was a Ward who was the co-ringleader of a two year campaign of terror against his only daughter.”

“He's only one man, Director,” Sophia tried, only to close her mouth so fast she nearly bit her tongue when Piggot focused her entire attention on her.

“He's only one man, yes, quite right, Shadow Stalker. He's one man that knows or is known by, and in many cases deeply respected by, probably over a thousand people in this city one way or another. Just the Dock Worker's Union alone is more than three hundred and forty people right now, and almost every one of them owes him their jobs. If he wanted to he could practically paralyze half the city with a few phone calls, I'm certain. I DO NOT want him to do that.” She glared at the girl, who despite herself shrank back into her seat. “Understand this, he may in many ways be a small fish in a big pond, but he's got big teeth. If he got angry enough to pull out all the stops we'd be lucky if we could stop that getting on the six o'clock news, at which point we're all fucked.” She waved angrily in the direction of the now absent screen.

“I don't know how many copies of that recording he has made, but I guarantee you there are backups in places we won't find them. In something like this the only safe rule is that there is one more copy than the maximum number you thought there were. So we can't even deal with it by trying to confiscate them, we'd never be sure we got them all until we found out the hard way we didn't. Leaving aside the little issue that doing that would let him know exactly what we don't want him to know in the first place.”

She leaned back, in some pain, and angry to a level she hadn't been in years. There was quiet in the room again for a while. Armsmaster and Miss Militia were listening silently to one side, as was Aegis as the very recently newly promoted leader of the wards. The young man was obviously also extremely disturbed but was keeping his mouth firmly shut.

“He tried blackmailing me, Director Piggot,” Principal Blackwell suddenly said. She pulled a memory card out of her handbag and held it up. “I have a recording of it right here.”

Piggot stared at her in mute disbelief for some seconds.

“I always record meetings like that,” the Principal went on, sounding pleased with her own cleverness. “Just in case I need leverage later.”

Armsmaster and Miss Militia exchanged glances, then looked back to see what happened next.

“Your school isn't the White House and you certainly aren't Richard Nixon,” Piggot finally sighed. “You do realize that this is a two party consent state, don't you?” Blackwell looked slightly confused, making the Director cover her eyes for a second or two in despair. “It means that telephone conversations and other private communications require all parties present to consent to the recording of them, except for law enforcement purposes, in essence. You are not a law enforcement officer, licensed private investigator, or cape involved in crime fighting. Recording conversations taking place in your office without telling anyone you're doing it is illegal and inadmissible as evidence.”

The principal's face fell. After a moment it brightened again, causing Piggot to sigh. “And no, we can't try to use that against Mr Hebert and his daughter. As he rightly pointed out, if we try to arrest him there's nothing to stop him releasing the recording himself. Even if he was arrested the police would use the recording as evidence, which would be as bad if not worse than him letting it out.”

She shook her head in disgust. “Face it, you lost. He stomped you flat. As far as I'm concerned, I'm quite impressed. Pity it could drag my people in, otherwise it would be rather funny to watch.” She glared at Agent Hamill and Sophia, who both looked extremely worried now.

“No, this is what we're going to do. You, Principal Blackwell, are going to make sure that he gets everything he asked for, including a very generous settlement. With any luck that will satisfy him and he won't bother taking things further.” She stared the other woman down until she was sure she was sufficiently cowed. The principal nodded, looking even more pinch-faced than usual.

“I would suggest you add to the settlement documentation a request for the deletion of unspecified video recordings, but I'd be more than a little surprised if he complied. Just to be safe. And we'd never know for sure anyway. We can't do anything about that without making the whole situation worse, so we'll just have to live with it and hope to God it doesn't bite us in the ass at some point.”

Shaking her head in irritation she turned to Hamill. “You are suspended without pay subject to the results of a very exhaustive investigation into your activities over the last few years. When that's completed, the results will determine whether you get reassigned to a containment zone for the next decade at half pay, or just end up in prison.”

The agent paled horribly, slumping into her seat, but said nothing.

Finally Director Piggot turned to Sophia and stared at her for a few seconds. “Your mother is, as I'm sure she has explained at length, absolutely disgusted with your behavior to this Hebert girl. She told me to do anything I thought necessary to deal with the situation. So, we're starting with confining you to base for the moment. You'll be on console duty, if you're not there you'll either be sleeping or in the cafeteria. That's it.”

Sophia glared at her.

“I'm arranging a discreet investigation of your activities as well, both at Winslow and elsewhere. To be honest, I'd love to just throw you straight into Juvenile Hall, but for some reason people higher up the chain seem to think you might still have some use. But depending on the outcome of the investigation, I might still be able to do that.” The director smiled a little in an unpleasant way at the look that crossed the girl's face.

“Phone.” She motioned with her hand. After a second or two, Sophia put her PRT issued phone on the table and slid it across, deliberately pushing too hard. Piggot slapped her hand down on it. “The personal one too.”

“You can't do that!” Sophia sneered at her.

“That's where you'd be wrong,” the director said calmly. “Personal phone. Now.”

After a staring contest she did as ordered. The second phone joined the first one.

“You are not to attempt to contact anyone outside this facility in any way. If you try to escape, we'll find you, and you won't enjoy what happens then. Understand me?”

With ill grace the teenager nodded sullenly.

“Good.”

She raked her gaze along the other side of the table. “Understand this. From my point of view you're all expendable, if it keeps the PRT as a whole safe from the sort of fallout something like this could produce. It should go without saying that nothing we've talked about leaves this room, but because I have very little faith in your abilities to think things through, you'll all sign an NDA before you go.” She snapped her fingers, causing Miss Militia to wordlessly get up and hand out a set of paperwork to each of the three, carefully putting a pen on top of each pile of papers.

“Breach that and you won't believe what happens next. So keep your mouths shut.” The director watched with eagle eyes as all three of them eventually signed on the relevant line, none of them bothering to read the papers. Satisfied, she waited for them to be returned to her by the heroine, who then sat down again, still silent.

“Goodbye, Principal Blackwell,” she said firmly. “Oh, before you go, give me that memory card.” The woman slid it across the table to her, looking very annoyed. “I'd advise either telling people you're taping them in future or just stopping doing it, by the way,” Piggot stated with a small hard grin. She waited for the woman to leave, a PRT trooper outside the door guiding her out.

When the door was shut once more, she looked at the remaining two. “You damn idiots,” she growled. “Get out of my sight. Stalker, run and I'll crucify you, you hear me?”

“I hear you, Director” the teenager snarled with ill grace, standing and putting her mask back on. She turned with a dramatic flare of her cloak and stomped out, the disgraced liason agent following behind, looking distraught. Hamill was intercepted outside the door by another trooper and led off in a different direction to that taken by Blackwell.

The door closed again and she relaxed, her face in a rictus of pain. “Jesus Christ,” she breathed. “What a cluster fuck.”

“Are you all right, Director?” Armsmaster asked, actually looking a little concerned. “Your heart rate is far too high and you are running a fever.”

“I'm overdue for dialysis, Colin,” she said in a much less angry voice than she'd been speaking in for the last half hour. “I'll live.” Tossing him the memory card, she requested, “Play that, please.”

He inserted it into the computer built into the desk which still had the USB stick with the video recording that Danny Hebert had given to Principal Blackwell plugged into a port, then fiddled with it for a moment. They listened to the surprisingly clear audio. Miss Militia was smiling under her scarf by the time it ended, and Armsmaster seemed impressed. “That was efficiently done,” he commented, high praise coming from him.

“He walked all over her,” Piggot noted. “I'm half tempted to offer him a job. We need people like that.”

“I think it's unlikely he would accept, Director, and in any case it would be a security risk under the current circumstances,” the Tinker replied.

Miss Militia nudged him. “It was a joke, Colin.”

After a pause, the man nodded. “Noted. Thank you.”

She sighed but seemed to be amused.

“I can't believe Shadow Stalker was involved in something like that,” she added.

“I'm afraid I can, Ma'am,” Aegis said quietly. The three adults looked at him, the director motioning him to continue. “She's… not well liked by the wards. While she's never done anything that extreme she's surly, short tempered, rude, and dismissive of most of the people she meets. Some of the things we've heard her say are… very disturbing.”

“Why has this never been brought to my attention, or to that of Armsmaster?” the director asked in a somewhat dangerous manner.

“I received a number of reports about Shadow Stalker's unpleasant attitude some time ago and talked to her about it,” Armsmaster interjected. “I was assured that she would modify her behavior.”

“She didn't, not really,” Aegis sighed. “Although she has been slightly less insulting for the last couple of months.”

“Make sure all the Wards are interviewed about their impressions of Miss Hess,” Director Piggot instructed. All three of the others nodded.

Reaching out Armsmaster retrieved the folder of photos which the Principal had been instructed to bring, opening it and looking through them, his mouth a thin line.

“One thing concerns me about all this,” he began.

“Only one thing?” Miss Militia sounded surprised. “The entire thing concerns me. A lot.”

He turned his head to look at her, then went back to the photos. “This was a very unpleasant, indeed horrific, situation for a fifteen year old girl to find herself. It went on for over twelve hours. In my opinion it is a prime candidate for a Trigger Event.”

They all looked at him. “You think Miss Hebert Triggered?” the director asked, frowning.

He shrugged a little, the shoulders of his power armor rising then falling. “It is certainly not impossible. You'd be hard pressed to find a better cause, from what I know of the entire situation. Many people have had far less traumatic triggers.”

The Director sighed, closing her eyes and massaging her temples. “Oh, just perfect. So we might have a new cape out there as a direct result of something one of our own Wards did. That would bury us if it got out.”

“It's only supposition, Director, although I would suggest we keep our eyes open.” Armsmaster plucked the USB stick from the port in the media computer and looked at it thoughtfully. “I know for a fact that Shadow Stalker, despite her many flaws, is a very competent fighter. She has a solid right cross better than many men twice her size. Miss Hebert seems to have taken that right in the mouth, then several vicious kicks to the ribs, yet moments later got up, laughed, and walked away. That might indicate at least a low level Brute rating.”

Piggot thought, feeling sick and annoyed. Her head was spinning from lack of dialysis and low blood sugar, making critical thinking unpleasantly effortful.

“Should we look into it, Director?” Miss Militia asked very tentatively, clearly not happy about the way something like that would skirt very close to the Unwritten Rules.

“No. I don't want to risk giving either of the Heberts any ammunition to use against us.” The Director sighed. “Hopefully you're wrong, but even if you're not, we should leave well enough alone unless we have no choice. Leave the Heberts alone and hope that they decide to just get on with life.”

“I wonder who let her out,” Aegis mused out loud. Once again, the other three looked at him. He looked back. “From what I know she was in the locker until after midnight, with no way to escape. Based on those photos there was no damage to the thing so presumably someone let her out, unlocked the locker, for example. No one seems to know who. The school should have been empty that time of night.”

They exchanged glances, then Piggot winced again. “To be honest right now I don't care. I need to get down to medical, spend three uncomfortable hours getting my blood cleaned, then have a meeting with Mrs Hess I'm not looking forward to.” She struggled to her feet, Miss Militia helping her.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Lisa watched the hacked feed from the supposedly completely secure internal camera network in the PRT building with interest, curled around her laptop on her bed in her apartment. When the last of the participants had left the room, she closed the screen and sat there for a long time, thinking hard.

 

Chapter Text

 “I don't think it works, Brain,” the Varga commented, as she looked in the mirror in the bathroom. She shook her head, agreeing with him.

“No, you're right. But Dad's probably right too, we need something to sort of… cute it up a bit?” She winced at the phrase but couldn't think of any better way to put it. They'd put up with the hair for less than a day, while she was getting used to the lizard-girl form, wearing it almost constantly, but it just wasn't working out. It kept getting tangled in the scales on her neck aside from anything else and her sense of aesthetics, which she suspected was being influenced by her link with the Varga, was complaining as well.

Hmm. How about replacing it with a suitably modified set of spinal spikes? We could tilt them back so they looked a little like the effect you seem to be attempting, but they'd also provide protection for the back of your neck. Not that you really need it, of course, but it might provide a useful distractive ability to make your enemies underestimate you.”

“What did you have in mind?” she asked curiously. The demon made the hair go away again, then she felt the spines grow out, moving around a little as he adjusted the position. She reached up and felt them. “Hey. Not bad.” Stepping back from the mirror she turned her head, inspecting the result with interest, but eventually shook her head.

“It's still missing something.”

They were both silent for a while.

“Feathers.”

I beg your pardon?” her companion asked, sounding puzzled.

“Feathers. Like birds have.”

I am not a bird, Brain.” The Varga paused, then sniggered at his own inadvertent joke, making her roll her eyes while smiling.

“I know you're not, and you're not a dinosaur or really a reptile either. You're a demon as you keep telling me. But you're like a reptile in many ways and all our forms are variations on yours, right? And birds evolved from reptiles. For that matter, from what I've read recently a lot of scientists think there were a lot of dinosaurs that really did have feathers.” She stopped talking, feeling a thoughtful mood overtake her friend. “So, why not feathers?”

An interesting argument, one I can't refute completely,” he finally said. “All right. Let me think.

After a few seconds, she got the impression of a slow nod. “I think this will work. Let's see...

Taylor felt her head-spikes retract, then after a moment, a tall crest of bright red feathers like something from a cockatoo grew down the middle of her head. She sighed, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at her reflection, while the Varga snickered. “Like that, Brain?

“Not… exactly.”

Reaching up she ran her fingers over them, then found she could actually lay the crest flat on her head with a little effort. Smirking at the effect she raised and lowered it a few times. “It's funny, true, but not the effect I wanted.”

I think it makes you look interesting,” he laughed.

“You're a huge troll and an idiot,” she giggled. “Try again. Keep it blue, purple, or black to stay with the theme and not so… obvious.”

It took several more attempts until she was satisfied, but in the end she nodded, pleased. “Now that's not bad at all.” There was now a layer of glossy blue feathers covering the back and top of her head, formed into a sort of pageboy haircut, layered over an undercoat in a dark purple, nearly black color, which was visible when she ran her fingers through them. From a distance it looked remarkably like hair, which definitely humanized her to a point.

Another request produced a set of modified sunglasses based on a very expensive set she'd seen online, one continuous piece of dark plastic which covered her eyes and wrapped around the sides of her head. She rather liked the effect. They were purely for the looks, not very dark, and she could easily see out of them due to her exceptional vision in this form, but they covered the glow from her eyes pretty well which would probably make people a little less nervous.

Taylor still wasn't quite sure why her father had that reaction and was looking forward to going out in public to see if anyone else thought it was strange.

“I even have a mask so no one can work out who I am,” she giggled, making the Varga laugh again. Leaving the bathroom she went into her bedroom and picked up the camera, holding it to the side of her head, where a set of color-matched straps formed to keep it there, in the position they'd worked out was best in this form. It was fully charged and the memory card in it was empty.

Putting her own phone and one of the burner ones in a pair of the pouches that were part of her armored skirt, she looked around, nodded to herself, and went downstairs. Danny was in his small home office behind the living room reading some printouts very carefully, making corrections with a pen, but looked up when she appeared in the doorway, studying her for a moment.

“You've made some more changes,” he commented.

“The hair was in the way too much,” she admitted. “Not to mention I think it was too much of a clue.”

“Pity, I like it. But I understand.” Putting the papers down he rose and engulfed her in a hug for a few seconds. “Be careful. Don't hurt anyone if you can avoid it.” Stepping back, he sighed. “But, if it comes down to a choice of them or you, make sure it's you.”

“I'll be careful, Dad. I'm just going to wander around for a while in the general downtown area and see what happens. I'm not looking for a fight.”

“That's what people say right before they get one,” he replied with a look mixing irritation and amusement. “Remember, non-lethal weapons, and don't swing so hard they explode on impact. Don't forget how strong you are and how crunchy most other people are.”

She giggled, nodding. “I know, Dad. Varga is monitoring my strength, he'll make sure I don't overdo it.”

“Good.” He looked into her eyes even through the dark glasses. “Keep her safe, Varga.”

“He says count on it,” she reported with amusement. “I'll try to be back within four hours.”

“Good, you have the entrance tests in three days and you need to study.”

“I also need some exercise, I've been sitting in front of that laptop for nearly a week solid,” she smiled.

“I'll be listening for the Endbringer sirens,” he snickered, making her sigh. “Or just a lot of explosions.”

Shaking her head sadly at the idiotic jokes old people seemed to think were funny, she waved then headed out the back door, having the Varga cloak her on the way. Switching to the combat form, the camera harness and belt pouches changing suitably, she hopped over the six foot high fence, landed lightly on the other side, and started running towards the road and from their the center of the city, wondering if she'd meet any other capes.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Fuck me!” The exclamation of horror was accompanied by a dive to the ground as the AK-47 opened up, raking both squad cars of the BBPD with high velocity bullets. The four cops hiding behind them were grateful that the vehicles were armored to a certain extent, but were still not exactly happy about the situation. “Where the hell do these bastards keep getting this shit from? They're better armed than we are for Christ's sake.”

The exclaimer ducked again as a ricochet whined off the road surface far too close for comfort, the gunfire stopping for a minute as the E88 ganger reloaded, then started shooting again.

“I have no idea, but I wish they'd go someplace else if they want to shoot at things,” his partner called back from behind the other car where he was huddled with the two cops who had arrived as backup to their call while attending a break-in at a warehouse around the back of the main shopping area down town. It was a common occurrence, a lot of high value items were commonly present in the place, but to the great annoyance of the police the thieves were becoming both bolder and better armed by the day.

Carefully peeking around the side of the squad car, Officer David Michelson tried to work out an angle that might let him get the shooter before the shooter got all of them. Annoyingly, the bastard wasn't entirely stupid, and was firing from behind a concrete pillar that supported the roof of the loading bay.

Taking careful aim he fired a couple of shots, which provoked a lot of swearing and some more wild fusillades of 7.62mm mayhem in his direction, but that was about it.

“How many do you think there are, Harry?” he called to his colleague, who was attending to one of the two backup cops who had received a stray shot across the shoulder and was wincing in pain and bleeding quite heavily. His own partner was on the radio, the microphone cable stretching out of the car and to a position behind the front wheel, calling for heavier backup. Preferably something with armor plate and a really big gun.

“I make it five in the warehouse and this fucker, so six. They have to go through us to get away, this is the only way out.”

“Wonderful,” David sighed, hearing yet another burst of machine gun fire whizz overhead. “Do you think they know that?” In a lull of shooting, he raised his pistol over his head and the front of the car, emptying the magazine in the hopes of hitting something helpful. It clearly didn't work, although it did produce some inventive insults.

“No idea. The E88 low level guys aren't known for being particularly smart,” Harry yelled over the gunfire. “Although they have a fuck of a lot of bullets.”

Popping the magazine from the gun David replaced it with a full one, the second to the last he had on him, then looked around. “Where the hell is the backup,” he muttered. “Hey, Harry, any word on backup?”

“En route, five to eight minutes,” his partner replied. “Lots of action tonight, it's slowing things.”

“Any sign of some friendly capes?” David shouted as yet more bullets whanged off the car. “I'd even take an unfriendly one as long as it was unfriendly to these shits rather than us.”

“Protectorate is tied up with chasing some of the E88 capes around on the other side of the city and also dealing with that idiot Skidmark who's being a bigger asshole than normal on the boardwalk,” Harry replied, barely audible. “Wards incoming, Vista and Gallant, ETA five minutes as well.”

“Fuck!” David was not a happy man.

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, they could have sent more than one car, for fuck's sake,” he ranted, staring at his partner, who was looking back with an odd expression. “We told them we were under heavy fire and we only got one car? We need a tank or something to get these fuckers.”

“Hello? Excuse me?”

The gunfire abruptly doubled in intensity as a second machine gun started up from another vantage point, making him yelp and try to curl into a ball inside his bulletproof vest.

“It's too loud. I'll be back in a minute.”

The female voice only then penetrated his worry, anger, and confusion, making him wonder who was talking. Looking up he couldn't see anyone.

The shooting suddenly stopped, then restarted at much higher intensity for a few seconds, at least four AKs going at once. There were several screams, a crash, more screams, two quite loud explosions, then dead silence.

Puzzled yet relieved, David uncovered his head and raised it, listening carefully, then looked over at Harry, who was staring towards the warehouse with an incredulous look. “What happened?” he asked. His partner opened his mouth, then closed it, repeating the action a couple of times.

“That's better,” the voice came back, above him. He jerked his head up to meet the gaze of the... Woman? Thing? Creature? that was peering down at him from her position apparently standing on top of his car. There was an unconscious man slung over her shoulder.

Gaping, he followed her with his eyes as she lightly dropped to the ground beside him, carrying the load of the man without any obvious effort. He noticed with numb amazement that she seemed to be a tall slender humanoid lizard with a long tail, wearing some sort of armored outfit that looked like something from a fantasy game.

And sunglasses.

At night.

“Sorry, I'm new, I'm not sure what the protocol is for something like this,” she told him, lowering her burden to the ground carefully. The man had his hands bound behind him with some sort of gray metallic manacles. “I didn't want to butt in but they were shooting so much you didn't seem to be able to hear me.”

“That's alright...” he said, still gaping. She watched him, somehow managing to look a little embarrassed, despite the lack of normal human facial cues. “Miss…?”

“I haven't decided on a name yet,” she replied. “There are five more inside with a whole lot of guns. Do you want me to bring them out for you, or do you have to do that yourself?”

“If you could get them that would be a help,” he replied a little faintly, feeling confused. “Are you a Cape?”

“Can't you tell?” she smiled, exposing more teeth than he was entirely comfortable with, but seeming friendly. “Like I said, I'm new. Is it always this loud?”

“Machine guns tend to be,” he replied, a sense of unreality still present.

“I'll be right back,” she told him, walking around the car and into the warehouse with a determined, long-legged stride, her taloned feet clicking on the scarred concrete. He exchanged a glance with Harry and the other two cops, all four of them wondering what was going on.

“She's polite if nothing else,” Harry finally said, holstering his weapon. Belatedly David did the same, both of them standing up. Their backup were also staring in shock.

They watched as the lizard girl or whatever she was came back out of the warehouse carrying a ganger on each shoulder, put them down next to the first one, then went back inside. Shortly she was coming out with two more. David inspected the suspects as she went inside yet again, seeing that none of them appeared too badly damaged although one had a bullet track across the side of his head, presumably from friendly fire. Another had a definite broken arm, while a third was oozing blood from what looked like a pair of badly broken fingers. Both the latter pair of injuries had been tended to in a fairly basic manner, the arm having a metal splint with bandages holding it on, the fingers only the bandages.

She came back out again, carrying the last perp and a large bag of heavy weapons and ammunition. “This is the last guy and all the guns they had,” she said. “I can send you a video recording of what I did if it helps.”

“It would, thank you,” he said, still a little befuddled. He handed her a card with his email address on, which she tucked into a pouch on her belt.

“Do you need me to do anything?” she asked, standing in a relaxed posture. “I have no idea what the normal procedure is.”

Shaking his head, David looked up as the sound of sirens approached, noting absently that she'd looked in that direction herself several seconds before he had heard anything. “Ideally I need a name for the report,” he said.

She seemed to think, then shrugged. “I may change it, but for now you can call me Saurial.”

“OK. Well, thank you, Saurial,” he replied. “You sure shut them down pretty quick. Not bad for a first attempt.”

“You're welcome, officer.”

The first of two more patrol units slid around the corner, lights and sirens going, to slam to a halt beside them. Jumping out the officers drew their sidearms and pointed them at the lizard girl, who simply watched curiously, showing no sign of worry. “Hey, she's on our side, guys,” David called. After exchanging a glance the new arrivals put their guns away, walking over and studying both the girl and the six unconscious men on the ground.

“Where the hell were you guys?” David asked with a certain degree of annoyance. “If it wasn't for Saurial here we'd have been toast.”

“Sorry, David, it's completely insane out here tonight,” the taller of the two new cops sighed, as his colleague went over to talk to the occupants of the last car, who had just stopped behind the first one.

“If you don't need me for anything I'm going to go,” Saurial put in apologetically. “I was doing something else when I heard all the shooting.”

“OK. Thanks, young lady. That was a big help.” David put his hand out, which she shook, letting him feel the strength of her grip under the somewhat odd sensation of fine cool scales.

“You're welcome, sir,” she said politely. “Oh, while I think about it, the restraints will only last an hour or so before they disappear so you should have them locked up by then.” He looked at the prisoners, then her, surprised, but nodded. She smiled again, then turned and walked off, disappearing around the corner of the loading dock into the dark. He stared after her for a second or two, turned to Harry who was looking a little puzzled, then down at the six unconscious criminals and the large bag of weapons. Eventually he began to grin.

“That was very strange even for Brockton Bay,” he snickered, shaking his head in wonder.

“One way to put it,” his friend and partner laughed.

They turned around in time to see a weird visual effect as suddenly the distance between the roof of the building next to them and the ground somehow shrank to nothing, then went back to normal, leaving behind a petite blonde in a green and white costume with a skirt, who looked around with interest, next to a young man in a suit of gray power armor. Vista and Gallant.

They came over, Vista looking curiously at the men on the ground.

“Hello, Officer Michelson,” Gallant greeted him. He'd met the Ward on a number of occasions. The young man was always polite, seeming a decent sort of fellow. “We got a call that you were pinned down by armed robbers and needed backup. Sorry about the delay, we've had several other calls tonight close together.”

“You seem to have managed to deal with the problem, though,” Vista noted, squatting down and poking one of the unconscious E88 members with her finger. “Hey, I know this guy! He was involved in a stickup on the boardwalk only a week ago. Aegis got him. What's he doing out on the street so soon?”

David shrugged, sighing. “You know this city. Revolving door at the jail.”

Both young people nodded, reflecting a weary cynicism appalling in ones so young.

“We didn't do much except stay out of the way, it was that new cape who did all the real work,” he added after a moment. Vista looked at him, then her colleague.

“New cape? Who?”

“Called herself Saurial. She said it might be a temporary name but it kind of fits.”

“Herself?” Vista looked, as far as he could work out under the visor that obscured her eyes, a little intrigued.

He nodded. “Yes, female, about six foot five, polite. Long tail and covered in scales as well.” He grinned when they exchanged a startled glance.

“A tail?” Gallant queried, sounding confused.

“She looked like a cross between a human and a giant lizard,” Harry put in, coming in to the conversation. “She just turned up out of nowhere right in the middle of the gunfire, ignored it completely, then tried to talk to us. After a minute she complained it was too noisy and went in there.” He indicated the warehouse door with a sideways jerk of his head. “It only took about two minutes. Lots of screams, a hell of a lot of shooting, and some explosions. Then she wandered out carrying that one there.”

Vista and Gallant exchanged another look.

“Did she get hit?” the latter asked curiously.

“Several times from what I saw,” Harry told him, shaking his head. “Just bounced off. Look.” He held up a flattened copper-jacketed bullet, then waved at the ground around them. There were several more visible. “She was wearing some very professional looking armor but I think at least one of these hit her leg below it and she didn't even seem to notice.”

“High level Brute at least, then,” Gallant observed. “Probably a Case 53 by the sound of it.”

“That's about it. She carried these guys out, the guns too, told us what happened, then left. Oh, yes, she also took one of David's cards and said she'd email him a video of what she did. There was a little camera mounted on a strap on her head.”

“Where did she go?” Vista asked.

David pointed. “She headed that way, back to the main street. You only just missed her. She was on foot.”

“I think I'd like to meet her,” the young girl smiled. “How old was she?”

“No idea, it's difficult to tell for sure, but based on her voice I'd guess mid to late teens, maybe?” David said a little tentatively. He glanced at his partner who nodded.

“About right. Over fourteen, less than twenty. Can't narrow it down more than that. You'll see why when you meet her.”

“Thank you, officers,” Gallant replied. He turned to his own diminutive partner who nodded, then did something strange. The other end of the loading bay was abruptly only feet away. They stepped forward, the world snapped back to what passed for normal, and they were gone as well.

“Capes are extremely peculiar,” Harry said dryly, making David laugh, nod, then begin calling for an ambulance for the injured perps.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Wandering along the street, nodding to various passers-by, some of whom nodded back a little jerkily, some of whom simply stared, and a few of whom immediately crossed the road as soon as they spotted her, Taylor was enjoying herself. She was aware that quite a number of people were taking photos but ignored it as much as she could, feeling it wasn't too much imposition as long as they were quiet about it.

That was well done, Brain. Only two minor injuries.” The Varga sounded pleased.

She'd knocked the first gunman out with a quick strike with her fist to the base of his skull at the point her companion had told her would cause maximum rapidity of unconsciousness with minimum likelihood of injury, then gone inside the warehouse, quickly tracing the thermal signatures of the other five, before finding the light switch panel and flipping everything off. In the dark they were sitting ducks to her.

Quickly running them down one at a time, as they screamed and shouted, worried that the frenzied shooting would end up with one of the idiots killing another one, she'd knocked two more out with no effort, taken what looked like a grenade launcher from another fool who'd just fired two shots into the dark without any idea of where they'd land, then kicked the fifth one halfway across the warehouse and into a pile of plastic crates when he stumbled into her and pulled out a huge machete. She was a little embarrassed about that, it had been a reflex move as she knew she wasn't in danger. Luckily he only got a broken arm out of it.

The sixth one had been craftier than his friends, as rather than panicking and running around like a twit, shooting wildly, he'd taken cover under a rack of shelving and waited, apparently listening.

She'd known all along where he was but was still a little surprised when he popped up next to her, pointing a pistol with remarkable accuracy at her chest and firing five times. Three of the bullets had hit her, which was impressive under the circumstances. Unfortunately for him, through the armor which stopped them dead she didn't feel anything at all. She'd noticed the shots that hit her bare scales outside, they stung a little, but nothing she couldn't ignore.

Sighing she'd slapped him aside with her tail, grabbing his gun as it flew out of his hand and crushed it with her own, then carefully put him out with a sleeper hold, something she'd been pleased to realize that she'd inherited as part of the skills of her predecessor. At that point she'd also realized that it was probably a safer alternative to hitting people and resolved to be more careful next time, feeling a little annoyed with herself.

Looking around for the still warm grenade launcher, she'd picked it up and carried it to the bag of weapons it had come from, then retrieved the rest of them, inspecting them carefully and flipping every safety she could find to the on position. When she located the launcher user she'd been mildly annoyed to see she'd rather badly broken two of his fingers, the ones that had been wrapped around the stock of the weapon.

The Varga had produced some bandages which she quickly used, remembering enough basic first aid to do a reasonable job, aided by her friend and also making another mental note to learn to do it properly. The broken arm was splinted with more bandages and a strip of Vargastuff, for want of a better name for the metal he produced for her.

In the end it had only taken a couple of minutes, most of which was clearing up after the very brief fight. Talking to the cops had been nice, they seemed pleased, which made Taylor quite relieved. She hadn't known if she was committing some sort of faux pas wading in like that but the constant gunfire had been becoming very irritating. She'd also recognized the name of the cop her father knew and was happy she could help him out.

'I'm quite pleased, overall, I think,' she commented silently. 'It wasn't very difficult. It's a good thing the bullets don't hurt, though. They do itch a little.' She scratched a spot on her neck where one had bounced off.

Most likely a real fight against a parahuman will take more effort,” the Varga said, sounding like he was looking forward to finding out. She nodded, stopping to look into the window of a convenience store, then going inside. Poking around on the shelves for a moment she picked up a few packs of beef jerky, which she liked a lot, and a bottle of water, going to the counter and putting her purchases on it.

The young man behind the counter was staring fixedly at her face, making her feel self-conscious for a second or two. Waving a ten dollar bill at him while smiling made him jump, then quickly ring up the items.

“Would you like a bag for that, um, miss?” he asked in a faltering manner.

“No, thanks,” she smiled again, wondering why he was looking so worried. Picking up her jerky she put most of it into one of her belt pouches, opened the last pack and put some in her mouth, then left, chewing and savoring the taste. Idly thinking she should have bought a box of eggs to snack on, she unscrewed the lid of the bottle and took a drink from it as she headed in the general direction of Arcadia.

A few minutes later Taylor heard a shout from behind her, a young girl by the sound of it. “Saurial! Hey, Saurial!” Stopping, she turned to see two people she instantly recognized, the Wards Vista and Gallant, approaching her from a couple of dozen yards away. She waited politely for them to approach, wondering what they wanted.

Halting six or seven feet away, both the other teenagers looked at her, as she looked back, all of them curious. “I see what Officer Michelson meant,” Vista whispered in a low voice to Gallant, probably not intending her to hear. She didn't give any sign she did.

“It's nice to meet you, Saurial,” Gallant said after a moment and another glance at his colleague, stepping forward and holding out his hand. She took it and shook it.

“And you,” she replied. She and Vista repeated the process. She finished her water then dropped the empty bottle into a nearby garbage can.

“We understand you're new, this is your first time out?” Gallant was studying her with interest.

She nodded. “Yes, I decided I wanted to see what happened. Those gang members were… not very good. But it was an interesting training exercise.” The pair exchanged a glance. Looking around she saw that they were drawing a crowd even at half past ten at night, then looked up. “Why don't we go somewhere more private?”

“Sure,” Vista replied, “If you want to stand here, I...” She trailed off as she watched Taylor crouch then leap fifteen feet up and to the side, grabbing the top of one of the stone window ledges, then ascend the side of the six story building like she was climbing the stairs on all fours. Her talons and strength made it easy, which she was glad about, as she hadn't practiced this and suddenly thought she'd have looked like a complete idiot if she'd missed.

“OK. So you can do that,” she heard from below her, making her grin. A strange sensation to one side made her vision flicker then she looked up to see Vista peering down at her, grinning herself, from the roof. Easily pulling herself over the top she stood erect.

“Neat trick,” she laughed. “I read about that. Space warping of some kind, right?” It was impressive to watch.

“Yes, I'm pretty good at it,” Vista giggled, making the other side of the street suddenly be adjacent to them. The Varga was watching with interest, Taylor noted, as was she.

Stepping forward, Vista was abruptly across the road, waving at them, then just as abruptly next to them again. “See?”

Very neat trick,” Taylor grinned.

She turned to Gallant. “From what I've read, you're a Tinker and Blaster.”

“More or less,” he replied. “And I can read people's emotional states from a distance.” He was looking at her with a slightly odd expression, but she was becoming resigned to that by now.

“Excuse me, but I have to ask, it's protocol,” Vista said, making Taylor turn to her. The girl held up a small laminated card she pulled from a storage pouch that was like the ones Taylor had, on her belt. On it was a symbol that was vaguely like the letter C, or the omega sign on its side. “Do you by any chance have a tattoo that looks like this on you somewhere?”

“Nope. No tattoos at all,” Taylor replied, curious. “Why?”

“Well, in most cases of a cape with such… physical differences,” Gallant began, making her turn to him, “there are some things in common. They don't remember anything past a short time ago, they don't even know their names, and they have that symbol on them.”

“We refer to them as Case 53s.” Vista added soberly. “It's sort of a mystery, no one knows where they come from or who put the tattoo on them. Or why.”

“Weird. But, sorry, not applicable. I can remember everything from about the age of three,” Taylor smiled. Vista flinched a tiny amount, paling a little. Putting the card away she looked down, her color back to normal when she faced Taylor again.

“OK, thanks. Like I said, it's protocol. Anyway, welcome to the cape scene. What can you do?” The girl sounded excited again, happy to meet someone new.

“I'm pretty strong and tough, and fast too,” Taylor replied, wondering how much to give away. “My senses are also very good.”

“So, Brute, possibly Mover and minor Thinker ratings?” Gallant smiled when she turned to him. She nodded, having read up on what information was publicly available on the PRT rating system quite closely as part of her Cape research.

“Yes, although I have no idea what numbers you could put to any of them,” she replied, not quite telling the truth. For Brute she was fairly certain she would end up near the top of the scale but saw no reason to tell them that right now, having only just met them. They seemed nice enough, but…

She couldn't dismiss her father's suspicion of the PRT's motives without seeing more herself.

“You could come in for powers testing and find out,” he suggested, smiling under his helmet. She considered the offer, but shook her head. They knew enough about what she could do already and she was pretty sure that she didn't want the PRT knowing too much about what she was really capable of just yet. They might get a little overexcited and start shouting.

“Thanks, but no thanks, not right now.”

“OK, no pressure,” he replied, also nodding back.

They stood in silence for a moment, while she tried to work out what about their scents seemed oddly familiar. It was very faint, not fresh, but definitely there, and had been bugging her since they'd walked up on the street. Her mind seemed very good at remembering smells, now, to go with the ability to detect them so easily, so it was annoying not to be able to put her finger on it.

“Can you do anything else?” Gallant asked with an interested look, slightly distracting her. “Strong, fast and tough is classic Brute but sometimes they go with other things. Look at Glory Girl.”

“I can't fly,” Taylor sighed. She'd dearly love to be able to do that. “But I can do this.” She held out her hand, the Varga forming a sword in it. Vista jumped back with an exclamation of surprise while Gallant froze in place. “And this.” The sword turned into a baseball bat, a baton, then a very large hammer with a long handle.

“Is that a projection of some sort?” Vista finally asked, after getting over her surprise.

“Not that I know of,” Taylor replied thoughtfully. She hefted the hammer, tapping it against the stonework of the roof parapet, lightly enough not to damage anything. The metallic ringing sound seemed real enough. “I think it's real metal although I'm not sure what exactly it is.”

“Interesting,” Gallant mumbled, watching her wave it around. “Would you mind if I looked at it?”

“Sure,” she shrugged, giving the thing to him one-handed. He took it from her, then nearly fell over when she released it, only stopping the large hammer head dropping by grabbing the handle with both hands.

“Holy crap this thing is heavy,” he grunted in shock. “What the hell is it made of?”

“Good stuff,” she smirked.

Very helpful,” he replied a little sarcastically, producing a laugh from Vista, while still straining to lift the hammer which had a head about the size of a loaf of bread. Managing to stand it upright on the end of the handle he inspected it curiously.

“It's all one piece,” he noted. She nodded.

“It is.”

“Do you know how strong this stuff is?” he asked.

“I can't break it,” she told him honestly. “My sword will cut steel like it was butter.”

“Can you make another one at the same time as this one?”

“Yep.” She produced another hammer, holding it out at arms length by the very end of the handle then grinning at the look on his face. Vista made a small sound of surprise.

“You really are strong, aren't you?” he asked rhetorically. She spun the hammer like a cheerleaders baton then put it over her shoulder, looking pleased. He gaped a little, before recovering.

“I know I can lift at least a couple of tons without much effort and I just found out for sure I'm bulletproof, so yes,” she smiled.

“You didn't know for sure when you went after those E88 gangers?” Vista asked, her mouth a little open in surprise.

Taylor shrugged. “I was pretty sure, and I heal fast. This armor is bulletproof as well, in any case.”

The two Wards exchanged a look, then Vista stepped forward, looking more closely at the armored breastplate. “Where did you get it?” she asked curiously. “It's really professionally made.”

“Same place this came from,” she replied, hefting the hammer, then making it go away. She retrieved the one Gallant was still holding upright with some difficulty and did the same to it. “It's made of the same stuff.”

“Do you mind?” Vista asked, raising a hand. Taylor shook her head. The girl reached out and ran her hand over the stomach area of her armor, then felt one of the metal strips on the skirt, looking fascinated.

“That's incredible,” she muttered, inspecting one of Taylor's arm guards when she obligingly held out her right arm. “I like the logo,” she finally said, stepping back and looking at the image on the front of her breastplate. “What is it meant to be? A dragon?”

“No,” Taylor grinned. “A friend.” She didn't add to that, feeling it would ruin the mystery. Vista radiated a scent of puzzlement but didn't push.

“Why the sunglasses, though?” Vista looked up at her, inspecting her face. “”Wow you're tall,” she added with a smile.

Taylor looked around suspiciously. “They're to hide my identity,” she hissed in a low voice, looking back at the girl, who was beginning to giggle. “This way no one can work out who I am.”

“I think that you might need more than sunglasses,” the girl laughed, very amused. “You're… a little distinctive.”

Putting a hand on her chest, Taylor asked, “Distinctive? Me? I thought I was blending in well. No one on the street seemed to notice.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully, while Vista nearly fell over giggling. “Although, there were a few of them that were crossing the street. I just thought there was some sort of sale on. The clerk in the shop looked confused as well. Strange. Perhaps I'm not as anonymous as I thought I was.”

“You… You… went into a shop?” Vista managed to ask, heaving with laughter, while behind her Gallant was grinning.

“Of course. I wanted some beef jerky and some water. Here, would you like some?” Taylor produced a pack of the meaty treat from her pouch and held it out. Vista shook her head, still giggling.

“No thanks, I don't like it very much.”

“OK.” She put it away again. The younger girl slowly managed to get herself under control.

With an internal jolt, she suddenly realized the source of the scent that had been puzzling her, suppressing with some effort a surge of anger. Gallant looked oddly at her, his smile vanishing. Not trusting herself to speak for a moment, she looked around, then back to them.

“Have you considered joining the Wards?” he asked slowly. “Assuming you're under eighteen, of course...” He was obviously angling for more information. With the Varga murmuring advice, she shook her head slightly.

“I'm under eighteen, but at the moment I have no particular plans to join anyone,” she replied evenly. “I'm still working out what I want to do. Plus I have a lot of education to get through.”

“It's dangerous for a new cape, especially a young one, on their own,” he warned.

She nodded once. “I've read the statistics. I also know it's not much less dangerous for a cape who is part of a group. The average life span is only about two to three times that for a lone wolf. Don't worry, I can take care of myself.”

Smelling concerned, he stared at her. “What about your family, though? The PRT can provide protection. They might be in danger.”

She manifested a sword in each hand, holding them points down to the sides, and stared right back. “Anyone who goes after my family dies,” she growled, almost literally, baring her teeth at the sudden rage the suggestion brought to her. She could smell the sudden, well hidden, fear that both teenagers emitted. “Anyone.” After a moment she got rid of the weapons again, feeling she'd made her point, calming down. The thought that someone might target Danny to get her was one she'd had before and it terrified her. The Varga reassured her in the back of her head, promising bloody vengeance on anyone who dared.

There was an uncomfortable pause, then Vista said brightly, obviously trying to lighten the mood which had ended up in a rather dark place, “Has anyone explained the Unwritten Rules to you? All new capes should know them.”

She looked at the girl, still somewhat annoyed, which seemed to come out in her expression judging by the way the girl took an involuntary step back. “Unwritten Rules? I read on PHO about something called that, but there was no information on it.” After a moment she laughed, adding, “Presumably because they're unwritten, I guess.”

Vista smiled. “Exactly. Basically it goes like this: Don't kill other capes, don't try to find out their real identities, don't go after their families. There's more, of course, but that's the main part.”

Studying her, Taylor thought about her words.

I assume that these rules are in place to avoid wholesale war between Parahumans, Brain,” the Varga noted slowly. “I also suspect that the reason they are unwritten is a political one. Rules that are not written down can be selectively ignored by the powerful, as they are, of course, not written down. It gives… a certain amount of flexibility of interpretation.”

'Gallant also just got through warning me that Dad could be at risk. If these rules are followed, why would that be?'

Quite possibly because they only apply to actions between Parahumans. Non powered associates of theirs could probably ignore them with impunity. Under certain circumstances at least. It would be an obvious loophole.” The Varga sounded thoughtful.

Unaware of the inner conversation, Vista continued, “All capes, Villain, Hero, or Rogue, normally stick to the rules. If you break them, everyone will be after you.”

“What about New Wave?” she asked slowly. “They lost Fleur when they unmasked and people found out where they lived.” Her research had brought that up quite quickly.

“Kaiser himself killed the one who did that,” Gallant replied. “And he's not exactly someone you'd normally think of as someone who follows rules. Even he has limits to what he'll accept.”

In public,” the Varga commented. “If there is no chance of detection, I suspect that this Kaiser would do anything he wanted, based on what we've read about him. I recognize the type.

“I won't kill anyone unless I absolutely have to, trust me,” she finally replied. “I intend to be very careful. But if anyone goes after my family, all bets are off.”

Gallant looked at her for a long moment. “I can understand that,” he said in a low voice after several seconds. “But be aware that as a Cape you get judged very harshly on your actions by the public. They tend to see the worst, usually without knowing the whole story. It can make life a little awkward sometimes.”

“If you have an email account or PHO account you can tell me I can send you some more detailed information on being a Cape,” Vista remarked, glancing between the pair of them.

“I don't have anything like that set up yet,” she admitted. It was something she should have done first, she realized with annoyance.

“Don't worry, here's my details, when you have it, let me know, OK?” Vista handed her a card much like the one officer Michelson had given her. She took it, then put it away.

“Thanks.”

“It's no problem,” the young Ward said with a smile.

“I'm going to have to go now,” Taylor said, wanting to get home and think. “But it was interesting meeting you both. Thank you for the information.”

“You're welcome,” Vista grinned. “I hope we'll meet again.”

“I expect we will,” she smiled back, then turned and ran along the roof, leaping off the end onto the next building with ease and grinning to herself. 'This is fun, I should have thought of it earlier', she said to the Varga, who felt amused. She carefully headed in a direction away from her house, intending to drop to ground level when she was sure she wasn't being seen, cloak and change, then head back.

Running and jumping across the rooftops, occasionally having to climb up or down buildings of different sizes, with her tail flying behind her stabilizing her, she let her body do the work while she thought. On the whole she’d enjoyed the interaction with the teenaged Heroes. The two Wards seemed decent people, friendly and helpful, and the advice they'd given was sound as far as she could tell. Even the Varga, who was a suspicious bastard at times, thought so.

The big question was, why did both of them smell very faintly of Sophia Fucking Hess?

Chapter Text

Missy watched Saurial bound across the roof like she was on springs and clear the distance to the next building easily, then run at what must have been close to forty miles an hour across it, before repeating the process to the next one along. If anything she was speeding up. The lizard-like cape made an impressive sight, leaping and bouncing with her tail out behind her, balancing her torso as she leaned over for speed.

She lost sight of the other female when she skittered up the side of a much taller building a couple of blocks away like a rat up a drainpipe, making it look easy, and vanished over the top. Shivering a little despite herself she turned to look up at Dean, who was also watching Saurial go.

“Well, that was… different.”

He nodded without looking away for a moment, then turned to her. “She's dangerous,” he said.

“I got that all by myself,” she laughed. “Did you see those swords? And that huge hammer! That was amazing.”

“If you knew how much it weighed you'd be even more amazed,” he replied slowly. “It much have been a good two hundred and fifty pounds. I could barely lift it. But she was waving it around like it was made of styrofoam. She's probably at least as strong as Vicky if not stronger.”

“She did say she could lift a couple of tons,” Vista noted. He nodded, still looking a little disturbed, something Missy could easily pick up on having known him for so long, even under the helmet and visor.

“She was being completely honest about killing anyone who went after her family,” he continued. “There's something… odd… about her emotional output, it's difficult to read for some reason and much fainter than normal, but the rage she felt when I mentioned it? It was kind of horrifying.”

After a moment, he added, “The other weird thing is that about half way through our conversation she suddenly got very angry for some reason, although I didn't see any trace of it in her voice or expression. She's got very good control of her reactions.”

“Why?” Missy asked curiously.

He shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea. Something we said? But she was furious, then calmed down, but even when she left she was still a little pissed for some reason. Nothing to do with you talking about the Rules, or even her family. Something else was bothering her.”

“Very strange,” his companion commented, making him nod.

They looked after Saurial, then at each other, before beginning to make their way back to base.

“Saurial seems nice though,” Missy commented on the way back. “A little… toothy… but nice.”

“I guess,” Dean replied. He still couldn't get the image of the lizard girl waving an enormous war hammer like a plastic prop and grinning out of his head.

“It'll be nice to have another girl Cape around, even if she does have a tail and scales,” the girl laughed, then went silent as she concentrated on doing something horrible to the fabric of space-time surrounding them.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Describe her, please,” Miss Militia requested, opening a notebook in front of her and pulling a pen from somewhere. The rest of the wards, except for Shadow Stalker who was currently sulking in her room, listened curiously to the pair of Vista and Gallant. These last exchanged a glance.

“Um, six and a half feet tall, slender, I’d guess maybe a hundred and sixty pounds or so?” Gallant began. Missy shook her head a little, an expression of thought on her face.

“Don’t forget that tail. I think it’s pretty heavy, it probably pushes her weight up compared to a normal human. Maybe a hundred and ninety? She was pretty skinny but not to an unhealthy level.” Missy smiled slightly. "She actually looked very fit and toned and not at all bad, under the circumstances."

Gallant nodded while the military themed cape looked a little startled. “Tail?” she echoed curiously.

“She’s a giant lizard,” the petite space warper smiled, making the other Wards look at each other. “She’s got sort of light blue scales, with darker stripes, and what looked like dark blue feathers on her head like hair.”

Gallant nodded slowly. “Saurial is quite distinctive,” he added, making Vista grin. “She was wearing armor, which looked like a cross between ancient Greek or Roman armor and some sort of fantasy warrior. Aside from not covering her completely, it looked very functional. And very professional, it was better made than some of our costumes. Dark blue with a gold emblem of a roaring lizard or dragon in profile on the breastplate.”

“The armor was really cool,” Vista said excitedly. “She had a… what do you call it, cuirass, is it?” She looked at Miss Militia who nodded, appearing very interested. “OK, cuirass, on her torso, with a roughly knee-length skirt of overlapping metal strips that came down to her knees. Or where her knees would be in a normal person, her legs worked differently. There were shoulder protectors as well, along with arm and shin guards, also metal. It looked amazing.”

“Bare feet, though, no boots,” Gallant put in. “Her feet were three toed, I think, a bit like a birds, with another short toe coming out the heel. Claws about two inches long on the toes which looked very sharp. Shorter ones on the fingers. She walked on her toes, not like a human. Plus a tail about five feet long which was obviously very strong, and from the way it was moving around, very flexible. She can probably use it in a fight as well as her arms and legs.”

“Don’t forget her teeth,” Vista commented, making him nod soberly.

“Yes, you can’t forget those. Even if you try.” The short blonde girl giggled, but shivered at the same time.

“She looked like she could bite your arm off without much effort,” she confirmed. “Her face was… not normal at all, it was like someone stretched a human face over a lizard’s skull and covered it in scales, but it wasn’t ugly. Sort of pretty when you got used to it and very expressive.”

“Anything else?” Miss Militia asked when she’d finished making notes. “And any idea how old she is?”

“She was wearing a weird set of sunglasses,” the girl added. “Obviously custom made, her head is a completely different shape and she doesn’t have any ears. Although she said her senses are very good so I guess she’s only missing the outer bits like a normal lizard does.”

“And she had some sort of high-end lipstick camera mounted on the right side of her head with straps that were made to blend in with her scales,” Gallant added. Vista nodded.

“She also said she was under eighteen, but I don’t know, really,” he went on, looking at Vista who shrugged. “I’d guess probably around sixteen or so but that is just a guess. There’s no easy way to tell, looking at her.”

“She mentioned she had a lot of education to deal with so I guess that means she’s still in school as well,” Vista put in. “Or maybe home-schooled.”

“OK.” Making more notes, the older woman tapped the pen on the paper as she thought, then turned a page. “Personality-wise, what were your impressions?”

Both teenagers were silent for a few seconds, looking at each other, finally, Missy said slowly, “Very smart. Definite Heroic tendencies. Good sense of humor, pretty funny, actually. She seemed… friendly. And not overawed by meeting us at all. I think she’s studied up on the Capes around here, she didn’t seem surprised by us and knew quite a bit about our powers.”

“But you really wouldn’t want to piss her off, I think,” Gallant added with a small frown. “I suspect that she’d be completely ruthless if she had got backed into a corner. She basically told us straight out that anyone who threatened her family would die and trust me, she meant it.”

Several more glances were exchanged amongst the listening teens.

“Interesting,” was the only comment from Miss Militia as she continued writing for a moment.

“Powers?”

“That’s where it gets strange,” the young man replied. “She has some sort of ability to manifest weapons, like swords or giant hammers.” The older cape looked up sharply from her papers, an expression of curiosity on her face as far as could be made out.

“Like my power?” she asked, a pistol appearing in her hand in a swirl of green energy. She put it on the table next to the notebook. Seconds later it vanished again.

“I… don’t know,” he finally replied. “We didn’t see her make anything like a gun, so I can’t say she can do that, but I can’t say she can’t either. She made a horrific looking sword, which was very obviously ridiculously sharp, a baseball bat, something a lot like a police baton, and that huge hammer, which was about four feet long with a head bigger than mine. And she’s not limited to one weapon, she made two of them simultaneously at two different times.”

Leaning back in her chair Miss Militia thought for a few seconds, her eyes narrowing in interest over her scarf. “Were they projections, perhaps?” she finally asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. She said they were some sort of metal, and it certainly sounded real when she tapped the hammer on the stonework. It clinked just like steel would. But the metal is a dull gray and incredibly heavy. That hammer must have weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds. With the leverage of the long handle, even with my power armor, I could barely hold it, but she was waving it around one handed like it was a toy. It was kind of scary, actually. She spun the damn thing without even looking at it as if she was a band leader.”

“So, a Brute, definitely.”

“Ohhh, yes.” He nodded vigorously. “She claimed to be able to lift over two tons, and from what I saw it was no idle boast. I’d guess she’s at least on a par with Glory Girl in that respect.”

The older Cape’s eyes widened a little. “Really?” she queried, producing a confirming nod from the young man. She made some more notes, thoughtfully.

“She’s tough, too,” Missy commented. “She told us she was bullet-proof and the cops confirmed it. The armor is as well, apparently, but I don’t think she really needs it. Her sword can apparently cut steel ‘like butter’ as she put it. However she makes the weapons, the same thing made her armor, and she said it was the same stuff whatever that is. She let me touch it and it was almost completely frictionless.”

“Officer Greggs said he saw her get hit a number of times by 7.62mm rifle bullets and there were a lot of them lying around, but there wasn’t a mark on either her or her armor,” Gallant said.

“Really fast as well, to add to all that.” Vista shook her head in impressed wonder. “You should have seen her climb, it was amazing. She shot up the side of that building nearly as fast as she could run along the top of it and I saw her clear a twenty foot gap without any problems. She was speeding up the whole time we were watching. I got the impression she’d never tried it before and was learning on the spot for some reason.”

Finishing making notes, Miss Militia looked at what she’d written. “OK, we have high level brute for sure, at least 4. Mover as well, 1 or higher. Thinker 1 for enhanced senses, although we don’t know how enhanced. And Breaker of some sort for the matter manipulation. Assuming that’s what it really is.”

“She hit the jackpot, didn’t she?” Aegis remarked, speaking for the first time from where he was sitting on the sofa in the Ward’s rec room, a few feet away. She looked over at him and nodded sightly. “All that in one cape is unusual.”

“Mind you, she’s sort of obvious,” Vista noted. “I’m not sure I’d think having all those powers would be worth being covered in scales with a tail, looking like that.”

“And you’re sure she’s not a Case 53?” the older woman asked.

Vista nodded, spreading her hands. “She said she could remember everything in her life no trouble and that she didn’t have the tattoo. I don’t think she was lying.”

“The interesting thing is that she seemed completely comfortable with herself, completely at ease,” Dean remarked after a moment. “Not embarrassed or self conscious about her appearance. She moved like she was totally used to it as well, which suggests to me she’s been like that for a while, but that was the first time I’ve ever heard of her.”

“I’m not aware of anyone meeting that description, no,” Miss Militia mused, thinking. “So presumably either she’s a new trigger, an older one that just decided to get into the Cape life right now, or… Or what?”

They exchanged a look. “Are you sure she wasn’t some sort of projection herself?” Clockblocker suggested, a look of fascination on his face. Gallant turned to look over at his colleague who was leaning on the back of the sofa with his helmet off.

“I don’t think so, no,” he replied after some consideration. “She moved completely naturally, all the muscles under the scales appeared real, I saw her swallow a couple of times, she was definitely breathing. I couldn’t see her eyes, but everything else looked very real.”

“So we have a super-humanly strong lizard girl who can run at highway speeds and throw cars around barehanded, not to mention make swords that can probably cut one in half with one swing considering her strength, running around downtown on the roofs?” Dennis summarized a little sarcastically. “Wonderful. That sounds really safe.”

Gallant nodded, smiling slightly, while Missy giggled.

“Maybe she’s an alien,” the time stopping cape suggested with a smirk. “Or some warrior demoness from hell here to find souls to snack on.”

“She likes beef jerky, not souls, Dennis,” Missy sighed. “She offered me some.”

Gallant grinned. “She apparently wandered into a convenience store and bought it, which must have been hysterical to see,” he chuckled. Clockblocker immediately laughed, shaking his head.

“I think I like her already.”

“She has a weird sense of humor, like you,” Vista noted, making him smile again.

“Hey, maybe this means that those strange stories on the internet about shape-shifting lizards running the world is real?” the red-head added, grinning. “You know, like that crazy British guy, what’s his name, David Icke, has been claiming for years. Perhaps she’s one of them who can’t shape-shift and is just running around anyway.”

Vista gave him a sad look and shook her head, making him smirk, while Dean and Miss Militia exchanged a look. Aegis appeared thoughtful.

“You know, if she actually was a Changer that would explain why no one has seen a lizard girl wandering around yet,” he said slowly, making Clockblocker stare at him.

“I was joking!” the teen complained. “Now you think she really is a shape-shifting six and a half foot tall lizard? Next you’ll be saying she’s going to replace one of us for the New World Order.” He narrowed his eyes, staring suspiciously at his colleague, then looked around at the others. “Or maybe... she already has.” Walking over to his team-mate he stared hard at his mask from very close range, then reached out and prodded him in the forehead a couple of times, making Aegis bat his finger away. “Are you an alien lizard under there?” he asked in a deeply suspicious voice, although his mouth was twitching.

“Stop being an idiot, Dennis,” he mumbled. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

The other teen grinned and stepped back, while Vista and Gallant collapsed laughing, even Miss Militia smiling under her mask. “I’m just being careful,” he replied, “you can never be certain with these alien lizards.” Peering around behind his friend he shook his head. “No tail. Hmm, I guess I can trust you. For now.”

“Oh, just go away and sit down, will you?” Aegis grumbled, making Dennis laugh, high five Gallant who was creased up, then go and sit beside Kid Win, the Tinker listening quietly while he fiddled with one of his laser pistols. The latter was smiling but said nothing.

“Back to business, please,” Miss Militia requested, sounding amused. Clockblocker immediately made his expression go completely blank, which set Missy off again. The older woman waited patiently for them to calm down. “Aegis’ suggestion is certainly worth considering, I think. It would explain the lack of any reports of Saurial before last night, presuming she didn’t trigger then immediately go out in costume, which I think is unlikely.” She made some more notes. “So, it may well be Brute, Mover, Thinker, Breaker, and now Changer as well. That’s… a very comprehensive and unusual power set even if most of them are low level.”

“The Changer rating would have to be reasonably high to let her switch between that form and a normal human one,” Gallant noted with interest, making her nod. “It looked like a complete transformation, bone, skin, everything, not a cosmetic one.”

“That’s true.” She sighed. “I’d love to talk to her and get her in for power testing.”

“She said she had no current interest in either joining the Wards or coming in,” he replied, shrugging. “As far as I could tell she was sincere, although not hostile about it, just not interested.”

“OK. Pity, though. I hope she realizes how dangerous it is for an independent Hero, especially in this city.”

“She said she’d read the statistics and was fine with it,” Missy remarked. “I told her about the Rules and offered to send her some more information on things Capes should know.”

Everyone but Gallant looked surprised about this. “Why, at this point, would you get onto that subject?” Miss Militia asked curiously. “It seems sudden for a first meeting and I’m a little surprised that it would be you who’d bring it up.”

“Partly it was her reaction when Dean mentioned someone hurting her family to get to her,” the young girl replied slowly. “She got… very angry. Not for long, and not at us, but she was… kind of terrifying for a few seconds. I thought I should let her know, both so she wouldn’t be so worried, which she obviously was, and also to let her know before she ran into a situation where it might come up.”

Nodding, the military cape gave the impression of slight approval.

“Plus I like her, I think,” Missy added with a smile. “We need more girl Capes around. Too many boys.” She cast a disapproving glance around at her team-mates, making Dennis put an expression of hurt disappointment on his face and Kid Win snicker, still not saying anything but following the conversation although he was wrist deep in his weapon, concentrating on something fiddly.

With a slight snicker of her own, Miss Militia closed the notebook and rested her pen on top of it, leaning back in her chair folding her hands on the table.

“All right. Well done, both of you, both for handling a meeting with a new Cape and the report. You managed lots of useful detail and your suppositions seem sound. I’ll write it up and pass it along. If you think of anything else, let me know.” She stood to leave. Gallant cleared his throat, appearing somewhat troubled. “Is there something else to add?” she asked, stopping in the process of picking up her notebook and pen.

“There… might be,” he slowly and a little reluctantly said. “Normally I wouldn’t mention something private like this, but… I’m not sure if it means anything. Or at least anything bad.”

She sat down again and re-opened the notebook, motioning to him to continue.

“There’s something very weird about her emotional output,” he went on after an obvious minor internal struggle. “It’s difficult to describe. I can’t read her nearly as well as I can most people, her emotions seemed… muted, or on the wrong frequency, somehow,” He shrugged slightly helplessly. “I can’t put it better than that, sorry.”

“If she changes to that extent, possibly her brain is different enough to screw with your powers?” Kid Win said, speaking for the first time, looking up from his gun. They all turned to look at him, then back to Gallant, who seemed thoughtful.

“Maybe. I don’t know. But I could get enough to recognize a couple of things. One was that at one point she suddenly got very angry, for no obvious reason, although as far as I could tell it wasn’t directed at us. She didn’t show a trace of it either in her voice or in her body language, though, which is impressive. She calmed down pretty fast but she was still annoyed when she left, in fact I think she left exactly because she was annoyed. Up to that point, except when I mentioned her family being at risk, which was horrifying to feel, she was calm and basically happy. It was a little bizarre.”

“Maybe you said something to annoy her?” Aegis asked.

Gallant shook his head. “I don’t think so. She was being all friendly and joking around then suddenly there was this faint wave of serious rage. I don’t know if she noticed but I nearly stepped back, it was so surprising.”

Making a few notes on a new page, Miss Militia nodded slowly. “That’s slightly concerning. Hopefully she isn’t emotionally unstable, that would be a very bad mix with those abilities.”

"I don’t know for sure but I don’t think she is,” Gallant replied with a shrug. “I think there was a real reason for it although I have no idea what.”

“OK. What’s the other thing?” She stopped writing once more and looked at him.

“The really strange thing was I think I detected two slightly different and distinct emotional outputs from her. At the same time. One was very faint, and gave me the impression for some reason of being very old and very calm, although when I mentioned that thing with her family it suddenly went… very worrying… for just a second.” He shivered. “Maybe I’m imagining it, like I said she’s really hard to read, and it might just be a result of that. But...” He spread his hands out helplessly.

“I don’t know what it means, even if it’s real, but I thought you should know.”

“Thank you, Gallant,” the woman replied, finishing her note-taking with a slightly troubled expression visible on the top half of her face. “I have to say I don’t know what it might mean either, you may be right and it’s just a side effect of whatever resistance she has to your power, but it’s worth knowing.”

Looking up at the pair, she asked, “Anything else?”

Both Dean and Missy shook their heads.

“OK.” She closed the notebook for the last time.

“What do we do if we meet her again?” Vista asked.

The older Cape tapped her pen on the table, considering the question. “For now, just do what you did, although I’d suggest not mentioning her family again. Be friendly, don’t start any confrontations. We have no idea what she’s really capable of and that’s the sort of thing that gets you killed. For now she’s just an apparently non-hostile independent Hero and unless things change we’ll just be civil to her and hope she reciprocates.”

They nodded in unison. Turning her head to look at the other wards, she added, “That goes for the rest of you. Don’t provoke Saurial if you meet her, be polite and friendly.” Fixing Clockblocker with a stare, she carried on, “And no practical jokes with the meat-eating super-strong lizard girl, please.”

Looking a little disappointed, he replied, “You mean alien lizard here to take over the world,” causing her to sigh faintly. He smirked.

Deliberately ignoring him and making him turn a grin to Kid Win beside him, who shrugged, she looked to Vista. “If she does contact you, you may give her non-classified information as you suggested. It might be worth gently pushing the idea of the Wards if you think she’s receptive to it, but don’t overdo it.” The blonde girl nodded, smiling a little.

“Good.” Satisfied, she stood, looked at Clockblocker again, sighed sadly and theatrically, shook her head in despair, then left. He watched her go with a small grin.

“She actually really appreciates the work I do around here to lighten the mood and keep morale high, you know,” he commented, making Aegis snort with disbelief and Missy giggle. “Honest!”

The ensuing argument went on for some time.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Prodding the button beside the armored door, Hannah waited until it beeped and unlocked. “Enter,” the voice of Colin Wallis said from inside. She went in, to find the Tinker sitting at a workbench, more or less his default position when he wasn’t out on the streets or sleeping, which he did as little as possible.

Unusually, he wasn’t working on a half-disassembled widget, instead he was staring, deep in thought, at a large monitor on which were several pictures. She glanced at them curiously. They appeared to be of a pair of manacles of some sort on the wrists of what was presumably, due to the tattoo she could make out, a member of the E88.

“I’ve got the notes on the reported contact with a new cape called Saurial, Colin,” she said. “You know, this really is something you should be doing, you’re the one in command.” This was said with a certain amount of asperity.

Not looking away from his screen he nodded absently. “You’re much better with people than I am, Hannah, so I’m sure you do a good job. Thank you.” He leaned forward, studying one image which he zoomed to fill the screen, then mumbled something to himself. She sighed a little, shaking her head in fond irritation. The man was brilliant, but gave the concept ‘one track mind’ a real workout. Not to mention that, as far as he was concerned, social skills were something that happened to other people.

“What are you looking at?” she asked, knowing that she wasn’t going to get much more use out of him until he satisfied whatever itch he was currently scratching.

“Something impossible,” he murmured, zooming another image, then rotating it, before selecting a third. This one was of a flat strip of the same gray metal, just over fourteen inches long and an inch wide based on the ruler next to it.

“That looks like a pair of manacles and a strip of metal to me,” she commented, pulling a spare chair over and sitting on it, looking at the images. “They’re not all that impossible, I’ve seen manacles before.” She smiled under her scarf, knowing he’d miss the joke completely yet not minding. Glancing at her for a moment, he went back to inspecting the monitor, before leaning back with an exclamation of irritation.

“They are indeed manacles, and the strip of metal was used as a splint. Their function is not impossible, or even complex. What they’re made of is.”

“What are they made of?” she asked curiously.

“I have absolutely no idea,” he replied sourly.

She inspected him, then the screen again. “Really?”

“Yes. I was called in an hour ago to the Downtown BBPD precinct to give technical advice. They had six prisoners apprehended in a robbery by a new Cape calling herself Saurial, who restrained them with those manacles, and also treated a broken arm and some broken fingers with basic first aid. That metal splint was used. They wanted help because they couldn’t remove the restraints. A pair of bolt cutters did absolutely nothing, not even leaving a mark, neither did a diamond cutting wheel. They were on the verge of using an oxyacetylene torch but luckily I arrived before that happened and tested them. Whatever that material is, it’s both a perfect electrical insulator and a thermal superconductor, at the same time. Using the torch would have been very dangerous, the prisoners would have been badly burned.”

He sighed, while she waited patiently and with good humor, wondering when he’d work it out. “Not to mention it wouldn’t work anyway. I tried it on the splint, which had no useful effect at all. It didn’t even glow when the entire thing was hot enough to melt steel easily. I tried everything I could think of with the equipment I had with me to no effect. In addition to all of that, whatever this material is, it is very close to frictionless and its density is impossibly high. Approximately seventy one point six seven grams per cubic centimeter, over three times the density of the most dense element in the periodic table. No such element exists. If it did, it would be deep into the transuranic elements, and probably have a half-life measurable in attoseconds, not to mention you could only make it in a third generation supernova in the first place.”

He threw his hands up, disgust on his face, almost knocking his helmet off the workbench next to the keyboard. “Like I said, impossible.”

“Did you bring it back to test?” she asked. “For that matter, how did they remove the manacles, or are the prisoners still restrained?”

“Approximately eighteen minutes after I arrived, all the manacles, the splint, and the bandages used on the prisoners vanished,” he frowned, making her eyes widen.

“A projection?” she asked incredulously. He shook his head.

“No, definitely not, or if it was it was totally unlike anything else on record. The damn things had real, measurable, consistent properties. Impossible ones for the most part, but real ones.”

After a few more seconds of staring in frustration at the screen, his expression suddenly changed, both eyebrows going up slowly. He turned to her. She handed him the notebook, grinning.

“Took you long enough,” she laughed, as he flipped through the pages of her notes, reading her elegant longhand with the ease of familiarity.

“This is very… interesting,” he said slowly, reading the section of her notes about Saurial’s weapons-creation power with extreme care. “And raises more questions than it answers.”

After another couple of minutes, he handed the notes back and nodded his thanks. “It doesn’t answer the question of what the material is but it explains where it comes from. Or at least who makes it. Fascinating.” Looking back to the monitor he studied the images again. “Formed on the spot, specifically for the job,” he mused out loud. “That is a very efficient power. I wonder what the limitations are?”

“I recognize that expression,” she laughed. “You’re thinking about what you could do with something like that if it was stable long enough, aren’t you?” He nodded slowly, still with a look of thoughtful consideration.

“It would be a perfect material to make armor out of, with the sole exception of the thermal superconductivity,” he replied in an absent manner. “Even that has its uses. I wonder how strong and hard it really is?”

Looking back at her for a second, he added, “Hard enough to make a weapon that would work on an Endbringer?”

She stared at him for several seconds, then joined him in inspecting the screen, wild speculation going through her head.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Thursday, January 27, 2011

“Holy shit.” Danny's flat exclamation of shock made Taylor look up from the history textbook she was studying on the sofa, having just had a snack, to see her father staring at a letter he was holding. The post had come that morning and she'd quickly looked through it, seeing nothing for her which wasn't a shock at all, then put the rest on the kitchen table.

He was still half-way through taking his coat off but seemed to have completely forgotten this little fact, as engaged as he was at staring wide-eyed at the sheaf of papers in his hand. She watched, a little confused, as he flipped through them briefly, then read a page more carefully, before dropping into his chair and staring blankly at her.

“Um, Dad?” she asked carefully. “Are you all right?”

He nodded, his expression not changing, then blinked a few times. Lifting the hand with the letter in he looked at the top page again, then spend a few seconds swearing quite creatively under his breath. Taylor made mental notes of some of the more amusing comments, while the Varga laughed a little at them. Eventually Danny seemed to get it out of his system, dropping the letter to his lap and just shaking his head. After a second he finished taking his coat off and draped it over the arm of the chair with a vacant expression on his face.

“The school has made an offer in full and final settlement of any case we have against them,” he told her, appearing to come back from somewhere far away. “I'll have to get this checked over by the DWU lawyer but on the face of it the terms seem reasonable.” Looking at the letter again he swallowed, then smiled. “They must really want to make this go away. Us, too.”

Putting the book down and sitting up, she looked curiously at him. “So they offered money to shut us up?”

“They did indeed.”

“Is it a lot?”

He laughed a little wildly. “Not if you're Bill Gates, no. For us? Quite a good deal.”

Getting up and walking over, she looked at the letter which he held up for her. Half-way down the page her eyes widened. “Sixty five thousand dollars!?”

“You missed a zero, dear,” he chortled after a surprised moment.

Taylor fell over.

“Six… hundred...” she whispered.

“And fifty thousand, yes.” He shook his head in shocked amazement. “That's more than twice what I thought was likely.” While she lay on the floor, motionless, staring at him in disbelief, he thought for a moment, smiling oddly. “After various taxes and the like, which there's no getting around, that should be close to half a million in the bank.”

She felt faint. “Half a million dollars?”

“That's nearly worth all the pain, isn't it,” he commented. Taylor stared, shook her head, then jumped to her feet, pulling him to his and spinning him around, before hugging him.

“No, not really, considering I nearly either lost you or died, but it's worth getting punched in the mouth by Sophia,” she grinned. “She can hit me again if people will pay that much.” A thoughtful look crossed her face, just before a mischievous one. “Hey, maybe that's a job. Get punched in the mouth for money. I can take it.”

Holding her, he looked down the few inches separate them and smiled, sighing a little. “No, dear, I don't think that would work. Or, if it did, there's probably a law against it anyway.” Releasing her he retrieved the letter which had fallen to the floor, flipping through the pages once more. “It looks above board. I think Alan may have come through for us. Poor bastard. I'll take it in tomorrow to get the lawyer to go over it while you're at Arcadia doing the test, and pick you up after they're done. Assuming there's no loopholes I can sign it and get it to the Winslow School board on the way. The payment would be in the bank by Monday.”

He looked up at her. “Unless you think I should hold out for more? If they're this desperate, they might be open to negotiation.” His smile had more teeth than Saurial's.

Taylor laughed, smiling widely. “No, Dad, no need to be greedy. I think that will do.” She looked around the room. “We can get this place fixed up, and everything.”

“We could move easily with this much money,” he pointed out. She stopped dead, then looked at him.

After a long moment, she shook her head. “I don't want to leave here, this is my home. This was Mom's home.”

Putting the letter on his chair, he held her, smiling proudly. “That it is, dear. A very good point. All right, we'll fix everything wrong with it, that won't take very much of this, and I may treat us to a newer car. At least half of it is going into your college fund, though.”

She looked startled for a moment. “It's your money, Taylor. It's a settlement for everything you went through. I won't turn down a contribution to the family funds, but it's yours.” He smiled down at her as she stared, then nodded slowly.

“Now, I think you should go and do some final revising, while I call Antonia and make an appointment to see her first thing tomorrow to look at this, OK?”

Taylor nodded, still stunned, before slowly heading off to her computer and books, her head spinning. The smile on her face seemed etched there permanently.

Chapter Text

Friday, January 28, 2011

Looking at the surprisingly elegant building Taylor tried to calm herself. “It will be easy, Brain,” the Varga told her reassuringly, making her nod very slightly, although she still found herself petrified. Facing half a dozen idiots with machine guns was positively relaxing compared to this. She might have to go and find some later to get over it.

Danny squeezed her hand, picking up on her mood, and smiled at her wide eyes when she turned to look at him. “I know you can do this and I'm sure your enormous friend just told you the same thing, dear. Just relax, go in there and take the tests, pass them like I know you will, and I'll pick you up in a few hours. We can go out for a nice meal afterward if you want.”

He looked at the school as well. “It certainly looks a lot cleaner and safer than Winslow. That's a good sign.”

Taking a deep breath, more nervous at this than walking around in public as Saurial, she nodded firmly. Letting some of the confidence her alternate forms seemed to give her bleed through she deliberately relaxed as much as she could, feeling her racing heartbeat slow. “It's only a test,” she muttered to herself. “No pressure.”

Danny chuckled. “Exactly. Go and prove how smart you are, make all of us proud.”

Taylor let out a long breath then nodded one final time, quickly leaning over and giving her father a peck on the cheek. “Thanks, Dad. See you later.”

Opening the door she swung herself out, using her tail to keep her balance when she moved a little too fast with an instinctive ease she didn't even think about now, made sure she had the relevant documents in the small backpack she was carrying, then closed the door. He watched her as she walked into the school past the crowds of teenagers, a few of who watched her then exchanged a few words with each other before going about their business. Reaching the front doors she looked over her shoulder, waved, and went inside, hearing his car start and drive away.

Inside she looked around, raising an impressed eyebrow. There was none of the dirt and general lived in look of Winslow, no graffiti or gang tags, and no surly youths hanging around in threatening groups. Most importantly, there were no Three Bitches. Smiling to herself she tried to work out where she needed to go.

“Excuse me,” she said, catching the eye of a tallish pretty short-haired brunette girl in an expensive-looking outfit a year or so older than she was. The girl stopped in her tracks and turned to look her over, running a practiced eye over her clothes in a manner that Taylor caught but that the girl probably didn't even consciously notice. In an attempt to make a good impression, she was wearing Varga-created copies of some nice pants with a silk top, loose but not excessively so, with good high end sneakers and a decent jacket over it. She didn't feel the cold as much as she used to so the coat wasn't necessary but it did give her somewhere to put her phones. She thought that overall it looked fashionable but not ostentatious, and importantly was a complete break from her old style, the result of trying desperately to blend into the background.

“Hi,” the girl said. “New girl? I don't recall seeing you around here before.” She held out her well-manicured hand. “I'm Mandy. Are you lost?”

“I'm looking for the school secretaries' office?” Taylor shook hands then checked her documents, removing them from her backpack which she swung off her shoulder. “I'm here to take some acceptance tests, I'm transferring in from Winslow.”

Mandy delicately wrinkled her nose. “Winslow? Is that place as bad as I've heard it is?”

“It's probably worse,” Taylor replied darkly. “A seething cesspit of villainous scum. The sort of place that would be massively improved by being buried under a thousand tons of raw sewage. It's so bad that an Endbringer would vomit if you showed it to them. Some say that...”

Mandy held up a hand, giggling. “I get it. You don't like it.”

Grinning, Taylor shook her head. “Not a lot.”

“I'll show you where it is,” the girl offered, turning and walking away. “Come with me.” Taylor followed, listening to Mandy tell her about various areas of the school. “Cafeteria,” the other brunette indicated with a hand as they walked past. “The food is actually pretty good. I usually eat there.”

“I had to bring my own food at Winslow,” Taylor noted. “Aside from anything else I'd probably have ended up with dysentery if I'd eaten the stuff that passed as edible there. Not to mention the company.”

“A little cliquey, was it?” Mandy asked, smiling and apparently interested.

“You could put it like that. Gangy and smelly as well, to be honest,” Taylor laughed. “I only saw three knife fights in the place last year but I'm not sure they got all the blood off the floor afterward.”

Mandy stopped and stared in horror. “Oh my god,” she said, faintly. “You're joking!”

“Yes.” Taylor giggled as the girl put her hands on her hips and stared at her. She paused for effect. “It was only two knife fights. The third one was a baseball bat.”

Sighing in amusement, Mandy shook her head, clearly not believing her companion. Taylor was privately snickering about the fact it was actually true. Resuming walking, they soon reached the administrative section of the school. “There you go, Taylor,” Mandy said. “The Vice Principal's office is on that side, the Principal's is on the other side, and the school secretary is at the end. Good luck. If you're still around at half past twelve, I'll be in the cafeteria. Come by and let me know how it went.”

She smiled, then looked at the clock on the wall nearest them. “Oh, shit, I need to run or I'll be late for class.” The teenager waved then rapidly walked away, almost running.

She seemed to be a decent person,” the Varga noted approvingly.

'Yes, I think I like her so far,' Taylor agreed. 'It's a good sign to meet someone nice right at the beginning like that, don't you think?'

I believe it is. Now, let's see about these tests.” The suggestion was a sensible one, so she headed for the door at the end of the corridor, knocking firmly.

“Come in!” a voice from the other side immediately called quite loudly. Opening the door she looked in. “Don't just stand there, young lady, come on in and close the door, you're letting all the heat out,” a good-natured older woman's voice with a distinct Californian accent said. Following instructions she found herself standing in front of a busy desk, a computer to one side and three telephones stacked next to each other on the other, the remaining space filled with paperwork which looked like it was arranged in some system although from a quick look she had no idea what it was.

Behind the desk a remarkably short, yet very healthy looking woman of at least sixty was smiling at her. “What can I help you with today, dear?” she asked happily. “I don't recognize you. New, are you? It's a bit late in the year to be starting, or perhaps a little early.”

Smiling back at the rapidfire commentary, Taylor held out her letter of transfer. “I'm Taylor Hebert, I'm here to take some acceptance and grading tests. I'm transferring in from Winslow.”

“Hebert… Hebert… I remember that name,” the woman muttered, searching through her paperwork, coming up a moment later with a file folder. “Aha! Here we are! Let's see… Yes, it all looks in order. You'll be taking the tests with Mrs Adil in room 906. Here's a map of the school, and a pass for the cafeteria. The first round will be from nine to twelve, then the second one is from one through to three.” She looked up from her folder, smiling widely. “A long day but hopefully a successful one. We have your junior high records here, you were doing exceptionally well there. How on earth did you end up in Winslow?”

“It… was something of a mistake,” Taylor admitted, not wanting to go into details. The secretary nodded, a sympathetic expression on her face.

“I've heard it has problems, my dear. Hopefully you can leave those behind and enjoy yourself here.” She glanced at her watch. “Now run along, you need to be there in twenty minutes and it's on the other side of the school. You've got time to get there but you shouldn't dawdle.” The woman handed Taylor an envelope with some paperwork in it. “Please give this to Mrs Adil when you get there. Don't forget your pass and map.” These were also handed over. “I've marked the right room on the map for you.”

More than slightly impressed by the efficiency of the elderly woman, Taylor accepted everything with a smile and a nod, putting everything but the map away. “Thank you very much, Mrs…?”

“Call me Meg, dear, everyone does. Now go, before you're late.” Meg flapped a hand at her. “Go, go, run along. I have work to do.” Taylor laughed slightly, then left the room, feeling a little overwhelmed. It was pretty obvious that Meg enjoyed her work and had a somewhat… unique… personality.

Outside she wandered slowly along for a moment inspecting the map until she worked out where she was, then plotted a good route to the destination in her head. Satisfied, she sped up to a brisk walk, her footsteps echoing in the now-empty corridors.

Arriving at room 906 just before nine, she tapped on the door then opened it, to find a good looking middle-aged woman of apparent Middle Eastern appearance looking up from a textbook. “Mrs Adil?” she inquired. The woman nodded with a small smile.

“And you must be Taylor Hebert, I assume.”

“That’s me.”

“Come in, Taylor. Take a seat.” Shortly she was sitting at one of the desks in the otherwise empty schoolroom, finding it a little awkward with her tail, but not unmanageable. She’d whacked the end of it into another desk while she slid into the chair, making it scrape across the floor quite loudly, but the teacher simply ignored it causing her to smile a little to herself. The cloaking technique was still working well.

By now, three weeks after she’d first found herself with it, she was so accustomed to her tail she barely thought about it any more, but she was still less than enthused about people knowing about it, really only because of the possibility of causing her father problems more than anything else. Dismissing the thought as Mrs Adil cleared her throat, she sat up attentively and waited.

“All right, Taylor, the process is quite straightforward. I will be giving you a series of written tests to evaluate where you are on the academic scale, which we’ll use to determine your placement level relative to classes here at Arcadia and any either remedial or advanced classes you might require. You have half an hour for each test, with a five minute break between each one. If you finish before the time limit you can elect to immediately move on to the next test if you want, or take a longer break instead.”

“There’s some bottles of water over there in the corner, and if it becomes necessary for you to visit the bathroom I’m afraid I have to accompany you there and back.” She looked apologetic. “It’s a standard anti cheating precaution, although I will say I don’t have any reason at all to suspect you of cheating or wanting to cheat. We just have to follow the procedures.”

“That’s OK, Mrs Adil, I understand,” Taylor replied, smiling.

“Good. Now, the first test is basic mathematics.” The teacher handed her a sealed envelope and a freshly sharpened pencil. “You can open it and begin now.” Starting a timer on her desk the woman sat down again and picked up a book. “Don’t mind me, I’ll just be here reading. If you need anything, just say so and we’ll pause the clock.”

With a nod Taylor slid her finger under the flap, extracting the test paper and several blank sheets. She read the enclosed instructions carefully, then quickly filled her name out at the top of the blank where indicated. Shortly she was engaged in long division, making her work as neat as possible.

The time passed surprisingly quickly. She completed the basic math in only ten minutes, taking that long only because she wanted to be absolutely sure she’d made no silly mistakes. Electing to continue as fast as she could she did the next one, advanced math, then the next, algebra, all within the first hour. Mrs Adil seemed both pleased and slightly impressed, handing her the next envelope with an approving nod.

“Well done, dear, but don’t overstretch yourself. Take a break now and then.”

“I’m fine, thanks, Mrs Adil,” she assured the woman as she opened the calculus test and glanced over the instructions, seeing they were the same as the previous one. Soon she was deep into a rather complicated equation, tapping her pencil on her nose while she thought.

That one took nearly the full half hour. She was fairly sure she’d got everything right, though.

Taking a short break she stretched, then got a bottle of water and drank half of it. Mrs Adil was marking the tests using the relevant key sheets, a small frown of concentration furrowing her brow. “You are doing well, Brain, as I knew you would,” the Varga encouraged her.

So far it’s all mathematics, which is one of my best subjects,’ she mentally sighed back to him. ‘I’m not too worried about these ones. It’s going to be geography and history, things like that, where it all goes wrong.

You have spend over a week studying all those subjects for nearly twelve hours a day, I don’t expect you to have too many problems,” the demon chuckled.

Will you give me the answers if I forget them?’ she asked.

If you insist, yes, but I suggest that this is a test of your knowledge and skills, not mine.” His tone was very gently chiding, making her smile to herself.

I know. Just checking.’

Of course, Brain. Of course.” The demon was laughing a little again.

Telling the teacher she was ready she received the next one, basic chemistry. That proved fairly straightforward although she had some initial problems converting moles to grams, having to stare at the formula for nearly a minute before she suddenly worked out where she was going wrong. After that it was smooth sailing.

By the time lunch rolled around she had completed both chemistry and physics, and was more than halfway through the geography test, which to her surprise she was finding fairly easy. The studying had obviously paid off. Eventually putting her pencil down she stretched widely. “I’m done with this one as well, Mrs Adil.”

“Excellent, Taylor,” the woman congratulated her. “So far you seem to be doing well.” She looked at the clock on the wall for a moment as she stopped her timer, three minutes early. “You’re ahead of schedule. There’s only ten minutes left until lunch, so you may as well run along now. Be back here by five to one, please.”

“OK, Mrs Adil,” she agreed easily, standing and picking up her bag, slinging it over he shoulder. “Thank you. I’ll see you soon.”

Leaving the room she wandered toward the cafeteria, the bell ringing just before she got there, as it had been doing at intervals throughout the morning. Pushing the door to the cafeteria open she looked around, then picked up a tray and headed for the food, just ahead of a flood of students that poured into the large room behind her, laughing and talking. Suddenly it was extremely busy.

Slightly nervous, Taylor looked around again, relaxing slightly when no one seemed to be plotting against her. Shaking her head at the automatic reflex action, and straightening up from the almost instinctive slouch she’d started to fall into when in a large crowd of her peers, she sighed, then started selecting various items from the hot and cold counters. At one point a boy behind her stepped on the end of her tail, causing her to reflexively pull it out from under his shoe and making him stumble, but he promptly turned around and shoved the boy behind him, starting a fairly good natured scuffle that died out in seconds.

Smirking a little to herself she finished making her selection. Showing the woman at the end who was watching over her domain with a gimlet eye the pass she’d been given, she received a nod, then started looking for a table.

Finding an empty one, she sat down and started eating slowly, savoring the burger and fries which were, as Mandy had said, pretty good. She took a sip of her water and looked around curiously, now that the initial rush had died down.

She could instantly see the various cliques in the room, the cheerleader area, the football jocks, the science geeks, and so on, just like in Winslow. However it was apparent that these tribal lines were surprisingly flexible, people moving between them regularly and no obvious signs of potential conflict present.

There was certainly the odd prank going on, but in a room with some three hundred teenagers present she’d have been more surprised if there wasn’t. However, she saw none of the bullying and general nastiness that characterized Winslow, and certainly none of the obvious gang activities. There were no surreptitious deals going on in the corners, no ABB and E88 members glaring at each other and posturing, no imminent violence. It was almost unnervingly calm.

I think there must be something wrong with me,’ she snickered to the Varga. ‘The lack of a threat is making me feel a little threatened.’

It’s not surprising, you have conditioned reflexes and a lack of trust for any but a very small number of people at the moment. Understandable, all things considered. It will get better as time goes on in such an environment, I expect,” he replied, sounding both amused and pleased.

Small number,’ she snorted. ‘I’ll say it’s a small number. Two. You and Dad.

Thank you, Brain,” he chuckled. “I think it will eventually grow.

She noticed a tall blonde, very beautiful, who was in the midst of a group of nearly as pretty girls in the section that seemed to be reserved for them, with a comparatively rather mousy brunette near her, looking a little uncomfortable, her nose in a book. It was with a slight shock she recognized Victoria Dallon, or Glory Girl in her cape persona, holding court and laughing about something one of the other girls had just said.

The shorter, plainer brunette looked up, sighed, then went back to her book, shaking her head a little. Taylor realized after a moment that she was probably Amy Dallon, the sister of Victoria and the famous healer Panacea. Casually studying them she memorized their features, then looked around some more.

Off to one side a couple of tables away a lively looking red headed boy was in the middle of telling a bad and slightly obscene joke to his two friends, who looked a mix of amused and resigned. Reaching the punchline, which was ‘so the penguin says, No, honest, it’s ice cream,’ the boy who looked about sixteen or so laughed. One of his companions groaned, shaking his head, while the other one grinned. Taylor, who had heard the entire thing and thought it was actually sort of amusing, hid a smile.

“Dennis, that was terrible,” the groaning boy said, pinching the bridge of his nose. The redhead, or Dennis, shrugged, still grinning.

“I thought it was funny.”

“You always think your jokes are funny,” the taller boy sighed. He looked Hispanic and was quite handsome, Taylor thought as she kept them in view in the corner of her eye. “Trust me when I say that they’re usually not.”

“You obviously have a defective sense of humor, Carlos,” Dennis snickered. He turned to the boy on his other side, who was listening while reading some sort of engineering journal. “Can you build him a new one, Chris?”

The brown-haired boy shook his head, smiling. “No, I can’t get the spare parts for that model any more, it’s obsolete,” he chuckled. Carlos looked irritated while Dennis burst out laughing again.

“You’re both idiots,” the Hispanic boy sighed. This had no effect on the laughter.

Smiling a little to herself at the byplay, Taylor continued looking around. A scent she’d encountered recently wafted past, making her turn her head to see Mandy and another girl, a Chinese one with long black hair, standing a few feet away looking about for a table. “Hey, Mandy,” she called, causing the girl to look over, smile, then lead her friend over.

“Hello, Taylor. How did your tests go?”

“Pretty well,” she replied with satisfaction. “I got seven done before lunch and Mrs Adil says there are four more afterward. English, History, Computer Studies, and Biology. With any luck I’ll be done by half past two.”

“Not bad. That’s an awful lot of tests to take in one day, though.” Mandy sat down, putting her tray full of sushi rolls on the table and motioning to a chair when her friend looked a little uncertain. “This is Lucy, my best friend. Lucy, Taylor Hebert. She’d transferring in from Winslow. Apparently it’s as bad as they say it is.”

“Hi, Taylor,” Lucy said shyly. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you,” Taylor smiled. Going back to Mandy, she said, “The tests are pretty simple, they’re not like end of year ones. These are just to assess my current knowledge. Apparently Winslow has a different curriculum, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Not to mention that I had… issues… there, which made learning a little difficult. I’ve been studying like crazy for over a week for this.”

“Did it help?” Lucy asked quietly, looking interested while she took the lid off what seemed to be a cold chicken salad.

Taylor nodded. “I think so. So far I haven’t had any real problems. I think I’m fine with mathematics, not bad with physics and chemistry, and not as bad as I thought I’d be with geography. I should be OK with English as well, my mother was a professor of English at the university.”

“Was?” Mandy asked.

Taylor sighed. “She died a few years ago.”

“I’m sorry, Taylor,” the brunette said with a wince.

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied, waving a fork. “It’s not your fault.”

A burst of laughter from where Victoria Dallon was still talking rapidly, about some sort of fashion Taylor couldn’t understand the point of, made all three of them look over. “Vicky’s in full flow again,” Mandy giggled.

“You know her?”

Everyone knows Vicky Dallon,” Lucy told her with a serene smile. “She is… not subtle. Or shy.”

“I can see that,” Taylor smirked, watching the girl suddenly float six inches into the air, apparently without noticing. One of the other girls poked her in the ribs and she settled down again looking mildly embarrassed for a second or two. Mandy laughed.

“She’s always doing that. She forgets, floats around, and the teachers start glaring at her. No flying in the school. Not since the great coleslaw explosion of 2010, anyway.”

She giggled as Taylor looked oddly at her, then related a story which had all three of them laughing manically. “The entire cafeteria was coated in the stuff,” Mandy gasped, heaving with giggles. “Two of the cafeteria staff quit and one needed therapy for a month. Apparently he still can’t look at a cabbage without going pale.”

“That can’t be true,” Taylor snorted, shaking her head.

“It is, I swear,” the brunette replied, holding up her hand solemnly. “Honest to god.”

“She’s actually a nice person,” Lucy giggled, “but she doesn’t know when to quit. Or how to. So things like that sometimes happen. Apparently she’s even worse when she’s running around as Glory Girl, she’ll dive into a fight without thinking it through at all. Luckily she’s tough enough to survive the results so far, but it can be a little… expensive.”

“Did you hear what happened with Über and Leet a couple of weeks or so ago?” Mandy asked with amusement.

“I saw it, actually,” Taylor grinned. “I was out with my Dad and we had front row seats to the whole thing. It was pretty funny.” She glanced at Vicky, who was listening to something her sister was saying and shaking her head. “She walked right into it. Über played her like a drum.”

“I love his voice,” Lucy smiled. “Some of the things he and Leet do are kind of mean but a lot of them are really funny.”

“And illegal,” Mandy put in.

“Still funny.”

At their table, Dennis and Chris were now needling Carlos about something he’d done which he seemed to regret telling them about, judging by the look on his face. The redheaded boy laughed loudly, making Mandy look over. “Those boys. Dennis is funny but he never stops. It can get irritating sometimes.”

Following her gaze, Lucy asked, “Where’s the other one? Dean? Normally those four are inseparable.”

Mandy looked around then pointed. “There he is. He’s heading for Vicky, he just came in.”

They watched as the fairly tall young man walked over and motioned to the blonde, who excused herself and went to talk to him in a low voice. Taylor noticed that her sister was also watching, looking annoyed for some reason. With a sniff the girl looked away, meeting Taylor’s eyes for a moment, then dropping her own, going back to her book.

“Poor Amy,” Mandy sighed. “She’s so quiet. That girl needs some fun in her life. All she does is go to school or the hospital.”

The young man talking to Vicky Dallon threw his hands in the air, looking exasperated, then reluctantly nodded, making the blonde smile brilliantly and kiss him on the cheek. Lucy, who was watching, giggled. “She talked him into something expensive again,” she said in a low voice. “His family is rich and she’s more than happy to help spend it.”

The youth went and sat with his three friends, Dennis immediately starting in on him, making him reach out and slap the back of his head. The redhead looked hurt, sulking for a moment, but was telling yet another joke only ten seconds later.

“Like I said, he never stops,” Mandy laughed.

“Hey, did you hear about that new cape?” Lucy suddenly asked, fiddling with her phone. “There’s a new video of her up on YouTube.”

“New cape?” Taylor asked curiously.

The other girl nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. She was spotted walking around on Tuesday night around ten or so, Downtown.”

Taylor suddenly developed a feeling she knew what was coming next.

“Apparently her name is Saurial,” Lucy went on.

Knew it,’ Taylor commented silently. Her companion chuckled.

“Look, she’s a giant lizard,” the girl added, turning the phone towards them and peering down over it to see the screen as well. “Scales and everything. Can you imagine what it must be like to have a huge tail like that following you around everywhere?”

Yes,’ Taylor laughed. ‘You get used to it surprisingly fast.’ The Varga emitted amusement. Both of them watched the video play, showing her in her lizard-girl form walking down the sidewalk, then going into the convenience shop.

“She’s sort of pretty, actually,” Mandy said when the short clip finished. “I’d like to see her in better light. I think those scales were blue, and were those feathers on her head?”

Lucy turned the phone around and looked carefully at the screen. “I thought it was hair.”

“Lizards don’t have hair,” her friend said, shrugging.

“So it has to be feathers?”

“That’s what it looks like to me,” Mandy replied firmly.

“Me too,” Taylor added with great inner amusement. She decided that Saurial should go for a wander during daylight hours soon.

Glancing at her watch, Mandy sighed. “Back to the grindstone, I guess. Ten to one.” Slightly startled, the time had gone much faster than she expected with the surprisingly good company of her two new acquaintances, Taylor looked up at the clock on the far wall, seeing that was indeed the time. Hastily drinking the last of her water she jumped to her feet.

“Damn. I need to go to. It was nice meeting you, Lucy. And seeing you again, Mandy.” Taylor had thoroughly enjoyed her lunch, she hadn’t talked like that to other teenagers for years and hadn’t really known how much she missed it. She waved and quickly walked out, going past the table at which the four boys were now talking about someone called Colin and how he needed to learn to laugh. She paused, sniffing discreetly, as she caught a familiar scent, one she didn’t expect, glancing to the side to see Dean staring at her with his fork halfway to his mouth.

His eyes widened.

Hers narrowed.

After a long couple of seconds she resumed walking.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Dean Stansfield stared after the tall slim brunette as she made her way out of the cafeteria, weaving between the tables with a degree of grace that was impressive. It took Dennis snapping his fingers in his ear to make him twitch, answer the question he’d missed, then resume eating slowly, his thoughts troubled.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Fuck it all,’ Taylor thought furiously as she headed back to the testing room. ‘That was Gallant. And I’m completely sure he recognized me, somehow, I could smell it.’

We were aware that the Wards attend this school already, Brain,” the Varga said calmly. “It was only a matter of time before you detected them. You only have to meet them once, after all, and their scent will give them away no matter what they’re wearing. His detection of you is probably due to his emotional reading ability. I would assume that the emotional output of someone is much like a fingerprint to anyone with the power to sense it.

What do we do?

Nothing. Yet. So far there is no threat given and if Vista’s word is to believed, these Unwritten Rules of theirs will prevent him telling anyone what he suspects or knows.

And if he does? Dad could be in danger.’ Taylor was both worried and angry.

And if he does… there is no trace of a body after it has been through the digestive system of a Varga. We do not require food in the way that humans do but that in no way says we can’t handle it.

It was a good indicator of her mood that the suggestion was met with nothing but a thoughtful nod.

By the time she got back to room 906, she had calmed down to a sort of deadly cold determination. It seemed to help with her memory if nothing else.

Chapter Text

Putting her pencil down for the final time on top of the Biology test, Taylor relaxed. Her mood had gone back to fairly cheerful when the world didn’t take a dump on her from a great height because of Dean Stansfield, although she still had concerns at the back of her mind which left a small, carnivorous part of her ready to do anything required to keep her father safe and proud of it. Other than that, things had gone well, even though she was certain she’d not done as well on the last test as she had hoped for. With any luck the other tests would make up for any low marks in this one.

“I’m finished, Mrs Adil.”

Stopping the timer on her desk, the teacher rose, smiling.

“Well done. Half an hour ahead of schedule as well, that’s impressive. OK, let’s take a quick look.” She retrieved the papers and started checking them, while Taylor went and got another bottle of water, sipping it slowly. She’d only taken one bathroom break after lunch, accompanied by the teacher who’d waited for her in the corridor, and was going to need another one soon.

A few minutes passed in silence only broken by the scratching sound of Mrs Adil’s pen, before she nodded, satisfied, and stood. “Excellent. I had high hopes and you seem to have met them, dear.” At Taylor’s smile, she smiled back. Quickly putting all eleven test papers and their results into a folder she closed it and stood up. “Come with me, Taylor, please.”

Picking up her bag she did as requested, accompanying the teacher as she headed back towards the Admin block. When they arrived there Meg was just going back into her room, stopping at the sound of footsteps and turning, before smiling broadly. “How did it go, Taylor?” she asked cheerfully.

“Well, I think, Meg,” she replied, glancing at the teacher beside her who didn’t say anything but nodded a little.

“Good, good, that’s excellent news. I hope you enjoy yourself here at Arcadia.” The secretary smiled again, looking genuinely happy, then vanished into her room.

Mrs Adil chuckled a little. “She’s certainly a character, our Meg. But an extremely good secretary and a nice person.” Opening the door that was marked ‘Vice Principal Howell’ she ushered Taylor inside, then followed her in. On the other side of the now closing door was a waiting room with half a dozen chairs in it, and two further doors, one of them open to show a late-thirties black woman typing away on a computer at a remarkable rate, the keys sounding like muted machine gun fire, something Taylor was now very familiar with. The other door was shut.

“Please wait here, Taylor. It won’t be long.”

Tapping on the closed door the teacher opened it and slipped inside, without waiting for an answer. There was a murmur of voices from the other side which Taylor deliberately didn’t eavesdrop on, although it took an effort of will. She spent the time cataloging the various scents around the place, detecting that of the Stansfield boy to her amused interest. He had obviously been in this very chair more than once.

Less than five minutes later the door opened again, Mrs Adil coming out. “The vice principal is ready to see you, Taylor.” She was no longer holding the folder of tests. Smiling gently at her, the teacher added, “You did very well, dear. Don’t look so worried. Everything will work out, it usually does sooner or later.”

With a quick grin of appreciative thanks, Taylor stood, brushed herself down quickly and adjusted her clothing, took a deep breath, then went inside the inner office.

“Take a seat, please, Miss Hebert,” the rather competent appearing blonde woman sitting behind the large desk said, pointing to a chair in front of it without looking, while she finished reading what Taylor recognized as her Calculus test. She did so.

The hair color was about the only thing this woman had in common with her former principal and even there it looked a lot better. She studied the vice principal for a few seconds, seeing a fairly short but healthy looking woman at the upper end of her forties, or possibly a very well preserved fifty plus. Vice principal Howell had a face that she couldn’t honestly call severe, it was actually rather attractive in an older woman manner, but it also gave the impression it could form some rather intimidating glares on demand.

At the moment it was in a neutral expression, although she smelled pleased. Finishing with the test she put it on the pile of other ones, tapped them neatly together, then put the stack to one side, pulling a green folder in front of her and flipping it open. She glanced at the top sheet, then looked up, studying Taylor with as much interest as the girl was watching her with.

“Well, Miss Hebert.” She looked Taylor up and down, then smiled just a little bit. “I have to say I’m impressed. The records we got from Winslow didn’t give me a particularly good opinion of your academic capabilities even though your Junior High results are excellent. Knowing Winslow, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised.” She sighed faintly, looking momentarily irritated. “However, these tests put you in the ninetieth percentile of students here in your peer group in most subjects for the most part, actually rather higher in mathematics, with a slightly drop for Biology and History. You could do to study more in those subjects.”

Vastly relieved, Taylor let out a long silent sigh. The woman noticed, and smiled more widely. “Relax, Miss Hebert, you did exceptionally well. Especially under the circumstances. We’re pleased to have you join us here at Arcadia. Based on these results I think we can slip you in to where you’d have been if you’d been attending us the whole time, although I suspect you’ll have your work cut out for you for a few weeks to catch up in some subjects. I have no doubt you can succeed if you apply yourself.”

“Thank you, Mrs Howell,” Taylor said sincerely.

“You start on Monday. Be here half an hour early for your orientation pack, timetables, and other information you’ll require.” Leaning over her desk the vice principal held out her hand, which Taylor took and shook. The woman had a remarkably strong grip. “Welcome to Arcadia.”

“I’m very pleased to be here,” she replied both honestly and politely.

Sitting back in her leather chair, the smell of which you didn’t need Varga senses to detect, the vice principal studied her again. “I know the bare minimum of what happened at Winslow, Miss Hebert, and while I have no idea about nor interest in learning the details, find the entire situation intolerable. You’re best out of that place. Let me assure you that here at Arcadia, we take a very dim view of bullying in any form. I would be surprised and appalled if anything like that which happened to you there happened here, but let me make something clear. If it, for any reason, does, you inform a teacher immediately. There will be a leaflet in your orientation pack telling you the procedure for such a report. Follow it.”

Taylor nodded.

“It’s very unlikely that it will be needed, but if it is, steps will be taken to stop any untoward actions immediately. Punishments are… harsh.” She looked harder at Taylor. “That should also tell you that we do not approve of retaliation. Bullies are punished, no matter who starts it, are we clear?”

“Yes, Mrs Howell. Very clear.” Taylor nodded again, smiling this time. “Thank you.”

“You’re entirely welcome, Miss Hebert. That’s all for today, you may go. I’m pleased to have met you. And I have high hopes for you. Don’t disappoint me.”

She closed the folder and put it with the test papers, then folded her hands on the desk.

Standing, Taylor picked up her bag and put one strap over her shoulder. “I’ll do my best not to, Mrs Howell,” she replied calmly and sincerely.

“That’s all anyone can ask. Good afternoon, Miss Hebert.” It was a polite dismissal, but a dismissal even so.

Finding herself walking through the corridors at the moment the final bell rang, Taylor was joined by a flood of relieved students heading for the exit. Outside, she looked around.

“Taylor!”

Glancing over her shoulder she saw Mandy heading towards her with Lucy, both other girls smiling. “How did it go?” the former asked as they reached her, all three stepping to the side to avoid the crush of teenagers.

“Well. Very well. Ninetieth percentile or above in everything but History and Biology, which didn’t surprise me. I start on Monday.”

Both girls grinned. “Great. It’s going to be nice having another sane person around here. Most people are nuts but you look remarkably normal.”

Laughing, Taylor shrugged. “Appearances can be deceiving. I might not be as normal as you think.”

Mandy giggled, while Lucy smiled.

Hearing a familiar engine approaching through the traffic noise, Taylor glanced towards the road to see their car a few hundred yards away, moving slowly. Pointing, she said, “That’s my dad. I have to go, but it was really nice meeting both of you. Lucky for me we bumped into each other so quickly, Mandy.”

The older girl nodded, looking pleased. “I think we’re going to be good friends, Taylor. See you on Monday.”

With a wave Taylor headed for the car, which had pulled to the side of the road some distance away out of range of the enormous crowd of people milling about outside the school as they headed home. She could see her father in the driver’s seat, watching her with a fond look, and grinned at him. He waved back, clearly happy.

When she was in the car with her seat belt done up, she turned to him. He looked back.

“Well?” he asked after a couple of seconds of silence.

She laughed for a moment. “Very well. Both how I feel and how it went. I start on Monday, at the point I would have been if I’d started the year here. Ninety percent or better on everything but Biology and History.”

Danny sighed heavily. “The shame of it. My only daughter got less than ninety percent on a test. No, two tests. The shame!”

He grinned when she rolled her eyes at his over-dramatic voice. “I’m incredibly pleased for you, Taylor. I was sure you’d do well.”

Starting the car he indicated, then pulled out, driving around the block and heading back towards the Downtown area. “Pizza? Chinese? Thai? Or something else.”

“Thai, I think,” she said after thinking it over. “We haven’t had that for months and I love it. I could just go for a beef panang.”

“Good choice.” They sat in companionable silence as he drove.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Watching the girl get into the car, Dean twitched when Vicky prodded him, rather too hard. “Come on, we’ll be late if we don’t go now,” she complained. Beside her, Amy looked at him, then at the vanishing car, then back to him, a small frown furrowing the skin between her eyes. She didn’t say anything and looked away when he glanced at her.

“OK, Vicky, I’m coming. I’ll meet you guys later, OK?” he said, turning to Dennis and Chris who were listening, the red head with a small grin on his face as per usual practice. He really was irrepressible.

“Sure, Dean. Hey, Vicky, leave some jewelry for the other hot girls, will you?” Dennis joked, making Vicky give him a supercilious glare.

“As if any other hot girl would deign to lower herself to talk to the likes of you,” she sniffed, flipping her hair with a hand in a gesture of dismissal. His grin widened.

“We all love you too, Vicky,” he chuckled. She giggled, looking much less stuck up, then waved as she led Dean away to his car. He didn’t have much choice at that point, he was going with her one way or another.

Walking beside his girlfriend his thoughts whirled. What did he do? He accidentally found out the identity of another cape, he was absolutely certain that somehow that brunette and Saurial were the same person, which sort of proved she was a Changer as well as all the other things.

He’d never seen her before today, she was obviously new, although she seemed to be getting on with Mandy Jacobson and Lucy Cheung pretty well. He’d noticed them talking and laughing together, and people-watching, getting the impression that the latter two were filling the girl in on the goings-on of the school. Presumably she was a transfer from somewhere, starting in the middle of the year.

He guessed that she was probably about fifteen, heading quickly to sixteen, slightly younger than the other two even though she was considerably taller than either of them. Not as tall as Saurial, but probably eye level with him, possibly a little more. She was going to be exceptional when she grew up if he was any judge of a female body, which he prided himself on being. Not overdeveloped up top, but with the lithe build of a swimmer that with the right makeup and clothes could easily head into model territory.

From the way she walked, gracefully and purposefully, she was also strong, extremely well balanced, and probably proficient in a fight. His assessment was based on seeing quite a few women with such skills in the PRT gyms. She walked a lot like Miss Militia did although she was taller and skinnier.

All in all, he didn’t think she was someone to cross, even without the parahuman part of it. The real problem was that he was totally sure that somehow, he had no idea how, she knew he knew and was not at all pleased about it. Her eyes had looked briefly like those of a gunfighter just about to draw. Very cold and calculating. Or a cat about to pounce, possibly. Dean shivered a little.

He resolved to be very careful indeed with the new girl. But he still didn’t know what to do.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Antonia checked the paperwork very carefully and said it was fine,” Danny said as he nibbled a prawn cracker, Taylor looking up from the menu to meet his eyes. “She was actually surprised how simple the terms were. They didn't even mention the recording. All we have to do is give up the right to sue the school at any point in the future for matters arising from… How did they put it, 'severe personality clashes accidentally leading to personal injury'…,” this made both of them smile, “and essentially promise not to spread the story around. In return they pay us the six hundred and fifty thousand.”

He chuckled for a moment as Taylor's eyes widened again at the figure. She still couldn't believe it. “They dressed it up in a lot of legalese but that's what it boils down to. The entire letter would have fitted on one page in plain language. They even worked it so that most of the payment is for physical injury and somehow got a medical opinion backing that up, which drastically reduced the tax loss. Antonia said to sign it, take the money, and run.”

Laughing, Taylor felt both relieved and amused. “They really want me gone, don't they?”

“Ohhh, so very much, yes,” he snickered. “Me too I think. I'm pretty sure the physical injury idea was something to do with Alan, for some reason. Some time in the future I think I should invite him over and thank him for that.”

He looked at her with a questioning expression. After thinking it over, she nodded, a little reluctantly. “If you want to, Dad. Don't expect me to be more than polite, but he's your friend. I don't mind. It's not really him who's to blame for all this.”

“That reminds me, what the devil did you say to him when he came over that time, dear? He looked… a little nervous.”

She smiled slightly darkly, then repeated the conversation she'd had on the doorstep with Mr Barnes. Danny looked at her for a long time when she finished, then sighed.

“Annette would have been proud. I think it's just a little harsh but I can't disagree.” He reached out and put his hand on hers for a moment, then went back to finishing off the prawn crackers.

“I signed the documents and took them to Winslow school board's lawyer's office on my way over. They've promised that the payment will be transferred into our bank account over the weekend, the funds will have cleared by lunchtime on Monday. So don't feel you have to skimp on ordering, I'm not going to.” He grinned. “After all, it's on you.”

“Thanks, Dad,” she smiled. “Go ahead.”

Shortly the waiter came over and took their order, both of them getting both starters and main courses, along with a number of side dishes. By the time the meal was over they felt pleasantly full. Leaning back in his chair sipping a glass of cold coke, Danny looked around.

“We should come here more often,” he said. “Your mother liked this place and so did I. We can afford it now.”

“I'd like that,” she replied. Looking at the dessert menu, she motioned to the waiter, who was hovering nearby. He arrived and took her order, a slice of chocolate cake, then vanished again. Once she'd finished it when it turned up a few minutes later, they paid and left.

“What are your plans over the weekend, dear? You don't have to study frantically any more, so you can relax.” He glanced at her as she strode along beside him. “Are you going to go out and play?” His mouth was in a small amused grin.

Glancing up at him, she grinned right back. “I may well do, yes. I need some more exercise after all. Last time was fun but I only saw six new playmates and they stopped wanting to play surprisingly quickly when I entered the game.”

Snickering, he shook his head. “That footage looked like something out of Predator vs Alien, dear. Horrifying and funny at the same time. Have you sent it to David yet?”

“I put it on a DVD and dropped it in the post yesterday,” she confirmed. “I need to look into a secure email method. I was going to just email it until I suddenly thought how easy it would be to track that, so I didn't.”

They were speaking in fairly low voices, not wanting to let passers-by hear them, but none of the people on the street seemed the slightest bit interested anyway, rushing hither and yon engaged in their own business.

“What about fingerprints if you want to get that paranoid,” he asked with a smile.

“Scales don't have any,” she grinned.

“Ah. Good point, well made.” Danny looked impressed.

Nearly back to the car, she looked around, then turned to him. “I think I'm going to make my own way home, Dad, if you don't mind. I could do with a run.”

He stopped and inspected her, then nodded. “Be careful and call if you're going to be out too late, please.”

She hugged him. “I will do. Thanks for everything, Dad.”

Mussing her hair he grinned, then turned around and resumed walking towards the car park. Taylor watched him for a short distance before looking about herself, spotting a service alley on the next block. Walking towards it she checked for cameras, both with normal vision, thermal vision, and the electricity viewing sense she had, then ducked into it casually as she walked past, no one seeming to notice.

As soon as she was certain there was no one else present she cloaked, took on the lizard girl form, and scuttled up the wall to the roof of the nearest building, not intending to be seen too near the alley just in case.

Five minutes later and a mile and a half away, in the commercial district, Saurial wandered along the sidewalk minding her own business, people staring and taking photos and video with their phones.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hearing the bell on the door ring, Aziz looked up from his magazine ready to serve the next customer. He froze, staring, as the giant lizard in armor browsed the shelves, humming to itself in a contented tone. After a moment he decided it was probably female. She poked around for a while, disappearing down one aisle of the small shop, then reappeared at the other end of it.

”Hey, where do you keep the eggs, please?” she called out, glancing at him, her wraparound sunglasses glinting in the overhead lights. Several seconds later his hand rose and a finger pointed. “Oh, thanks, I see them. I was wondering why I couldn't smell them.” She went over to the sealed glass cabinet in the refrigerated goods section and pulled the door open, removing a carton of half a dozen eggs.

Coming back towards him, she stopped to pick up a couple of packs of beef jerky, then a bottle of Sprite, putting everything on the counter. Numbly he rang up the total, his hands moving without conscious input. “Six ninety three, please?” he said through a slightly choked throat, then coughed a little as his voice rose to a squeak on the last word.

Pulling a ten dollar bill from a pouch on the belt that was part of her armored skirt, she handed it to him with what looked like it was meant to be a smile. “Thanks. Keep the change.”

The lizard girl picked up her goods and headed for the door, pulling it open and leaving with another tinkle of the bell. Without moving anything but his head, he followed her with his eyes through the window as she crossed the street, opening the box of eggs and neatly flipping one into her mouth using her left hand, before disappearing around the corner. Several people outside were staring as well. She seemed quite unconcerned about it.

Eventually, he looked down at the cash he was still holding, then sat down on the stool behind the counter with a bemused expression.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sitting on the corner of a tall building in the middle of the commercial district, Taylor kicked her feet, a hundred feet of air between them and the sidewalk. She felt no fear of heights at all any more, idly peering down and wondering if she'd actually crack the concrete if she dropped from this height, or just bounce. The Varga assured her she'd be uninjured in either case and she believed him.

Finishing the box of eggs she crumpled the carton into a small ball of cardboard then tucked it neatly away in a belt pouch, before picking her half-empty bottle of Sprite off the ledge next to her and taking a drink from it. The view from up here was amazing. It was more amazing that in her full Varga mode she'd be towering two and a half times higher at least. That was eye-level with the top of the Medhall tower, the tallest building in the city.

A sudden urge to try it seized her and she had some difficulty suppressing it. She was going to have to test that form at some point if she could think of somewhere to do it that wouldn't cause a panic from the vast footprints she was sure to leave. Remembering the Godzilla movie she'd suggested to her father as an indicator of just how enormous the Varga was, she giggled at the idea of Armsmaster finding her footprint by falling into it and having to get a ladder to get out. The concept struck her as extremely funny for some reason.

Turning slightly, she shaded her eyes with her hand, peering into the dusk at the ship graveyard, miles away. The sun was just vanishing below the horizon and the streets below were dark except for artificial illumination, although her own eyes saw everything as brightly as daylight even so. “I wonder if I could shift some of those old ships and unblock the port,” she mused out loud to the Varga, the idea suddenly striking her. “That huge one across the entrance is the real problem but it must weigh tens of thousands of tons. That's why no one has ever tried to get rid of it, it was too expensive.”

Using the blast voice would remove it easily, Brain,” her companion chuckled. “Along with everything else in range. But it would also be… quite spectacular. I don't think people would miss it.”

After a moment, he added, “We could go for a swim and have a look how many ships there are. The smaller ones are easy to just move either to the shore or deeper water, and even the larger ones shouldn't present too much problem. We could tow them out of the way.”

“Hmm,” she hmmed. Taylor knew the Varga was immune to extremes of heat and cold, as was she now to at least some extent, and was as at home in the water as it was on land, if not more so. That said she hadn't yet tried swimming since she'd received her tail. She suddenly wondered how much of a problem it was going to be in human form since it would probably get in the way of kicking legs. After a moment, she dismissed the issue as something to think about when it became important.

“May as well head in that direction, I guess,” she commented. “Make a big loop through the docks, see if anyone needs dealing with, then go home.”

Hopping to her feet she retrieved her now empty drink bottle, walking along the ledge over the hundred foot drop around two sides of the building until she reached the side above the back of it. Looking down she could see an open dumpster, tiny in the distance. She held the bottle out, then dropped it, watching with satisfaction as it landed directly into the container.

“Bullseye,” she smiled.

“Who the hell are you?” a female voice from behind her demanded abruptly, “Or what?” She spun around on one foot, surprised. There had been no sound to betray the presence of someone else and the light breeze was blowing directly towards the person in question so she hadn't smelled them. Floating above the middle of the roof was the figure of Glory Girl, her arms crossed over her chest and her gaze fixed on Taylor. She looked mildly irritated and very suspicious.

“Oh, hello, Glory Girl,” Taylor replied after her initial surprise. “I'm Saurial. I'm new. How are you?”

The girl looked at her through narrowed eyes, tilting her head a little. Taylor did the same, smiling. “Hero or Villain?” she asked. “You look like a Villain to me, with those colors and all the teeth.”

Somewhat irritated, Taylor exposed those teeth in something that wasn't a smile any more. The glowing blonde flinched despite herself, which amused her. “Hero, thanks very much,” she growled. “Just ask the BBPD, I helped them out only three days ago.”

Glory Girl dismissed this with a flick of her fingers. “Police. What do they know? They can't hold onto anyone I catch for more than a few days.”

“That's sort of… rude,” Taylor commented, frowning. It really was in her opinion. So far all the police she'd met personally had been polite and seemed to know what they were doing.

The blonde looked insulted, but didn't press the question. “I still think you look suspicious,” she said. “What are you doing up here in the first place?”

“Enjoying the view and having a snack, actually,” Taylor sighed. For some reason the blonde was being very aggressive, which she found both inexplicable and annoying. “Assuming it's any business of yours.”

Floating closer, Glory Girl stared at her from only feet away. She had to float with her feet over eight inches from the ground to meet Taylor's eyes.

“I don't think I like you,” the blonde said.

“I have no idea why, we don't know each other at all,” Taylor shrugged. “You're being very pushy. Did you have a fight with your boyfriend or something?”

Glory Girl flushed, then looked more irritated. Reaching out she poked Taylor in the middle of the chest, hard, her fingernail tapping on her breastplate.

“Watch it you overgrown newt,” she growled.

“I'm more of a lizard than a newt,” Taylor commented lightly, determined not to let the aggressive cape ruin her good mood any more than she had to. “And isn't that a bit… I don't know… speciesist?”

“There's no such word,” Glory Girl replied, poking again.

“Sure there is.”

“No, there isn't.” The next poke was hard enough to make her need to brace herself with her tail, which was beginning to become irritating. Taylor grabbed the other woman's wrist with a lightning fast motion of her right hand, holding it still.

“Please stop doing that, it's annoying,” she said evenly. Stepping down off the parapet around the roof she pushed the other girl in front of her. “I was just standing here minding my own business when you had to come over and get in my face for some reason. Please go away.” She released the blonde with a push that send her several feet backwards.

Looking a weird mix between angry and surprised, the floating cape stared at her, then floated closer again. “I'm keeping my eye on you,” she said in a low voice, before turning around and rocketing upwards and away.

Sighing, with a shake of her head, Taylor watched her go, suppressing a momentary jealousy of her flight power. She had more than enough powers of her own, there was no need to be greedy.

Although she really wanted to be able to fly.

“That was weird,” she muttered to the Varga. There was the mental impression of a nod.

She does seem somewhat bellicose, Brain,” he agreed. “Although that fits what we've learned about her. I have the impression she was looking for a fight.

“Well, I don't want to give her one unless I need to,” Taylor sighed. Shaking her head a little sadly at how much some people probably needed a fist in the face just to make the point, she dived over the side of the building and headed for the ground, clinging head down to the brickwork with ease. “I think you're right, let's go and have a swim.”

Chapter Text

“Vicky!”

Dean watched with irritation and resignation as his girlfriend flew off in the direction of the center of the city, grumbling under her breath. Yet again, they'd had an argument over what to him in hindsight seemed silly, but she had, yet again, taken offense then stormed off. Since they'd been sitting in his car outside her house, the storming had been straight through the front door, up to her room, then out the back window and away via a quick costume change. He'd followed until the point she'd slammed the door in his face.

'Damn it,' he thought with frustration. 'Now she's going to go find someone to hit or something. Again. Sooner or later she's going to meet someone who hits back, harder.' Sighing he shook his head. He knew the girl, and her moods, far too well sometimes. She worried him, the level of impulsiveness was matched only by the short temper she sometimes had. Her black and white view of the world didn't help, but then her entire family was like that in some ways. Especially her mother.

He respected Brandish, but he didn't like her. The emotions he felt sometimes also worried him, but he kept that worry strictly to himself.

“Screwed up again, Dean?” The familiar voice from behind him was accompanied by a familiar, hard to parse mix of emotions, as Amy opened the front door and stepped out onto the path, her costume on, apparently heading towards the hospital. “And there goes my ride.” She sounded mildly annoyed and somewhat sarcastic, again not unusual for her. This sister was almost too controlled compared to the other one, he thought.

“What did you say this time?”

“I have no idea,” he admitted, a little exasperated. “We were just talking about a party I was invited to with some friends, she got all snappy for some reason, then stomped off calling me names.”

Amy smiled oddly, shaking her head a little. He could only make out a little of her face under her hood but she seemed blackly amused for some reason best know to herself.

“I can give you a ride if you want,” he offered suddenly, not sure why. “There's no telling when she's going to come back when she's in a mood like that. I just hope she doesn't wreck something expensive this time. Or someone.”

Considering him closely for a few seconds, Amy finally nodded, pulling the door shut behind her. “Thank you, Dean, that would be a big help.” Turning her face towards where Glory Girl was a distant barely glowing speck in the darkening sky, she sighed, then followed him to his car. Opening the door for her he waited until she was in, then closed it and went around to the driver's side.

“Brockton General?” he asked as he started the engine. She nodded without saying anything, so he looked over his shoulder then did a U turn and headed in the right direction. They rode in silence for a while.

Glancing at her every now and then, he debated with himself. He knew he shouldn't say anything at all but it was driving him nuts. Luckily he'd managed to not say anything to Vicky, since she could normally take any opening he gave her and wedge it wide open with a few choice words, which in this case would probably be catastrophic.

Eventually he couldn't not say anything. Concentrating on the road, he asked, not putting any particular emphasis on it, “Have you ever found out the identity of a cape by accident?”

He could feel the shock in the girl sitting next to him although she controlled any outward reaction well. There was a sudden wave of hidden guilt as well, weirdly enough. After nearly a minute, she asked quietly, “Why do you ask?” without looking at him.

After more consideration, he shrugged. “I did. It was an accident, the result of my powers, not something I could stop. I'm very worried about what could happen if anyone finds out what I know. Or that I know.”

Turning to look at him for a moment she went back to watching the world go past. Again she was quiet for a while. “Why tell me then?”

“I have to tell someone, it's driving me nuts. And I can't mention it to the guys, it would sooner or later get to Piggot and I don't know what would happen then. What do I do?”

“Don't tell anyone anything, don't even hint at it. How hard is that?”

“The cape knows I know,” he replied.

This time she stared at him. “How the hell did that happen?”

“I don't know. But we looked at each other, and I know the… other person… is somehow aware of what I figured out.”

“Could you be wrong about that?”

“No.”

“OK.” She fell silent again for a while.

Eventually she asked, “Is this cape dangerous? More so than normal, I mean?”

“Oh, yes, believe me.”

“Violent?”

He thought for a moment. “Probably not unless really pushed, but ruthless if that happens. Not aggressive.”

“Same advice as before, then. Keep your mouth shut, especially around Vicky. You know you leak information like a sieve to my sister.” There was wry amusement in her voice now, making him produce a small, twisted grin. “And don't push the cape. Stay away, don't be a threat.”

Pulling up outside the hospital a couple of minutes later, he turned to her. “You won't say anything?”

“I don't know anything other than you think you know something the cape knows about you knowing they know,” Amy said, then looked mildly confused at her own words. “I think. Something like that anyway. And I don't want to know either.”

She opened the door in preparation to getting out. “Thanks for the ride, Dean.”

“Thanks for the advice, Amy.”

They shared a look, then she got out and trudged towards the hospital, not looking particularly happy, as he could tell she wasn't. Again, pretty normal for her. Watching her go he thought for a while until she disappeared into the building, nodding to the security guard at the door, then put the car into drive and headed home, still wondering where his girlfriend was and what silly fight she'd managed to find this time.

And what the hell it was he'd said that had set her off.

Women were very strange, sometimes, in his view.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

The beeping of the fish finder sonar in the cabin of his small fishing boat made Erwin look over at the machine, taking his hand off the wheel to tap it couple of times. It kept beeping, which made him sigh, then throttle back. The chugging of the old twin-cylinder diesel engine slowed to a regular rumble below his feet as he moved over to see what was wrong with the thing this time. He'd been out half the day trundling slowly around the bay looking for fish, with no luck beyond a half dozen small flounders which were lying on the bottom of the keeper tank behind him, their eyes looking skyward as they waited to be turned into his dinner.

It was hardly worth the cost of the fuel, these days, he mused. No real fishing left, no boats worth speaking of visiting the port. Not like in his day, fifty years earlier when he first set to sea, when the bay was alive with shipping.

Fiddling with the instrument, he adjusted the gain control, then slapped the thing on the side hard. It beeped again and the screen showed what was obviously a false image approaching from starboard, probably some sort of reflection from something on the bottom. It was vastly too large to be real, nothing that big lived anywhere around these parts, and almost nothing moved that quickly under water.

The image faded, breaking up, and the beeping stopped. Satisfied, he moved back to the controls, peering out into the darkness lit only by the waning moon in an otherwise clear night. Two or three miles away the nearest lights of Brockton Bay could be seen, and off to the side some considerable distance further away was the glittering force field surrounding the Rig, the iconic headquarters of the ENE Protectorate. He looked at it for a moment or two, thinking it looked surprisingly pretty at night, then turned his head the other way, to the wreck of the old supertanker that two thirds blocked the entrance to the bay from the open Atlantic.

It was barely visible in the dark, a huge mass showing just above the water for an impressive distance, waves breaking on its side and across the bows which were barely under the surface at this tide state. The superstructure at the rear rose a considerable distance above that, the rust color that had broken through the formerly white and blue painted finish making it blend into the dark in most places. He wanted to stay well clear of the wreck, as there were other, smaller ships littering the bottom of the bay near it, none of which were visible except at extreme low tide. They came close enough to the water surface in a few places to make ideal things to punch a hole in the hull of a small boat like his twenty foot dory, though.

About to throttle up, he instead grabbed for a hand hold as the boat unexpectedly rose, then slowly rolled, before sinking again. Shocked he looked wildly around for a reason. Nothing was immediately visible but as he rushed to the side and looked into the depths, he fancied he could just make out the glint of something moving deep under the surface.

Something alive.

Something… very very big.

He swallowed, then peered carefully in the direction it seemed to be heading, which was directly towards the cargo vessel. Squinting he could, he thought, make out a swell in the water heading rapidly away, the waves moving oddly in that area, but he wouldn't have wanted to swear to it.

After a minute more had passed and the boat had long since settled down, he shook his head.

“Getting old and daft,” he mumbled. “Seeing things. Next there'll be a pretty mermaid offering me pearls, no doubt.”

Going back into the cabin, shivering even under his thick woolen coat in the damp chill of a late January night, he throttled up and headed for the dock, thinking he needed a large cup of coffee with a small shot of brandy in it.

Ten minutes later, a weird, deep rumble that he felt through his feet more than heard came from somewhere not that far away. He cocked his head, listening, but it didn't recur. After a moment he sighed, cranked the throttle back to idle yet again, then went out to the rear of the boat and looked around carefully.

Nothing.

“Definitely getting old,” he grumbled. Turning, his eyes caught sight of the supertanker wreck, now a couple of miles further away.

He squinted. Something about it had changed. Which seemed unlikely. Perhaps it was slowly rotting away and something fell apart? It might explain the sound.

He retrieved his ancient, WWII vintage U-boat binoculars, which were so heavy he could hardly lift them, a souvenir brought back from Europe by his father who had got his knees shot off in the war but still looted everything he could carry, then pointed them at the ship. The huge objective lenses gathered enough light he had a vaguely useable image, enough to let him see it fairly clearly.

As he was watching, the shadow of an impossibly large taloned scaly hand, big enough to crush his boat like a beer can, lifted out of the water, the sea running off it, at the stern of the ship and braced itself against the hull. The ship visibly moved a few degrees, the same rumbling sound coming once more a few seconds later. He watched, completely frozen with shock, until the thing disappeared again.

Nothing else happened for the next five minutes. When he finally lowered the glasses his arms were shaking with effort and he was freezing.

“A small cup of coffee with a large shot of brandy,” he decided out loud.

Shivering with more than cold, he put the glasses away, then rammed the throttle as hard over as it would go, intent on getting off the water as soon as possible. It was probably his old eyes playing tricks, but if it wasn't…?

He had no wish to see what was attached to a hand that big.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Slipping through the depths of the bay, propelled with slow sweeps of her tail, her hind legs held together for minimum drag, Taylor was thoroughly enjoying herself. She'd made it to a deserted section of the docks without incident, only spotting a few Merchants and their customers wandering around, who were easily avoided. They lit up like christmas trees in her heat vision against the still cold January night. As the sun had set the temperature had dropped significantly, due to the clear skies.

Finding a suitable niche in an old wharf, inaccessible to anyone who couldn't hold onto the bottom of a horizontal, very slimy surface, or fly, she'd had the Varga make her a small container for the various things she was carrying in her belt pouches, attaching it to the half rotten wood with a spike she pushed firmly into it. The box was completely sealed and set to last for twelve hours by which time she'd certainly be back to collect it.

At that point she'd simply let go, falling into the water below even as she took on her combat form. Sinking to the bottom, twenty feet down, she found it no more uncomfortable than the swimming pool, although much harder to see anything in. They had fiddled with the form for a little while, lengthening the tail and flattening it side to side, while streamlining the entire body, until they were both satisfied it was suitably optimized for aquatic operations. Clear scales matched her vision to the water allowing her to see surprisingly well. She could also hear and even feel through the water things moving around her, a sort of passive sonar that gave her a fairly good image in her head of what was there.

It was surprisingly noisy at the bottom of the bay. Creaks, groans, clicks, long drawn out rumbles she worked out after a moment were breaking waves somewhere in the distance, all made the background noise level as high as that of a normal street, much to her surprise. She'd always pictured being underwater as being quiet and peaceful but it was nothing like that.

She knew her hearing range went a long way above and below the normal human one, but only underwater did it really come into its own. Heading out towards deeper water she swam along twenty feet down, following the bottom as it started to drop away. As the water got deeper she increased her size until she was by her estimation more than a hundred and fifty feet from nose to tail, the largest size she'd attempted so far. Even so, it was only about a third the total Varga size, if that.

Soon she was moving fast enough that she could feel the pressure of the water on her scales, a steady flow from front to back. It was peculiarly relaxing. The pressure of the depths itself was barely apparent, but then the water was only about two hundred feet deep at this point. The bay was pretty shallow for the most part, only one section near the entrance being over two hundred and twenty feet deep from what she could remember from school. Most of it was no more than half that depth.

Slowing, she examined the wreck of an old trawler that was sitting surprisingly intact on the bottom. It was tipped onto its side, but seemed more or less in one piece except for a hole in the hull near the front, which looked like it had been made by hitting something. Sinking to the bottom next to it she reached out, wrapping a hand around it like a toy boat in a bathtub. She experimentally lifted, finding that it resisted for a moment then came free of the suction of the mud, a large cloud of it rising around her and reducing visibility to almost nothing until it washed away in the current.

'Doesn't feel too heavy,' she commented to the Varga.

Don't forget about the buoyancy of the water helping you,” he remarked.

'Oh, right, good point. But I think I could just carry this to the shore no problem. It's a lot lighter than the last block we tried in that warehouse and I'm much bigger now.' The ship in fact felt like a toy in her grip, not needing any real effort to hold. Gently squeezing she watched as it distorted, the metal crumpling like tinfoil in her grip. 'I guess if I wanted to salvage the metal I could just wad them up and carry them like that?' She thought for a moment, then shrugged, dropping it to the bottom again and launching herself into the water once more.

'Anyway, the little ones down here don't really matter. It's the big ones in the shallow water that are the problem. I want to have a look at that huge tanker.'

She passed under a small boat, the throbbing of its engine tickling her skin, making sure to be deep enough not to cause any damage. Soon she spotted the hull of the tanker in the distance through the cloudy water. 'Shit. That thing is even bigger than it looks from the shore! It must be hundreds of feet long.'

It's a very large ship,” the Varga agreed. “But it looks like it's sitting on rock more than mud. It should move fairly easily. Do you intend to move it tonight?

'Not really, I just want to see if I can,' she replied. 'I'll have to talk to Dad about what would be the best thing to actually do with it. I guess it could be pushed out into deeper water, the bottom drops off pretty quickly outside the bay, which would get it out of the way. Pulling it onto shore would be a lot more work but there might be something worth salvaging on it.'

Arriving at the ship, she once more let herself sink to the bottom, moving over to it and inspecting the thing. It had a more or less flat bottom and was sitting upright, although the sea bed sloped down towards the front of the ship, so the pointy end was deeper under water than the blunt end.

She felt certain those were not the correct nautical terms, deciding she should ask her father what the right ones were.

Moving to the back she looked at where the hull met the rock. There was a lot of debris scattered around, along with quite a lot of mud. She thought, based on the scrape marks, that it had slid when it sank, ending up in the current position. From what she remembered about the history of the riots that culminated in the scuttling of the ship it had gone down slowly and evenly, taking over a day to entirely sink.

'Hmm. How about if I grab it at the back here and push? Maybe it will move a little and give us an idea of how large we'd need to be to move it easily. The water is too shallow here to get any bigger without sticking out like a sore thumb'

Her head was only barely under the surface, in fact. Growing a small amount, she lifted just her eyes above the water like a floating alligator and carefully checked around the area. That little boat was moving slowly away and she thought it was distant enough not to be an issue. She couldn't see or hear anything else in the area. Satisfied, she submerged again, then braced her shoulder and palms against the hull, digging her foot talons into the sea bed under her and bracing her tail on the rocks around her.

With a mental grunt she pushed hard. There was a loud rumbling groan and nearly thirty thousand tons of scrap supertanker shifted six feet to the right, tilting slightly, more easily than she expected. 'Whoops,' she snickered. 'I don't want to tip it over.' She backed off then studied the situation carefully. Eventually she repositioned herself, reaching up with one hand to hold the back of the ship just above the water, then put her other hand on the shaft to one of the two propellers. Rearranging her tail to hold her in that position she carefully heaved again. Once more it rumbled, and moved back more or less to where it had been, the shaft bending like a coat hanger in the process, obviously not intended as a grip point.

'Great. I could probably move it even at this size,' she said with a smile, exposing six foot long fangs to the water. 'That makes things easier. Dad will know the best way to deal with it.'

It made quite a lot of noise, though, Brain,” the Varga noted. “Moving it any distance will hardly be subtle, if you want to do it without notice.

'That's true.' She rubbed a finger along her muzzle while she thought. Eventually she shrugged. 'I'm not going to do it tomorrow, so we can probably work out a solution. I just wanted to see if I could.'

Pleased with the results of her experimentation, she swam away from the tanker, going around it into deeper water outside the bay. Following the bottom about a hundred feet above it she explored for an hour or two, finding all sorts of things lying around, but nothing particularly interesting. A sound in the distance made her listen carefully, moving her head around to localize it, finally deciding it must be a whale or something a long way out to sea. Half tempted to see how fast she could really swim and going to look for it, she decided in the end to go back instead. It was getting quite late.

Shrinking as she swam back, by the time she'd followed her nose back to the wharf she'd started from, Taylor was her normal combat form size although still in the aquatic variant. As she neared the wharf, she heard something odd which she finally realized was gunfire filtered through water. Nearing the surface she peeked out, seeing flashes coming from two different places, near a half-wrecked warehouse on the one hand, and from a parked truck with several flat tires on the other, several figures hiding behind it and shooting over the top.

The sound of the guns echoed around the entire area, making her head ring. 'That's really annoying,' she commented with mild irritation. 'Not to mention stupid. There are bullets bouncing around all over the place.' She watched for a moment, then sighed. 'Guess I'll have to stop them before someone gets killed.'

Climbing out of the water she shook herself hard, then shrank into the form of Saurial, her armor forming in the process. She was half-tempted to use the combat form instead but was holding that back for a good occasion. This one didn't seem to need it, it was only half a dozen merchants shooting at a slightly smaller number of ABB members from what she could see and smell.

Actually, she was rather wishing she couldn't smell the former, they were rank. Really horrible, in fact.

Sighing a little, her good mood meeting reality and getting kicked somewhere sensitive in the process, she wandered over. “Hey, could you guys stop shooting the place up like that, please?” she called loudly.

“Cape!” one of the ABB members yelled, pointing, after all the participants of the fight turned to stare at her in shock.

“ABB,” she yelled, pointing right back at him. He looked confused.

“Hey, if you're going to point, I will too.” She grinned.

He swiveled his gun to aim at her and opened fire. She waited for him to run out of ammunition, then looked down at all the squashed bullets lying around her feet, before raising her eyes to him. “I think you're going to need a bigger gun,” she snickered.

The Japanese youth paled. His friends opened up on her as well, as did a couple of the merchants. Forming a sword, she ran at the ABB truck, slashing horizontally when she reached it and cleanly separating the cab from the chassis. Vanishing the sword she grabbed the cab and heaved, throwing it to the side to reveal five worried faces looking at her as their cover vanished. “Hi,” she smiled, showing her teeth. “Would you like to give up now or do I have to chase you around for a while?”

A bullet hit her in the back of the head. She looked over her shoulder. “I'll be with you guys in a minute,” she called, before turning back to the ABB side, who were exchanging glances. One after another they dropped their weapons and held their hands up.

“Good decision,” she smiled. “Put your hands behind your backs.” Moving into range, she watched as they did as requested, the Varga forming manacles around each pair of wrists. He linked them together and to the truck with a cable. “OK. Stay there and I'll go and have a word with your friends.”

She was enjoying herself. This time no real violence was needed, just a little psychological warfare. It seemed quite effective, which was interesting.

Walking towards the merchant contingent she was irritated to find out the limits of that technique, which is that it requires the opponent to be at least a little rational. In this case, that seemed not to be a good description. Based on the harsh chemical overtones she could smell none of the six merchants, four men and two women, were exactly firing on all cylinders. They had stopped shooting while she was dealing with the ABB gangers, apparently wondering what to do from what she'd heard, but 'giving up' wasn't one of the options they considered.

Half way to them they frantically began shooting again, not very accurately but with great enthusiasm. Worried that her prisoners at the truck would be hit by a stray bullet, or a not so stray one, she had the Varga make her a baton, then waded in. None of them took more than a couple of careful whacks to disable, although one man seemed practically immune to pain, presumably because of whatever drugs he was currently enjoying.

Unwilling to keep hitting him until he fell over, which seemed unnecessarily dangerous for a normal person, she dropped the baton which vanished in the process and pounced, clearing the pile of old oil drums he was currently hiding behind having crawled there while she was dealing with his friends. He screamed in shock when suddenly finding himself staring into her face from a foot away, which she capitalized on by grabbing him, spinning him around, and using the sleeper hold. Shortly he was lying on the ground, bound and disarmed.

Taylor looked around, satisfied. After a moment she frowned. Now what the hell did she do with them?

Eventually she retrieved her storage box from under the wharf, getting her equipment and supplies back and allowing the Varga to dissipate the thing. Putting everything back in her belt pouches she dug out Officer Michelson's business card and her burner phone, looking at the number for a moment then dialing it.

“Michelson,” his voice answered after four rings.

“Hello, Officer,” she said. “This is Saurial. We met on Tuesday night.”

“I remember it vividly,” he noted in a dead-pan voice, making her smile.

“Great. Look, I've caught six merchants and five ABB members who were having an enormous gun battle at Wharf Six in the south docks area. They're restrained right now and more or less uninjured although one of the merchants seems to have a broken leg. I didn't do it, he was like that when I found him. What do I do with them?”

Sounding distinctly amused, Michelson sighed faintly. “You have a style all your own, don't you, Saurial. OK, I'll get a wagon out to your location. Wharf Six, you said?”

“Yep. I'll wait here for them. These guys aren't going anywhere but I don't want to leave them alone in case some of their friends turn up, on either side.”

“All right. Thanks for letting me know. Good work, by the way. Oh, I got your video recording. It was terrifying, thanks very much for that. Now I'm going to have nightmares going into dark places.”

Taylor grinned, not sure how serious he was. “Great. I don't have a recording of this one, I didn't have my camera on. I took it off then this all happened, I didn't have time to put it back on.”

“Don't worry, just tell the officers who attend the scene what happened. There's a form for independent Heroes and arrests made by them. Have you registered with the PRT yet?”

“No. Should I?”

“It's not actually mandatory but they tend to get pushy about it sooner or later. It's up to you, though.”

She considered the suggestion, but couldn't decide whether it was a good idea or not. Thinking she should ask her father about it, she said her goodbyes to the officer, then snapped the phone shut and put it away, sitting on one of the oil drums to wait. She could already hear sirens approaching in the distance.

Half an hour later she was finished with the police, who had quite efficiently loaded the captured shooters into two different vans, then taken her verbal report. Thanking her, apparently sincerely, they'd driven off more slowly than they'd appeared. Deciding she was done with the docks for the night she looked around carefully, cloaked, switched to the combat form, enlarged it a little, and started running, this time on four legs and pushing herself hard for the practice and to see how fast she could go.

As she ran it began snowing lightly again, the clouds having arrived overhead quite suddenly as a cold front rolled in from the Atlantic, the falling flakes muffling sounds around her and making the grime of the docks briefly pristine, before it would inevitably melt.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Grue looked down. So did his team mates.

“What the hell made those?” he asked, pointing at the ground. Bending over the large, clawed, three toed footprints, where the snow hadn't quite melted, Tattletale frowned.

“Big, eight feet tall or better. Quadrupedal. Long stride. Moving at… maybe sixty miles an hour?” She looked at the three footprints visible. “Some sort of reptile, that's all I can tell you. Not enough data.”

“You're telling me that there's an eight foot tall dinosaur running around the docks?” Regent asked in a nervous voice. He looked over his shoulder. “That's not exactly comforting, Tats.”

She shrugged. “It's all I have. Find me some more evidence and I can do better, but three half-melted footprints in the snow aren't a lot to go on even for me.”

“There's that new cape, Saurial, who's been seen twice downtown. She's a reptile of some sort.”

“Not this big, though, and she walks on two legs, this was on four,” Tattletale responded, turning to look at Grue. “This thing was enormous. And very definitely a carnivore based on those claw marks.”

“You mean there's two of them?” Regent squeaked.

“Maybe it's her pet.” They all looked at Bitch, who looked back. “Like a dog.”

“I don't know,” Tattletale said when the two boys returned their attention to her. “But I don't want to stumble into it, so I think we should get out of here in case it comes back.”

The comment made them all stare about carefully in the early dawn light, then quickly head away from the area, almost running. Bitch's three dogs sniffed the footprint the humans had been inspecting, whined, then followed.

Chapter Text

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Carol Dallon, AKA Brandish, entered the kitchen at seven AM to make coffee to wake herself up for the day, to find her only biological daughter sitting at the kitchen table in her costume looking somewhat disheveled, staring into a bowl of soggy cereal as if it held the secrets of the universe.

“You're up early, Vicky,” she noted, yawning widely, then putting some coffee beans in the electric grinder and turning it on. The loud noise drowned out any response her daughter made for a few seconds. Filling the coffee maker with water and beans she turned it on, then rummaged in the refrigerator for the milk.

Turning around holding the bottle she saw the blonde girl hadn't moved, holding the spoon in the cereal but not doing anything with it. “Are you OK, Vicky?” she asked, somewhat concerned. The girl's expression was fixed in a blank stare that was a little unusual. Normally it was fairly lively and animated, Victoria Dallon was nothing if not outgoing.

Eventually her daughter looked up. “I think I did something really stupid last night, Mom,” she said quietly. Her expression changed to one of confused sadness. “Really stupid.”

Carol inspected her, then turned to the coffee maker, which was making grunting sounds now as it expelled hot dark liquid into the pot. Waiting until it was full she turned the machine off, took the pot, a mug, and the milk to the table, then sat down across from her daughter. Preparing a mug of coffee she looked up. “Tell me,” she instructed, more or less gently, as the young woman was clearly upset.

“I had another fight with Dean yesterday,” Vicky began after stirring her cereal around for a bit, then dropping the spoon and pushing the bowl away with tired disgust.

“Why?”

“I… don't really know. He was being vague and distant like he was worried about something and he wouldn't tell me what, but that's not all of it. I just...” She shrugged, and sighed. “I don't know.” she repeated.

“You over-reacted to a perceived slight and stormed off again?” Carol knew her daughter. Sullenly, the girl nodded a little.

“I guess. Maybe. Yes.”

“All right. That's unfortunate, but hardly unusual. It's what, four times in the last month?” Smiling at her Carol sipped her coffee, then added a little more milk.

“It's not the fight that's stupid...” Vicky began, then caught sight of her mother's expression and stopped. “OK, maybe it is. I'll have to go and apologize to him, he didn't really do anything and he'd just bought me this nice bracelet.” She raised her wrist to show it off. “I forgot to take it off when I changed and left.”

“That was silly, dear,” Carol noted with a frown. “You could have lost it in a fight, he'd have been annoyed. It looks expensive.”

“I know. That's part of it.”

“What's the other part?” Clearly whatever it was seemed to be disturbing Vicky.

“I met a new cape yesterday. I… may have been looking for a fight and over-reacted.”

Carol stared for a few seconds, then sighed heavily, putting her coffee down very carefully and folding her hands on the table. Fixing her daughter with a look that had brought many a plaintiff to the point of near tears in court, she asked slowly, “What did you do, Vicky?”

There was an uncomfortable pause as the blonde opened her mouth, then closed it again.

“Victoria Dallon, what did you do?

“I… sort of jumped to conclusions, that she was a villain, because of how she looked? Then was really rude to her?”

Raising an eyebrow while inside she felt a sinking sensation, Carol waited.

“And… I may have threatened her? A bit?”

There was another pause. Carol sighed again.

“And… I sort of… poked her? Three times?”

“Are you asking me or telling me all this, dear?” the older woman grumbled, finding the annoying questioning tone irritating. It was a sign of how nervous her daughter was that she was falling into that idiotic Californian stereotypical cheerleader upspeak, which she personally thought sounded like the speaker didn't know what they were talking about.

“Telling you, I guess?” Vicky smiled a little for a moment, then went blank again as her mother fixed her with another look. “Telling you.”

Leaning back, Carol picked up her coffee cup and took another sip from it before returning it to the table, not taking her eyes from the girl, who fidgeted. “Who was the cape?” she asked in the end.

“She said her name was Saurial. I've never seen her before although I recognized the name, I saw it on PHO a couple of days ago. I didn't read the thread much.”

“Why did you think she might be a villain?” Carol couldn't place the name, but that wasn't surprising, she didn't keep up much with current gossip.

“She's a giant lizard, mom! Over six feet tall, with a long tail, scales, and big teeth. Dark blue costume with a gold dragon's head on it.”

“A case 53?”

“I don't know. Maybe. She sure doesn't look normal or even human, though.”

“Capes can't help what they look like if their powers change them, dear, you know that. There's no call to jump to conclusions about it.”

“I know. I'm sorry, but it was a shock. She was walking around on the edge of a building downtown, talking to herself, then dropped something off it. I was… really pissed off, and when I saw her...” She sighed and shrugged. “I may have sort of waded in without thinking.”

“What did you do?” Carol winced. “You didn't hit her, I hope.”

“No. I asked her who she was.” Vicky swallowed hard. “Or what.”

Covering her eyes, Carol shook her head. “Oh, wonderful. What a brilliant introduction. Then what?”

“I asked her whether she was a hero or a villain. Loudly. She said hero, and told me to check with the cops if I didn't believe her.” Vicky looked down at the table with an expression of shame on her face. “I… sort of insulted them as well. She seemed so sure they'd back her up and it annoyed me. The last time I talked to a cop he was really rude.”

“As I recall you had just managed to destroy his car by hitting it with a dumpster you threw, dear,” Carol sighed. “Completely missing Krieg with it. He was standing on the other side of the street laughing about it, which didn't improve the situation.”

Her daughter's face flushed a little at the memory. “All right, go on. What else?”

“I asked why she was on the roof and why. She said she was looking at the view and having a snack. I told her I didn't like her then poked her. A bit. Only three times.”

“You… poked… her?” Carol asked in a somewhat incredulous tone.

“With my finger. She was wearing some sort of armor and didn't really seem to mind. Or notice, actually.” Vicky looked embarrassed as her mother covered her eyes again.

“Oh, Vicky.”

“Then I…” She stopped again, but continued when her mother looked hard at her, ducking her head in shame. “...called her an overgrown newt.”

Sighing, Carol shook her head. “What did she do?”

“Called me a speciesist.”

“There's no such word.”

“That's what I said!” Vicky yelped. “But she said there was. Then she grabbed my wrist and held it when I poked her again, before she pushed me across the roof and asked me to stop doing it and go away.”

“She pushed you?” Carol was more than a little surprised at this.

Vicky nodded with a troubled expression. “She's strong. Really strong, and fast too, I could hardly see her hand move. I was flying so there wasn't any real grip but even when I tried pushing back she kept going. Then she let go with another push and asked me to go away.”

“Did you?”

She felt like she was cross-examining a witness, one who was both guilty and reluctant.

“I… told her I was keeping my eye on her, then flew away.” Vicky shrugged. “That's it. I found some E88 idiots trashing a store, beat them up a little, then went and sat on the top of the Medhall building and tried to calm down. Then came home. I was half-way back when I realized how it would look to an outsider, and started calming down and thinking about what I did. I couldn't sleep so I've been sitting here half the night, worrying about it.”

Shaking her head in despair, Carol replied, “I really thought we raised you better than that, dear. You could have managed to get us into serious trouble. Hopefully this Saurial will accept an apology, which you will give her if you see her again. And mean it.”

The girl was silent, but nodded. There was something about her expression that made Carol's heart drop again.

“What else?” she asked slowly.

“I didn't realize until I got home...” Vicky said, before stopping for a moment. “She was wearing a little camera on her head.”

“Oh, fuck.” Carol stared in horror. “You mean she caught all this on tape? Just fucking fantastic.” She didn't even feel ashamed about her language, she was so startled and worried.

“I couldn't see a light on it which is why I didn't really notice it, so maybe it was off?” Vicky replied, sounding hopeful.

“We have no idea if it was or not,” her mother sighed. “Some cameras don't have lights. Vicky, I've told you and told you, always assume cameras are recording! Don't do anything in front of one that will bring disrepute to New Wave. We're under a microscope all the time we go out in costume, you know that, and even a lot of the time otherwise. This could be very bad for public relations.”

The girl nodded, looking upset. “I know.”

“You really made a bad impression.”

“I know.”

“And acted in an irresponsible manner that I find disturbing.”

“I know, mom! I told you that, remember? I was pissed off, and not thinking about it properly. She guessed that I'd had a fight with my boyfriend somehow and that made it worse. And she completely ignored my aura which was just weird and a little scary. I'm sorry.”

“Sorry may not be enough this time, dear,” Carol sighed. “How did Saurial react?”

Vicky frowned slightly. “She was… calm and polite, even when I poked her. I could tell she was annoyed, at least a little, but she didn't really do much except ask me to stop and go away, then grab my wrist when I poked her the third time. She seemed… reasonable, I guess, looking back on it.”

Nodding, Carol sipped some more coffee while she thought, her daughter waiting for her. “OK. As I said, if you run into her again, apologize. Sincerely and respectfully. Don't mention the camera in public. I'll make some inquiries and see if I can get her contact details, then see if I can politely ask for any footage to be destroyed, if she doesn't mind, please and thank you.”

She sighed yet again, shaking her head. “I don't like having to go cap in hand to anyone, especially because of something my hot-headed daughter did without thinking it through. PLEASE think more carefully next time. You have no idea what she's capable of, aside from the fact that she's obviously much stronger than common even for a cape. You don't want to find out the hard way that she's actually got a counter for your powers. You know as well as I do that you're not actually invulnerable, not after the first hit.”

“She doesn't know that,” Vicky noted. Her mother glared, making her shrink back in her seat.

Not the point.”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Go and change, and take a shower. You've got E88 on you. I'm going shopping and you're coming with me, I want to keep an eye on you for a while.”

“Yes, Mom.” Obediently, the young woman got up and headed upstairs, while Carol finished her coffee.

“Oh, Vicky,” she mumbled, then poured herself another one.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Dad?”

“Yes, Dear?” Danny looked up from making bacon and eggs, finding his daughter had at least this time not grazed on the latter raw to the point there were none left. He still found this new habit something that slightly turned his stomach but she seemed to enjoy it and there were no apparent ill effects, so all he was doing was buying twice the normal amount these days.

“Who owns the wrecked ships in the bay? And the ones in the graveyard?”

Inspecting her for a moment, he went back to the frying pan when the sizzling sound changed tone, flipping the bacon over and pressing it flat with the spatula.

“Technically, the city, I think. Most of them were seized as bankrupt assets after the rioting when half a dozen shipping companies went under. The rest of them were sold to the city for salvage but for one reason or another, that never happened. There's at least a couple of million dollars worth of scrap lying around out there, probably much more, but it would cost even more than it's worth to dredge it up and cut it into small enough pieces to take away, so no one ever bothered. All the really valuable stuff was salvaged early on, like copper, brass, electronics, that sort of thing.”

Flipping the cooked bacon onto a plate with a couple of sheets of paper towel on it to absorb the excess grease, he turned it over a couple of times, then put it in the warm oven while he cracked four eggs into the frying pan and pushed the lever of the toaster down.

“They also recovered almost all the fuel and oil on the ships, which is good or that tanker going down would have caused a hell of a mess. It was mostly empty anyway, only a few thousand barrels left on board, since it had nearly finished pumping a load to shore, when the rioters hijacked it, ran it aground, and sank it across the entrance to the bay blocking the deep channel. The rest was removed by the company that owned it a month or so later but the ship wasn't worth salvaging by then. It was a pretty old vessel even at that point.”

He watched the eggs bubble for a moment, then looked at her. “Most of the ships in the graveyard have been completely stripped by various people or capes over the years, so there's not much left but rusty hulls now, although some of them are actually in quite good condition. They could be refitted and refloated if someone wanted to spend the money, I suppose, but no one seems to care these days.”

Ladling bacon grease over the tops of the eggs as they sizzled in the large pan, he waited until the yolks skinned over, then sprinkled them with paprika in the manner that Annette had shown him. When they were done, he put the toast which popped up right on schedule on two plates, slid the eggs on top, then added the bacon from the oven, along with some fried tomatoes for him and some fried mushrooms for her. Taylor was sitting at the table listening and watching with an interested expression.

Taking the plates over, he put hers in front of her then sat down with his own breakfast, picking up the glass of orange juice at his place. “Why are you interested in that?”

“I was wondering if anyone would mind if I cleaned it up.”

He choked on his juice, then looked at her wide-eyed when he finished coughing.

“Excuse me?” he queried, shock on his face. She was grinning a little at his reaction.

“I went and had a look at the tanker last night,” she told him, amused as he stared. “It's not that heavy. I could move it out of the way.”

“You...” He shook his head hard and tried again. “You think you could move that enormous thing? It must be a good thirty to thirty five thousand tons empty. Not the biggest tanker by a long way, there were some absolutely immense ones back before Leviathan screwed things up for everyone, but it's not exactly small. From memory it's over seven hundred feet long.”

“It's pretty big, sure, but I managed to push it a few feet to the side without all that much trouble,” she smiled.

He choked again.

“I put it back,” she added.

“Good,” he replied very faintly after several seconds. Staring in disbelief he finally shook his head. “Did anyone see you?”

“I doubt it, no one was around except for a little fishing boat with one guy in it about three miles away,” she replied. “He didn't seem to notice. I sort of bent the propeller shaft, though. It's not very strong.”

Shaking his head in wonder, he kept staring at his daughter as if he'd never seen her before. “How big were you?”

“I think about a hundred and fifty feet long or so?” she replied thoughtfully. “We came up with a swimming version of the combat form with a longer tail like an alligators, which made moving around underwater really easy and fun. I could spend hours doing that if I wanted to relax. I was probably about… maybe eighty feet tall if I was standing upright? My head was just under the surface there, it's shallower than I thought.”

“Unbelievable. Just…,” he groped for the words, then weakly repeated, “…unbelievable.”

“After I tried moving the tanker I went for a swim outside the bay for a while,” she went on. “I probably went a few miles out, the water gets a lot deeper quite fast then levels off. Maybe five hundred feet or so? It's covered in mud with all sorts of garbage lying around in it. Lots of fish and other things.”

“Good god,” he finally said. “How deep could you go?”

She cocked her head, then replied, “Varga said all the way to the bottom in the deep parts.”

“That's insane,” he remarked, not knowing what else to say. “Even a whale can't dive that deep. Hardly any machines can either.”

“I can. I don't know why I'd want to, from what I've read there's practically nothing down there except rocks and mud, but he said I could if I wanted to. He suggested it would be more comfortable at full size but it's not particularly hard.” She looked pleased while he gaped.

“I was thinking I could push the tanker into deeper water pretty easily, and get it out of the way. I could probably shove it up onto the shore somewhere if that was a better idea, and cut it into smaller pieces with my sword. Would that help?”

There was a long pause during which she started eating. After a while he did the same, thinking hard.

“If you just went and did it, there would be… a lot of questions,” he finally said after several minutes. “Not that anyone is going to ignore it anyway, but it would be a better idea to do it in an official manner rather than just heaving the thing to the side.” He shook his head again, then cut some more bacon, chewing it thoughtfully. Swallowing, he went on, “If you're actually serious about it, I'd need to talk to the mayor and see if I could get him to sign off on it. He'd probably go for it if it didn't cost the city anything.”

“Could we sell the metal if I get it to shore?” she asked curiously. “The money would help the DWU and other people.”

Putting his fork down he picked up his glass of juice, taking a drink, then leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. The idea was… interesting. The mere fact that they were seriously considering his beloved but obviously insane daughter turning into a monster from the depths big enough to give Leviathan pause then casually pulling a Suezmax-class tanker onto the shore was surreal, but she seemed certain she could actually do it.

Eventually he looked at her. “I need to talk to a few people. Carefully and discreetly. Please don't go throwing cargo ships around for fun just yet, dear. But I think you might have found something socially useful to do which could help a lot of people. More so than hitting things very hard.”

She snickered, cutting her egg up. “I can do that too,” she replied with a giggle.

“I know, dear, I've seen the video.”

“Hey, speaking of that, I met Glory Girl last night. She was in a shitty mood and shouted at me. I had my camera on, want to see it? It was… weird.”

Shaking his head, he smiled. “All right, but you should probably delete it afterwards. You don't want to get New Wave annoyed at you if you can help it.”

Shrugging, she nodded. “OK. I was going to erase it anyway, but I thought you might think it was funny. She went red at one point. I have no idea why but she was really pissed at me, then she flew away.”

“Strange. Maybe she doesn't like lizards?”

“Why not? I'm adorable as Saurial,” she grinned, making his roll his eyes then get back to his breakfast before it got cold.

“To me you're always adorable, but other people might not see it the same way,” he smiled.

“Thanks, Dad,” she told him, finishing her bacon, then getting up. “I need a shower. I'll see you in a little while.”

Watching as she disappeared, the end of her tail vanishing around the corner of the doorway, he shook his head in wonder. “Clean up the ships? She thinks big,” he muttered in awe.

“Thanks, Dad!” she yelled from upstairs, making him snicker, then get back to eating as he heard the shower start.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Hi, Dean.” Vicky's voice was considerably less cocky than usual. Dean sat up from where he'd been lying on the sofa reading a book on his day off duty, checking his watch. It was just after lunch. He was a little surprised, normally the young woman took at least a couple of days to cool down, so he wasn't expecting to hear from her until Monday at school.

“Hi, Vicky,” he replied as these thoughts went through his mind. “Look, I'm sorry about whatever I did last night to upset you.”

She was quiet for a moment, then replied, “It wasn't your fault, Dean. I over-reacted.”

This really surprised him. She'd never apologized like that before. From the tone of her voice she was genuinely sorry as well, not just saying it.

“That's nice to know, I guess,” he said a little uncertainly. “Are you all right? You sound… tired.”

“I'm exhausted,” she said. “I didn't get any sleep worth mentioning last night and was sitting in the kitchen thinking for most of it. Then Mom got really annoyed with me when I told her what I did and took me shopping with her to keep an eye on me. We only got back just a few minutes ago.” Her voice became aggrieved. “She wouldn't let me fly, I had to walk everywhere! Walking is so slow!”

Grinning, he tried not to let the laugh he was keeping quiet come out in his voice. “Poor Vicky. Having to walk like the rest of us. What a come down.”

“Exactly!” she giggled, sounding more cheerful. “You get it. Why can't Mom? Walking is for peons, not someone like me. You know, cute, pretty, stylish...”

Letting the laugh out, he got up and walked to the window, looking out to see if the snow had melted yet, which it had. The day looked fair although overcast. Peering at the clouds and wondering if it would start snowing again, he nodded even though she couldn't see it.

“I understand how it would disturb you, you poor girl. So why were you having trouble sleeping?”

There was a long pause.

“I fucked up,” she finally admitted in a low voice.

Worried, but not exactly surprised, he asked, “How? This time, I mean.”

“Oh, thanks a bunch, Dean,” she snapped, sounding like her old self for a moment. He said nothing, waiting. Eventually she sighed again and carried on reluctantly, “I met a new cape, insulted her, technically assaulted her, insulted the police who she seems to respect in front of her, then threatened her.”

“You did what!” he yelped, shocked despite himself. After a long moment, a horrible sinking sensation grew in the pit of his stomach. “Vicky, please tell me this cape wasn't Saurial...”

“How did you know?” she asked, surprised.

“I thought of the worst cape that could be considered new to insult and she was the first name that came to mind,” he groaned. “Oh, god, Vicky, what did you do. And what did she do?”

He listened to the story with incredulity. By the time she finished, sounding meek and worried, he was sitting on the sofa again shaking his head in wondering amazement. Neither of them said anything for a little while.

“Do you know her?” Vicky finally asked.

“We've met. Vista and I ran into her down town on Tuesday night and talked for a while.”

“What did you think about her?” his girlfriend asked, sounding worried. “Will she erase that recording if she actually made one?”

Pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes shut, Dean sighed. How the hell was it that Saurial, whoever that girl was, kept coming up in his life so much recently? “She… probably would. If you asked very politely. She seemed reasonable enough as long as you stay away from the subject of her family. She's a bit touchy about that.”

“Is she dangerous? Do you know what her powers are?”

“Stronger than you, faster than you, can make enormous swords and hammers that are impossibly heavy and apparently unbreakable out of something no one seems to know anything about, some sort of super senses, can climb buildings like they're level ground...” He trailed off as she gasped. He didn't say anything about their suspicions that Saurial was a Changer on top of all that, even though he now knew for sure it was true. Especially because of that.

“I really wouldn't pick a fight with her, Vicky,” he added quietly. “You can fly, she can't, but if she gets her hands on you she could probably unscrew your head and eat it.”

“Shit,” the girl on the phone whispered. “I sure can pick them.”

“That you can. I suggest you mean it when you apologize. I don't think she's someone you want as an enemy.”

“Do you think she'd accept it?”

“I think so, but you should probably wait a day or two before you go looking for her to let her cool off first. Don't leave it too long, though.” After a moment's mutual silence, he asked, “Do you want me to come over?”

“No, not right now,” she replied, then yawned. “I need some sleep. I'll call you later.”

“OK, Vicky. Sleep well.”

She hung up, so he put his phone down next to him and leaned back, shaking his head. “Fuck me, Vicky, I warned you your temper would get you into trouble one day,” he grumbled. “I hope Saurial is in a good mood the next time you meet her.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Any idea what it was?” Armsmaster asked, looking at the image of the woman's face on the screen in his lab. She shook her head looking troubled.

“No, not really. The readings were… very inconclusive. The passive sonar network was returning extremely odd readings, they kept fading and then reappearing somewhere else, and don't quite match anything in the database. Seismographic readings suggest something moved underwater near the mouth of the bay, or possibly just outside it, and there were intermittent readings that went a little more than ten miles out into the Atlantic, near the sea bed. The thing that best fits the data is some form of underwater slippage or mudslide that sent debris down to the continental shelf and along it for some distance. It's a known phenomenon although not that common in such shallow water.”

“Could it have had anything to do with Leviathan?” This was his biggest fear and one that gave him nightmares. Brockton Bay was very vulnerable to the Endbringer, due not only to its location but its geological makeup.

Dragon shook her head again. “No, definitely not. I'm tracking him off the coast of Australia at the moment, he's poking around deep under the Indian ocean for whatever reason, moving slowly.”

“Good. Well, I'm curious, but it doesn't seem to be an immediate threat, so I think we just log it and move on. If it happens again, though, we should investigate. Do you have any submersible drones available?”

“Nothing specifically for that sort of job right now,” she replied. “I'll look into designing one just in case.”

“All right. That sounds acceptable.” He smiled at her, about the only person he ever did that with, and got a smile in return. “Now, have you looked at the information I sent you on that… substance… that the new Cape Saurial apparently possesses the ability to make?”

Dragon's expression immediately became intrigued. “Yes. It looks impossible, as you said.”

“I was holding a piece of it, right up the point it vanished, so it definitely exists. Do you have any theories?”

“Nothing that doesn't seem entirely nonsensical, no. We need a sample. Do you think you can get one?”

“I've asked all the Wards to request a small piece of it if the opportunity arises,” he replied slowly. “I also asked that they wait until they know her better. I think she'll probably respond better to them than if I approach her, the reports suggest she is in the same age group and probably gets on better with her peers than adults. That is the normal situation with teenagers.”

She looked calculatingly at him for a moment. “Hannah told you to do that last part, didn't she?”

“Yes.” He sighed faintly as she smiled in triumph. “It seems inefficient but she knows more about how people work than I do, I'm well aware of that. I'm prepared to follow her advice in this matter.”

"Even though you really want to run out, find Saurial, and bug her until she gives you some supermetal to play with...” Dragon grinned as he sighed again.

The conversation moved on to other subjects after that, both Tinkers soon deep in a conversation about miniaturized propulsion systems.

Chapter Text

“You sure she's around here?” Clockblocker sounded curious and slightly irritated.

“I think so,” Kid Win replied, standing on his hoverboard and looking around carefully. “We got reports she was walking around in this area, and someone else said he saw her climb up here a few minutes ago.”

“With the speed Vista says she moves, she could be miles away now. Why are you so keen on meeting her, anyway?” the clock themed cape asked, moving to look down the side of the office building to the ground, some four stories below them, shudder a little, then move back to a safe distance. His colleague was fine with heights, he could fly, although if he actually ever fell off that thing he was in trouble, but Dennis didn't like heights at all much.

“I'm just curious. She sounds interesting. You don't see a lot of non-human seeming capes that aren't Case 53's, who can never remember anything, which tends to make the ones I've met sort of, well, a bit weird.” The other teen shrugged. “From what Vista and Gallant told us she's got a sense of humor and is interesting to talk to, so I thought it would be nice to meet her. We're sure to run into her sooner or later, why not now while there's nothing going on?”

“Point to you, I guess.” Clockblocker turned in a circle. “But I can't see any signs of her, not even footprints in this stuff.” He prodded the pea gravel covering the tar-sealed roof of the building, which was flat and festooned with tall air conditioning units. “Guess she moved on. We'll have to keep looking.”

“I'm surprised you're not more interested in meeting her,” Chris commented, smiling under his helmet. “From what we heard she has a sense of humor nearly as bad as yours. Surely you're planning on freezing her or something as an introduction? That's what you normally do. Practical jokes are sort of your thing.”

“Miss Militia told me not to,” his friend replied.

“Like that's ever stopped you.”

“Plus she's apparently got huge teeth.”

“And?” Chris' eyes suddenly widened as a shadow separated from the air conditioning tower immediately behind Clockblocker, slowly resolving into a tall, slender, reptilian woman who was soundlessly creeping forward, taking careful steps with her tail held up behind her clear of the gravel. About to say something, or possibly scream, he froze when she raised a long, taloned finger to her short muzzle. Debating the merits of the idea for a moment he finally decided to see what happened, trying not to give the game away. As an afterthought he gave the command with a specific flick of his eyes that turned on the camera mounted on his helmet above his visor, recording the whole thing. Just for review later, of course.

“And maybe her sense of humor doesn't apply to jokes aimed at her? I don't want to get chased and eaten by a six foot tall angry dinosaur woman or whatever she is!” Dennis replied with a little annoyance. “Sure, if I knew she'd take it OK I'd play a joke on her, but I think I need to find out more about her first.”

Kid Win watched with wide eyes, luckily hidden by his visor and the dark, as the creeping lizard girl arrived directly behind an oblivious Clockblocker, moving impressively quietly and slowly. If he wasn't watching it he'd never had known she was there, which was just the smallest amount worrying in a number of ways. She paused, cocking her head to one side, then the other, as if deciding what to do. He watched with bated breath.

Eventually, while Clockblocker was expanding on his views about not pranking capes who could actually chew on you and probably enjoy it, she seemed to come to a decision, reaching into a pouch on her belt and removing a small bottle with a metallic green label that glinted in the dark. Kid Win recognized it with instant hilarity, working out immediately what her joke was, but managed to keep a straight face with enormous effort.

Gently unscrewing the lid, Saurial smirked, then held the tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce over Clockblocker's right arm and started shaking it.

“I mean, Gallant told us about that huge hammer she was waving around like it was nothing! One hit would probably pulverize me. Or you. What if she's like Rune was, did you think of that? Sure, she's a villain, but she didn't have to get so worked up about what I did. It was pretty funny, I thought, but girls can be strange about jokes.”

Chris watched small, pungent drops of orange-colored liquid fall to his friend's sleeve and soak in. Dennis didn't notice.

“And you remember that time I froze Panacea? She threatened to give me tits the size of my head if I ever did it again and I don't think she was joking. She's really grumpy a lot of the time.”

More Tabasco sauce fell. Chris was watching with wild inner amusement, wondering when his friend would notice. It took about another fifteen seconds. “Hey, what the hell is this?” Clockblocker suddenly said, lifting his arm in front of his mask and staring. He looked up, then around, as Saurial swayed lithely back and forth behind him to stay out of his field of vision. “There's some sort of liquid all over me.”

“What is it?” Kid Win managed to choke out, suppressing wild laughter.

“I don't know, it's all sticky.” Poking it with his other hand, Dennis looked at his finger, then quickly lifted his mask just a small amount and sniffed. “Hey, that's...”

He froze, then slowly turned to look behind him. Saurial leaned forward and grinned widely, licking scaly lips with a long forked tongue. “I love Tabasco sauce on my food,” she hissed menacingly.

AAAiiiieee!” Clockblocker screamed, jumping back in horror and tripping over himself in the process, landing on his back on the roof, then panting for breath. She stared, then almost collapsed laughing, while Chris nearly fell off his hoverboard, tears of amusement running down his face.

“I wish I could see your face,” she giggled, in a much more normal voice than the extremely disturbing, barely human one she'd used before. “That was fantastic. Should I put it up on PHO?”

“Send it to me, I want to show the others,” Kid Win gasped, still laughing, having spotted the camera she was wearing immediately. Dennis looked from one to the other of them, his head moving jerkily and his body language still showing he was very confused and extremely rattled.

“Oh, you bastards,” he finally growled, working out that he'd been the butt of a prank. “How long did that take to set up?”

He glared at the other Ward, or at least Chris assumed he was glaring. “Was that why you dragged me up here saying you wanted to meet her?” Chris shook his head, giggling to himself.

“Spur of the moment thing, Clockblocker,” she admitted. “I was just lying on top of that tower thing over there enjoying the quiet and having a snack when I heard you guys talking. You have a reputation online as a joker so I thought I'd see what happened.” She waved at the air conditioning tower, then held up the bottle of sauce. “I like this on eggs, I bought it this afternoon.”

“Eggs?” Chris queried. She pulled one of the hen fruit in question from another pouch and held it up.

“Eggs,” she confirmed. “Last one.” Sprinkling the thing with sauce she tossed it into her mouth, shell and all, then crunched down and swallowed. “Nice.”

“Oh, my god,” Clockblocker moaned, disgusted, while Chris felt his stomach roil. “That's revolting.”

“They're great, actually,” she retorted. “And high in nutrients, with no fat.”

She studied the white-garbed cape and smiled again. “I'd offer you a hand up but I suspect there would be retaliation involved. I have no wish for a picture of me standing frozen like an idiot to pop up on the web so I think I'll just stay over here.”

After a couple of seconds he shook his head, then stood up, brushing himself down. “OK. Right. The crazy lizard monster girl has a warped sense of humor. Note to self, look over shoulder more.” He sounded amused by now, his sense of the absurd coming to the fore. “You got me. That was actually a good prank.” Looking intently at her, he asked, “Please don't do it again, you scared the shit out of me.”

Chris turned his camera off again, grinning.

Laughing, she nodded. “I'll never do it again to you. Can I do it to other people?”

He nodded back. “Oh, hell, yes. Just tell me first so I can watch. I want to see Assault jump three feet in the air and scream like a little girl.”

They shared a look, then laughed like idiots again. “Sorry, Clockblocker, I couldn't resist,” she apologized when they all calmed down. “I'm not used to meeting people I can actually joke around with like this, it's nice.”

“Tough childhood?” Kid Win asked.

She shrugged. “Not really, but parts of it were hell. I seem to have met more friendly people, or at least people who aren't actively hostile, in the last month than in the last several years.”

A crash from below made her cock her head again, listening, then walk over and peer down the side of the building to the street. Kid Win turned his board around so he could see as well. A large truck was half-embedded into the side of the building, with about a dozen people wearing E88 colors jumping out the back of it and kicking glass away, then going into the department store that comprised the lower floor, carrying hammers and large empty bags.

“Want to help round those idiots up?” she sighed, glancing over at them. Kid Win and Clockblocker exchanged a glance as she jumped off the building, falling to the street and landing on top of the truck with an enormous crunch while heavily distorting the roof, then lightly hopped off and disappeared inside the building after the ram-raiding robbers.

“Well, that happened,” Chris noted. Clockblocker nodded, wincing at the distant screams rising from below. Tapping his earpiece, the Tinker said, “Console, attending a vehicular assisted break in at 1601 Atlantic Drive, independent hero Saurial already on site. Permission to assist?”

“Wait one, Kid Win,” the surly but professional voice of Shadow Stalker who for some reason had been assigned permanent console duty came back. A moment later, she added, “Permission granted to assist.”

“Thanks, Console,” he replied then tapped the earpiece again. Glancing at Clockblocker who had been listening, he smiled. “Come on, lets see what she can do.”

“She's probably already sprinkling Tabasco sauce on them,” the other cape muttered, sounding both amused and a little worried, then started descending the fire escape to one side, Kid Win floating down on his hoverboard.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Martin frantically dived for cover, swearing and sweating, as some of his fellows ran past screaming, looking for the way out in the nearly pitch black room. Something was in there with them, he could hear it moving every now and then.

Pressing himself into an alcove next to a display of toasters or something, he could barely make it out in the dark, lit only by a couple of distant emergency exit signs, he listened carefully, looking around and trying to make out what the hell was going on. A flicker of motion twenty feet away made him whip his head around, then point his gun that way.

There was another scream from the other side of the store, horrifically cut off half-way, that ended in a gurgle. Two shots sounded, then two more. He sweated harder. A flashlight bobbed around as if someone was waving it about, then suddenly stopped. Yet another shot rang out, echoing in the large room, before there was a meaty smacking sound, following which something flew a considerable distance and crashed into what sounded like every last saucepan in the place. The flashlight dropped and rolled, the light swinging around casting crazy shadows across the room, then went out with a metallic crunch.

There was a long pause, during which he formed the opinion he was probably the only one left.

“What the hell is it?” he whispered.

“It's just me,” a female voice said in his ear. He screamed like a five year old and spun around, knocking small appliances flying, then fired rapidly. The muzzle flashes gave him a stop motion view of something tall and thin, with what looked like a long tail, scuttling appallingly quickly across the floor and, most horrifyingly, up the wall to vanish towards the dimness of the ceiling, fifteen feet up and covered with air conditioning ducts.

Panting, he stared around wildly, trying to remember how many rounds he had left. By his best estimate, it was perhaps five.

Lifting his weapon in a trembling hand he panned it across the scene. There was no sound of any of his companions now, all of them having fallen silent.

“Nick!” he whispered urgently, wondering if his best friend, the one who had sponsored him to the E88, was still standing somewhere. There was no answer. He tried again.

“He's the short guy with the scar on his cheek, right?” the voice said again, from right above him. He looked up to barely make out what looked horribly like the glint of large, pointy teeth a few feet over his head, the owner of those teeth, which he was strongly beginning to believe came from hell, hanging head down attached to the wall. All that was visible in the dim light was a dark shadow on the wall, but it was obvious it wasn't human.

Raising the gun he fired again, the flash showing a mouth with too much dentition in a head like a huge lizards one, its eyes black and shiny. He blinked as his eyes readjusted after the short burst of flame, then saw it was gone again.

“Why don't you just stop this and we can all get out of here?” the voice said, sounding like it was trying to be reasonable, now in a completely different place. He didn't believe it. The thing was obviously trying to tempt him.

That's what they did.

After a few seconds, he slowly tried edging in the direction of the exit as shown by the signs. Nothing happened, so he kept working his way in that direction. His heart was going like mad, he felt faint, and he was deeply regretting his current career choice. No amount of getting to beat up blacks and chinks made up for being hunted by a demon. He'd leave that to crazy people like Hookwolf, who'd probably enjoy it and actually stand a chance.

Nearly at the exit, Martin stopped, knowing damn well from the movies that this was the most dangerous point. If it was going to jump him, it would do it… right... now.

He spun and fired three shots, then listened.

Nothing.

Allowing himself to relax a small amount, he turned around again, then opened his mouth, only a faint hiss coming out as his eyes bulged. The horrific thing standing there mere feet away tipped its head to the side inquisitively, looking weirdly puzzled. “Are you all right?” it asked, “only your heartbeat is really fast.”

DEMON!” he screamed in a shrill voice, firing the last of what turned out to be two shots into its face then throwing the gun at it, which it caught without any apparent effort, before throwing himself past it and out the door onto the street while it was distracted.

The half dozen police officers and the two young capes standing there staring at him came as a profound relief. He hid behind Clockblocker, shivering. “It was all around us. Nowhere to hide. It got Nick, and James, and Alicia, and Jason...” Trailing off he stopped gibbering, holding his hands out, wrists together. “Please arrest me and take me somewhere safe.”

A couple of the cops looked at each other, then obliged. The click of the handcuffs locking around his wrists was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. “We should get out of here before it comes out,” he added, twitching his head around in an attempt to look into every possibly hiding place. “They're sneaky. It could be anywhere.”

Spotting a movement to the side, he spun wildly around. “There! Over there! Shoot it!!”

Almost everyone jumped wildly despite themselves and looked.

“What's he shouting about this time?” the voice said from his other side. Very slowly he looked around, to see the armored, scaly horror standing next to Kid Win, who seemed to be ignoring the fate he was risking. The Ward shrugged.

“No idea.”

“Weird. He was all jumpy in the store too. Maybe he needs some sort of psychological help?”

“Maybe,” Clockblocker replied, his shoulders twitching for some reason. His voice sounded strained. “You need to be a bit odd to join the E88 in my opinion anyway.”

Both the monster and the other Ward nodded slowly, then all three turned around and walked away. “I want some more eggs.” The voice floated back to him as he shivered, wishing he had dry underwear.

“Oh, god, it's breeding,” he whispered.

The policeman who had put the cuffs on him put his hand on his shoulder, gently urging him towards the back of the nearest police car which was waiting with an invitingly open back door.

Martin got in gratefully and closed the door himself, settling back for a trip to the nice safe police station and resolving to join the priesthood when he got out. Maybe then he'd be safe.

Unless it bred.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taylor sat on the low wall surrounding the small park a few blocks from the crime scene, the leafless limbs of the trees and the limp brown grass giving a rather depressed look to the place, watching Clockblocker roll around laughing himself sick. She popped another egg into her mouth, exchanging a glance and a raised eyebrow with Kid Win, who was sitting next to her with his hoverboard leaning on the wall next to him. Well, eye ridge in her case, but it was the same effect.

“Is he always like this?” she asked, removing the top from a bottle of water and taking a drink.

Kid Win shrugged a little. “He's got a strange sense of humor and sometimes it gets away from him,” he admitted. “It wasn't that funny.”

“You… him… eggs...” Clockblocker gasped for air. “All around...” He shook his head helplessly, lifting it to peer at the two others who were looking down at him, then roaring with laughter again.

“Ignore him, we normally do. Vista or Gallant will slap him, the rest of us just get on with other things,” Kid Win advised with a sigh. He turned to Taylor. “That was impressive in a sort of horror movie way, I have to admit. Were you trying to terrify them?”

“Only a little,” she said, eating her last egg and crumpling up the box. “They seemed to over-react a lot, though. It was a bit strange.” It really was, she'd just gone after them one at a time, the remaining ones getting more and more worked up. Perhaps hunting them down in the dark was too much? It was pretty efficient, but if it had that much effect she needed to tone it down a little before someone fell over from a heart attack due to the excitement.

“I got five of them with a sleeper hold immediately before they knew I was there, then they started shooting. I had to go after the guns, then, before they hit each other. That last but one guy was firing all over the place, I had to smack him with my tail to put him down before he hit that friend of his.”

Kid Win looked at the appendage that was curled across her feet. “Don't you get cold with bare feet and exposed skin like that? Or scales, I mean. It's only a little above freezing right now.”

“Not really. I'm not cold blooded or really a reptile, I'm… something else.” She didn't want to go into details but he seemed genuinely concerned and interested.

“It was cool to see, though,” he replied after a thoughtful nod. “Have you had a lot of training in hand to hand combat?”

“Sort of, yes. Also sword use, single and dual, some war hammer sort of thing, and I'm experimenting with how those work when I substitute a baton for a sword. I don't want to kill anyone and I'm strong enough to cut a normal person in half with one swing of a bat never mind a blade.” She glanced at him, then went back to watching Clockblocker, who was wheezing a little as he managed to pull himself together enough to sit near them on the wall.

“Gallant said you told them that you could lift a couple of tons, so I can believe that,” the Tinker noted.

“I tested myself, I can dead lift nearly five thousand pounds, although that was the limit mainly because it was the biggest weight available at the time,” she commented, sipping her drink as he gaped a little. She didn't mention that in her Saurial form the limit was noticeably higher than her base form, although she hadn't bothered to find out how much yet.

“Holy crap, that's impressive.” He sounded amazed. “That's more than Glory Girl can lift as far as I know and she's way up there in Brute ratings.” After a moment, he added, “Are you going to register with the PRT? Or come in for official power testing?”

“I haven't decided yet on the first one, and no, at the moment I have no plans for the second one.” Finishing her drink Taylor put the cap on the bottle and tossed it towards a nearby public garbage receptacle, smiling when it actually went in, bouncing off the rim and falling inside.

“Fought any capes yet?” Clockblocker asked from her other side, having finally recovered, although his voice was hoarse. She shook her head.

“No, it hasn't come up. This is the third time I've grabbed some idiots with guns, though. Last night I got some ABB and merchants who were shooting up the docks, then of course there were those E88 guys in the warehouse the night that I met your friends. That was my first time.”

“In this city you're bound to sooner or later,” Kid Win commented. She shrugged.

“Probably but I'm not looking for trouble. Enough of it seems to find me to keep me busy. Every time I've gone out something has happened.”

“Par for the course,” he smiled. “Hey, can I have a copy of that footage? Both the prank and the store action.”

“Sure.” Looking at him for a moment, Taylor added, “You're a Tinker, do you have some sort of device to read the memory card right now?”

“I do,” he told her, peering at the camera. “Standard USB port, right?”

“Yep.” Reaching up she caught the camera as the Varga, who had been laughing nearly as much as Clockblocker but had finally stopped snickering, dissolved the straps. “Here you go. There's nothing on it but those two files.”

Taking it from him he popped open a port on his left gauntlet, pulling a cable out, then plugged it into her camera. A few seconds later he unplugged it and handed it back. “Thanks, Saurial.”

“No problem.” She smiled at him as she reattached the device.

“Is that another use of your matter control power?” he asked curiously, watching the process with interest, as was Clockblocker. She nodded, as there was no harm in telling them.

“Yes, it's really useful, actually.”

“I can believe that.”

“I have to ask, why the sunglasses at night?” Clockblocker put in, making her turn her head and look at him. “Not that they don't look cool, mind. Are your eyes too sensitive to light or something like that?”

“No, it's mainly so that people don't freak out any more than they already do,” she replied, reaching up and removing them. He stared at her glowing orangeish slit-pupilled eyes for several seconds, then nodded slowly.

“No offense, but I can understand why they might.”

She smirked, putting them back on. “I can't see it myself, I think my eyes are pretty.”

He froze, then tentatively nodded again when she looked quizzically at him. “Um, yes, so do I, I guess.” Once more she smiled which seemed to make him relax, Taylor finding the whole thing sort of amusing.

Pulling out her phone she looked at the time display on it, then put it away and stood up. “Sorry, I need to go. It was interesting meeting you two. Only Aegis and Shadow Stalker left and I'll have the complete set.”

She noticed the way Kid Win glanced at Clockblocker, who looked back. “Shadow Stalker isn't currently available, but I'm sure you'll see Aegis soon.” Clockblocker was still sounding a little breathless.

“Fair enough. Anyway, see you guys around. Bye.” She tossed the crumpled up egg carton away after the bottle, then headed for the building across the street, rapidly climbing up the front of it. At the top she waved down at them, receiving a wave back from Kid Win, then started running, heading towards the docks where she'd change.

That was somewhat intriguing,” the Varga commented slowly as she bounded from roof to roof.

'Wasn't it?' Her mental voice was flat. 'I'm guessing that Aegis is that Carlos guy.' She'd immediately recognized the scents of the red-headed Dennis and his friend Chris from Arcadia, who had been sitting at the table with Dean, who she knew was Gallant. And who knew what her human form looked like.

It seems very likely. A group of people like that would in all likelihood spend time together off duty, and the chances of there being four male Wards, three of those being the ones we have identified so far, without the fourth one being the other person at that table, seem remote. Although not impossible.” Her companion sounded thoughtful.

'True, but I'm nearly certain that both of them smelled faintly of Carlos. I didn't really get close enough to him at Arcadia to be sure, but I will sooner or later, assuming I don't meet him as Aegis.' She flung herself across a street, catching the taller building on the other side with all four limbs and rushing up and over it.

'Of course, the elephant in the room is that both those guys also had a very faint hint of eau de Hess, as well. That's four so far, all Wards. I'm beginning to get an idea of what's going on and I'm not sure I like it,' she continued after a minute or so.

There was no response from the demon, but she could feel he felt the same way. Deciding she needed more information, which would come along in due time, she kept moving, enjoying the action and the speed. Once again she'd enjoyed meeting these members of the Wards, and was impressed by Clockblocker's ability to take what was actually a slightly mean joke, something she felt a little guilty about even now. But she'd wanted to see what happened afterwards.

It had been screamingly funny, though, although she had no intention of posting the video online. That would be too much. If Kid Win did it, it was on him.

The Tinker had obviously been fishing for information, which she'd given him in full knowledge that it would almost certainly end up in the dossier that the PRT was undoubtedly building on her cape persona. It would be an obvious thing to do with any cape, so she assumed they probably had threat assessments for more or less all of them, which weren't made public. It's what she'd have done in the same place.

It was quite nice that they hadn't pushed the idea of the Wards again, and wondered it that was deliberate, or just due to those guys not being particularly interested in the subject. When she'd recognized Sophia's scent on them, although the back of her mind was half expecting it, she'd become quite irritated again, although not as angry as she had with Gallant and Vista. It proved much easier this time to keep it from affecting her, though, which was something she was pleased about. She didn't like being driven by anger, she had far too much of it buried deep inside after two years of torture to be happy about it, even with the intervention of the Varga.

He was slowly helping her come to terms with it and get rid of it, and one day she was sure she'd be over the whole thing, but right now she wasn't and didn't want to risk letting herself stew over the sorry events of the recent past. They were done and over and best left where they were in her opinion.

That said, she sort of owed the Three Bitches thanks in a strange, perverted manner. Without them, she'd never have reconnected with her father, she suspected, or at least not to the level she had, she'd never have ended up with the Varga, and she probably wouldn't have the self control she was learning. Or the ability to do… this!

The small number of people on the street fifty feet below looked up at the cry of “WheeeHooo!” that echoed around the place, wondering what caused it, and a couple of them were quick enough to see a form flip twice as it cleared the sixty foot gap, before disappearing over the rooftops, a long tail flying out behind it.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

When he was sure that Saurial was probably far enough away that she was out of any vaguely sensible auditory range, and adding a significant safety margin, Dennis relaxed slowly. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. “That girl is terrifying.”

Kid Win nodded soberly. “I really don't think she means to be,” he replied. “She has a… slightly different outlook than the rest of us in some ways. She seems nice, though. In a sort of 'don't for god's sake fuck with her' way, I mean.” He glanced at his friend with a small smirk. “Going to try to get back at her for that prank? Which was fucking hysterical, by the way.”

“Not a chance. She's probably laugh it off, true enough, but… I wouldn't want to risk it if she didn't, not until I know her a lot better. I can't help thinking that trying to push her would be… not good.”

“That's what Gallant said,” Kid Win noted. “He's usually right about that sort of thing.”

Clockblocker shivered. “I noticed you didn't ask her about her supermetal that Armsie's so interested in.”

The Tinker shook his head. “Like you said, and he did as well, I think it's best to wait until we know her better.”

“True.”

They sat in silence for a moment, then both stood up. “It was a damn good prank, though,” the red head chuckled, not at all annoyed about it. He appreciated the work of a master when he saw it, even if it was at his expense, once the initial fright had passed. He really wanted to see her do it to Assault.

“You went higher pitched than Vista when she's excited,” Chris snickered, gliding alongside him on his board.

“No, I didn't.”

“Trust me, you did.”

“Can't be true. We should test it. You record it, I'll show her something cute.”

“Idiot.”

They headed on the rest of their route, playfully griping at each other.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Miss Militia watched the playback of the store robbery that Saurial had so efficiently and unnervingly shut down with an intent look. Beside her, Armsmaster, his helmet off, was also watching. He seemed impressed, slightly.

“Shit,” Aegis said with a twitch at the first person view of a movie monster hunting down humans in a dark room. The muzzle flashes periodically lit the place like camera strobes, showing screaming people fleeing in all directions, while the camera panned about, then shot towards one of them, rotating through a complete barrel roll as the cape made use of the shelves and floor to run across. “Über and Leet only wish they could pull something like this off.”

A pair of scaled arms reached out, competently executing what she recognized as some form of martial arts sleeper hold, not one she was familiar with, but obviously effective, as the struggling man immediately slumped into unconsciousness. Saurial lowered him to the ground with surprising care, then put his hands behind his back, a set of the restraints she'd seen on Colin's monitor the other day forming with no fuss around his wrists, linking them immovably together. The Tinker leaned forward, clearly fascinated.

“That is… remarkable,” he mumbled to himself.

They watched as Saurial plowed her way through a full dozen E88 gang members in minutes, without a single injury she could see, and no collateral damage directly caused. Quite a few things got knocked over but that was mainly due to the panicking men and women.

The second to last man was sent flying a remarkable distance by a flick of a strong tail, making her nod at the confirmation that she could weave that limb into what were definitely practiced hand to hand combat skills. She wondered where the cape had learned to fight like that, especially with her tail.

The last man was both very funny and rather horrifying, as he was apparently on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She couldn't find it in herself to have much sympathy, she recognized him as someone who had been responsible for more than his fair share of attacks on minorities, but she still found herself wincing as he fell apart.

When it was all over and the recording ended, the lizard girl having apparently stopped it as she exited the store behind the fleeing gang member, in no particular hurry, she turned in her chair and looked at the other Wards. Gallant had a sort of bemused, slightly stunned look on his face, mixed with a sort of worry that seemed odd to her, Vista was staring wide eyed, Clockblocker and Kid Win were exchanging glances, while Shadow Stalker, who had been allowed to view the video for informational purposes, was staring in what looked like horrified awe.

“Thoughts?” she asked.

“I'm never playing laser tag with her, that's for sure,” Clockblocker immediately said, making her sigh just a little.

Useful thoughts?”

“She's extremely mobile, especially in a confined space,” Aegis replied slowly. “Containing her would be an absolute nightmare without significant force. She's amazingly quick to react as well. Combined with her strength she'd be hell to fight.”

“Even without weapons,” Gallant added. “She only used her hands, feet, and tail the entire time.”

“Very tough, none of the guns slowed her in the slightest,” Vista mused. “She didn't even notice, really, although she went after the ones shooting first.”

“Saurial said that was to stop stray rounds hurting the other suspects,” Kid Win noted. “She seemed honestly worried about that possibility.”

“Significant skill in some form of hand to hand combat I don't recognize, optimized for someone with a tail,” Armsmaster put in after some thought. “Efficient, quick, designed for maximum damage with minimum effort. Something like Krav Maga but not. She was seriously limiting herself to avoid causing injuries.”

“Saurial didn't seem particularly fussed about which way up she was, which suggested to me she doesn't suffer from vertigo or other things caused by hanging head down in normal people.” Aegis looked fascinated now. “Her body is internally as different as it is externally.”

“Her senses are much better than we thought, at least her vision is. That camera she uses has exceptionally good low light performance, but even so she could obviously see much better in the dark than it could,” Kid Win said thoughtfully. “Even with her sunglasses on. She didn't hesitate even once that I saw, and it was nearly completely dark in there. After she turned the lights out herself, of course.”

“She capitalized on her abilities to tilt the situation as much in her favor as she could to make it as quick as possible to bring to an end,” Armsmaster commented, nodding a little. “Again, efficient and ruthless. Even the psychological warfare part of the operation was nicely judged. And effective.”

“To be honest, what I saw suggests a cape who has been fighting for years, rather than days,” Miss Militia remarked, leaning back in the chair and staring at the blank screen for a moment. “Which is odd. True, powers normally come with instinctive knowledge of their use but the sort of thing we saw mostly comes from experience in fighting.”

She noticed that Clockblocker was sitting quietly, apparently thinking. “You have something worrying you, Clockblocker?”

He shook his head. “Not worrying, actually. More curious. The thing I find odd is that she genuinely doesn't seem to want to look for fights, I got the impression she was just as happy to let people get on with their lives and would appreciate the favor being returned. But at the same time she didn't like things being shot up and would step in to prevent it.”

The boy paused for a moment, then added, “She also seems to get on surprisingly well with the cops. She was polite and respectful and they all were the same back. It's a little strange, some capes and cops really don't get on at all.”

“Would you say she sees the world in black and white?” Miss Militia asked curiously. “Like it's us and them?”

“No.” Everybody turned to Gallant who looked back. “Unless by 'us' you mean her family and anyone she feels she owes something. Oddly enough, I'm not entirely certain that would necessarily exclude villains. I think she tends to assess each situation and person she meets on their own merits, rather than applying a generic good guys and bad guys template to it.” He sighed slightly. “Vicky has a tendency to do that sometimes so I recognize it when I see it. I don't see it with Saurial from the brief contact I had with her or what Kid and Clock have reported.”

Nodding a little, the military cape made some notes. The profile she was building for Saurial was a little peculiar in cape terms. Oddly enough, it was making her less worried in some ways and more in others.

“We'll have to raise her Mover and Thinker ratings by some amount,” Armsmaster noted, making her nod as she wrote.

“Definitely. That was in no way Mover 1 and Thinker 1,” she muttered, thinking, then writing some more. “Brute rating is probably low as well but without more information we have no idea how much. I wish we could test her.”

“I asked and she's still not interested,” Kid Win said.

“All right, you tried. Thank you.” She wrote for a few more seconds, then put the pen down.

“It would be useful to get confirmation of the idea that she's a Changer of some sort, but I suppose that's unlikely.” Turning to Shadow Stalker, who had been silent the entire time, she said, “Do you have any observations, Shadow Stalker?”

The girl looked back at her blankly for several seconds, her expression impossible to read, then stood, picked up her mask, put it on, and left, not saying a word.

“Guess not,” she muttered as everyone watched, then exchanged glances and shrugs. There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment.

“Want to see Clock scream like a girl?” the young tinker suddenly asked. He was grinning. She looked at him, then the named cape, who had a long-suffering look on his unmasked face.

“Yes. Yes I do,” she smiled. Even Armsmaster seemed to have a tiny smile.

When the video of the reptilian girl's impromptu prank, seen both from her camera and Kid Win's side by side on the monitor, was finished, that little smile was just a tiny amount larger.

It gave her hope for the future, and made her wonder how she could maneuver Assault into the same situation…

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Vicky sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes, and reached for her phone, which had just indicated somewhat rudely that it had a text she should read. Prodding the screen with an elegantly manicured finger, she opened the SMS application.

Apologize to Saurial soon. Seriously. D.

Staring at it for a moment, she put it back on her bedside table and lay down again, trying to go back to sleep. This proved difficult for some time.

Chapter Text

“Oh, for god’s sake, Taylor, what the hell is that?”

Danny stared at his daughter, who grinned back. “Like it?” she asked, waving her tail around very carefully in the living room, the care required because it now was capped in a sort of metallic sheath with a two foot blade coming out the end. “I can hold a sword in each hand and use another one with my tail like this, kind of.”

“You’re going to cut your own damn head off waving that thing around,” he grumbled. “Hey! Mind that chair, I like it.”

She looked embarrassed, carefully pushing the cut fabric back into place. “Sorry, Dad.”

“That’s worse than the… what was it, Thagomizer,” he muttered. She brightened, the metal fitting on the end of her tail vanishing and being replace with the mentioned upgrade. She looked over her shoulder, smiling a little as she moved the appendage around.

“I don’t know, I still like it,” she replied, looking back at him.

Turning, she caught the thing at the end of her tail under the sofa, promptly tripped over her own body, to finally end up almost upside down with her father in fits of laughter. She looked up at him, embarrassed. “But perhaps I should stick to using it outside,” she added with a rueful grin.

Climbing to her feet she made all the accessories go away, then shook her head. “Hey, shut up, it wasn’t that funny,” she complained. Danny raised an eyebrow. “The voice in my head is laughing like an idiot,” she explained in an aggrieved mutter, which promptly set him off again.

“I don’t really think you need more weapons sticking out from strange places, dear,” he said as she sat down across from him and draped her tail across her knees, fiddling with the end of it while watching him with a smile. “As Saurial you’re already terrifying, as whatever you end up calling your combat form you’re horrifying, and as whatever can push supertankers around I simply don’t have the words. Even like this you can be somewhat scary.” He waved a hand at her human base form, currently wearing nice pants and a blouse. “Although I do like the way you’re wearing brighter colors these days. It suits you.”

“Thanks, Dad,” she smiled back, looking relaxed. “I’m… a lot more comfortable with myself these days,” she explained, frowning slightly in concentration as she looked for the words. “Ever since the Varga turned up, I’ve been happier. Mostly a lot happier. Both about him and about you. You’ve changed as well, you’re Dad, not the sort of sad man who seemed to be turning up more and more often.” Looking at him with a hint of a tear in her eyes, she smiled. “I liked him even so, but I’m glad I have my Dad back.”

He studied her, then moved across the room to side beside her, putting his arm over her shoulder and pulling her tight to his side. Her tail lay across both their laps, the warm finely scaled weight oddly comforting to him now. He was used to it to the point she’d look odd without it, he mused, with a smile and a shake of his head. Patting it comfortingly, he replied, “I’m glad to be back, and profoundly grateful to have my daughter back as well. She means everything to me. Tail and all.”

Looking at the thing, she twitched the end. “You don’t think it makes me look ugly?”

Turning her head with a finger to look at him, he shook his head, peering into her eyes. “You’re my only daughter. I don’t care what you look like, only what you are. Which, aside from terrifying, or horrifying, or indescribable, or just scary, is Taylor.”

“Thanks, Dad,” she replied in a small voice after some time, leaning against him.

“Your friend the Varga saved both of us,” he added after a moment. “Thank you for that as well, whatever the hell you really are.”

“He says you’re welcome and also a good man who makes his enemies flee in terror before him, as a warrior should,” she reported with a grin a moment later. He snickered.

“I think that’s a good thing.”

“Oh, it is, yes.”

Falling into a pleasant silence, they sat beside each other for a while.

“I miss Mom,” she finally said.

“I know, dear, so do I.”

“Would she like my tail?”

“Of course she would. She’d probably want you to put a bow on the end on holidays, though.”

Giggling, Taylor looked very amused. “I can do that.”

“Don’t feel pressured,” he grinned.

“The funny thing is, now, that I wouldn’t care if anyone saw it, except for two things,” she continued thoughtfully, still inspecting her tail as if she’d never seen it before. Reaching out she ran her hand down it a few times. “One is that I’d never get any peace at home. I like being Saurial, she has confidence and people respect her. Or run away. Which is sort of funny. But I also like being Taylor, and I don’t know if that could continue if everyone saw this thing.”

“It might,” he mused out loud. “Stranger things walk the streets.”

“Yes, most of them are me,” she giggled, making him grin again.

“I suppose that’s true. Or ply the ocean waves, terrifying fishermen.”

“Hey, he didn’t even see me,” she protested, smiling.

Danny shrugged, not replying for a moment. “What’s the other thing?”

“I’m absolutely terrified what would happen to you,” she said in a low voice. “Just by existing I’ll make enemies. When people find out what I’m really capable of, they’re going to go nuts. I'm scared to really push my limits because of that. I couldn’t handle it if anything happened to you because of me. Mom was bad enough.”

Holding her tighter, he shook his head. “That wasn’t your fault. It was an accident.”

“But what if someone tried something? Sure, I’d kill them and make sure no one ever forgot why, but it wouldn’t bring you back. I’m not going to let that happen.” She glared unseeingly at the coffee table as if she wanted to stab it, the last six inches of her tail lashing back and forth. He was amused by how like a cat’s tail it was sometimes at showing her mood, at the same time he was worried about the direction the conversation had taken. Grabbing it he held it still, making her jump.

“I’ll be fine, Taylor. Even so, I won’t last forever. No one does.” She was young to be pondering mortality, but sooner or later everyone had these thoughts. He remembered well the time in his youth, somewhat older than her, when he’d realized consciously for the first time that one day his mother and father would both be gone. Sixteen years after that had eventually happened due to cancer in one case and a heart attack in the other, it was still an ache in his soul that would never entirely heal.

“I know, I guess,” she sighed sadly. “But I don’t like to think about that and I don’t want it to be because of me.”

Gently stroking her tail, he calmed her. “We have to accept what comes, sooner or later, dear. Remember the old prayer. ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ They were both silent for a while, reflecting on the words. “Good advice, I think, even for the non-religious. You have many more options for the middle part than most people. You need to work on the other two parts.”

Patting her head, he lifted her tail out of the way and stood up. “I have no plans to go anywhere for some considerable time, dear, don’t worry. I’m not even forty-five yet. And if anything does happen, I know who to call for backup.” Smiling gently at her, he watched her nod. “I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too long, you need your sleep.”

“OK, Dad,” she replied, staring at the photo of the three of them in happier times which was sitting on the windowsill where she’d put it after digging it out of the attic a week earlier. He turned to leave.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said quietly.

“You’re more than welcome, dear. Trust me.”

With that he headed upstairs, smiling to himself, remarkably at peace with the world.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"He is in many ways a wise man, your father, Brain. We will protect him, trust me." The Varga spoke quietly, some minutes after her father had left the room.

'I do,' Taylor sighed, then headed up to bed herself, hearing her father breathing slowly and steadily in his room. 'There are only two people I really trust and I'll take advice from both of them any time. Thanks for all the help.'

"Thanks are unnecessary, Brain," the Varga rumbled contentedly as she got into bed. "Appreciated, of course, but unnecessary. I am merely doing what I do. The fact that I enjoy it so much is a bonus. You are a very good Brain and a lot of fun."

At the back of her mind she got the impression of a vast reptilian smile, echoed it with her own far smaller one, then fell asleep.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stretching all five limbs as hard as she could, Taylor yawned, licked her lips sleepily, then climbed out of bed. Walking to the window, she peered out, seeing it was the beginnings of what looked like a very nice late winter day, the sun rising over the bay into a clear sky with no clouds. She could just make out the glint of light on waves through some gaps in the houses if she positioned herself correctly, the sea three or so miles away looking calm.

Wondering if she should go for another swim, she headed for the shower, her head slowly clearing of sleep. Not really paying any attention to the way her clothes vanished as she stepped into the cubicle, so used to it as she now was, she turned the water on. She didn’t bother with fiddling with the temperature, whatever came out of the showerhead was fine these days, which was actually pretty convenient. It made showering a lot faster than waiting for the old boiler to decide that yes, it really was expected to provide hot water yet again. Some days it took quite a lot of convincing.

Deciding that was one of the upgrades that was required to the house, she soaped herself including her tail, running her hands down the scaly muscular thing leaving foam behind, then scrubbed. Over the sound of the shower she could hear her father moving around downstairs, the CD he’d bought a while ago playing again softly in the living room. They’d both decided for different reasons it was one of their favorite arrangements of music, her father because of the memories it brought back and she due to the effect it had on him.

Rinsing off she hopped out, toweled off, then brushed her teeth and hair. Walking to the door, clothing formed again, without any fuss. Soon she was entering the kitchen, smiling.

“You’re in a good mood today,” Danny noted, glancing at her, then going back to mixing pancake batter.

“I am,” she nodded happily. “I feel a lot better than I did last night. Thanks for the talk. It just sort of hit me, and I didn’t know how to handle it.”

“I’m glad I helped,” he replied, turning the stove on. “I had a very similar conversation with my own mother after Dad died years back. It was quite sudden, although we had some warning at least. Admittedly there were less demons involved but it wasn’t entirely different as far as the feelings went.” He looked at her again, smiling. “Life goes on.”

“Apparently,” she laughed.

“What are you planning to do today?” he asked, as he poured the first dollop of batter into the oiled, hot pan.

“I’m not sure, actually,” she replied consideringly. “I could go out and find some more idiots with guns, we seem to have a lot of them, but...” She shrugged. “They’re not much of a challenge.”

“Based on that horrifying video you showed me last night when you came home, I can see why not,” he chuckled. “I never thought I’d feel sorry for a Nazi.”

“He was a gun-happy racist,” Taylor protested mildly. “Who’d just wrecked a store by driving a huge truck into it. I’ll bet the owners of that place would have laughed like lunatics to see him in that state.”

“Probably,” he admitted, flipping another pancake onto a pile of them on a plate. “I have to say it was better than most of what Über and Leet manage to do. It looked remarkably like a somewhat excessive video game.”

Giggling, she accepted the first plate of pancakes, putting some lemon juice and maple syrup on it along with some butter, then diving hungrily in. Through a mouthful of sweet pancake, she commented, “Maybe I should see if they want a big lizard in one of their productions,” then licked syrup off her lips. A dribble ran down her chin, so she lengthened her tongue into a forked reptilian one and chased it. Danny stared, his spatula in a raised hand, then shook his head wordlessly and went back to making his own breakfast.

“You probably shouldn’t get involved in criminal enterprises, dear,” he smiled. “Even Über and Leet. They’re decent men for criminals, but they’re still technically criminals.”

Surprised, she stared at him. “Do you know them?”

Glancing back he smirked a little. “We’ve met, yes. Maybe two years ago. We had a merchant problem and hired them to deal with it. None of the heroes were interested. To be honest, they actually did a pretty good job, scared the junkies off without causing too much damage and didn’t charge too much for it. Pity they didn’t go into the security business rather than the video-game themed villainy business, but there you go.”

Bringing his own pancakes to the table having turned off the stove, he sat and poured himself some apple juice from the pitcher on the table, topping up her glass at the same time.

She kept looking at him for a moment, then shook her head and went back to eating. “I thought I knew what you got up to at that dockworker place but obviously I was wrong,” she grinned.

He shrugged. “Needs must, dear. We’ve learned to be fairly pragmatic, it’s the only way to make ends meet sometimes.” They ate in silence for a while, then he spoke again.

“I’ve made a list of people with whom I’m going to raise, carefully, the idea you had. A few people at the yard, a lawyer I know who’s an expert on marine salvage, a couple of engineers, and the Mayor.”

“The Mayor?” she asked, a little surprised.

He nodded. “Mayor Christner is actually a fairly sensible person, considering he’s a politician. By and large I think he wants to do the right thing. Money is tight, so it’s always difficult to persuade him to do anything at all that will cost, but in this case, the benefits probably hugely outweigh the downsides. He’ll most likely go for it with a bit of persuasion and some sort of explanation that sounds… at least plausible. I think the complete truth is probably a little much at this point though.”

Taylor listened, nodding to herself. It sounded like he know what to do, and she trusted him. “OK. If you need anything from me just let me know and I’ll do it.”

“Thank you, Taylor. It will take some time in all likelihood so don’t get impatient, but I think it stands a chance of working out.”

“What about the ferry?” she asked curiously. He put his fork down and took another sip before replying, looking thoughtfully at her.

“If the salvage operation can actually work, that would not only clear the ground for reopening the ferry, but probably provide the money to actually do it. That’s one of the things I want to talk to him about. I’ll call his office tomorrow and see if I can arrange a meeting soon.”

“OK. That sounds great.”

“Are you prepared for Arcadia tomorrow?”

She nodded. “I’ve got fresh pens, pencils, notebooks, and erasers. Also my calculator assuming I’m allowed to use it. I think they’ll have a list of textbooks I need as well, I know they have a small shop you can buy them from although Mandy said they give you most of the ones you need.”

“All right. That sounds like you have things in hand. Very good.”

Since by this point they’d both finished, she took his plate and hers to the sink, then got everything else, quickly starting to wash it since it was her turn. “Do you think anyone would mind if I went down to the dockyards today to practice sword work?” she asked suddenly. He looked over at her from the notebook he was looking through, as she glanced over her shoulder, a surprised expression on his face.

“I… don’t think that would be a problem. There’s no one there today. What sort of thing did you have in mind?”

“I was going to have Varga make some dummies that I could attack, but I need space for it. If I go and find a place in the main dock area I’m pretty sure some twit will wander along and get in the way, the place is crawling with merchants and sometimes either the ABB or E88. They’d just be a nuisance. I thought that inside the DWU fence would be better.”

He was nodding thoughtfully. “If anyone did ask, I could say I’d called the head of the DWU and asked permission, because he’s a nice man or so I’ve heard on the street.” She grinned at him.

Laughing a little, he replied, “I’m not actually the head of the DWU, Taylor. Michael is.”

“No one ever sees him, you said. I know that all the people there think you’re the guy to go to. Saurial is just a sensible cape who asked permission to use a large empty area and found out the person to ask.”

“She does seem to have a reputation for sanity unusual in capes, from what I hear,” he snickered. “Most of them seem to wander around just doing whatever the hell they feel like.”

“Most capes are nuts,” she sighed. “Even the nice ones.”

“You may be right, dear. OK, you can use the yard, I’ll write you a letter of permission. If anyone asks you called me at home. In fact, actually call here with your burner phone from somewhere else to make the records match. Hopefully that will keep people happy and in the dark.”

“Best place,” she quipped with a smirk.

Finishing with the dishes, Taylor put everything on the rack to dry for the moment, then turned around and leaned on the sink, watching him. After a moment, she slowly said, with some worry about the reaction, “Dad? Can I tell you something? But I need you to promise you won’t get mad first.”

Once again, he looked up from his notes, taking in her expression. “Is it bad?”

“It’s… not good.”

“Is it your fault?”

“No. At least...” She thought, then shook her head. “No, it’s not.”

“Hmm.” Staring at her he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Is it a one coffee or two coffee problem?”

“Probably three?” She smiled as he sighed.

“OK. Let me put the kettle on, and I’ll meet you in the living room.”

“Promise you won’t get mad?”

“I promise I’ll try not to. That’s the best I can do until I hear it.”

After a moment, she sighed and nodded a little. “That will do.”

Shortly they were sitting in their places in the living room. Taylor had her laptop with her, which she put on the coffee table.

“I think I’ve worked out something… worrying,” she said a little haltingly, still not sure this was a good idea. She and the Varga had talked it out extensively and they were both more or less certain she was right, but neither of them was entirely sure about the wisdom of telling her father. The Varga was actually more in favor of it than she was, having formed a high opinion of him over the last month. She was just nervous, and didn’t want to upset him, but accepted that the demon had a point. Neither did she want to keep secrets from him any more, that had nearly been a disaster the last time for both of them.

Taking a drink of coffee, then another one to be safe, he put the cup down and waited.

She swallowed hard. Maybe it was best just to say it.

“I think Sophia Hess is a Ward.”

No. No, that wasn't the best way, it turned out.

Taylor watched in some alarm the odd color sequence her father's face followed, ending up a faint puce shade before it faded to a more normal appearance.

“A Ward.” His voice was completely expressionless, unlike his expression.

She nodded.

“Sophia Hess.”

She nodded again.

“Your little friend. The extremely aggressive one who locked you in your locker for over half a day with enough hazardous waste to choke Behemoth. That Sophia Hess.”

She nodded again.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

“I see. Do you have any proof?” He was breathing slowly and steadily through his nose with a faint whistling sound, making her wince. She could see the veins pulsing under his skin in thermal vision and normal, while there was a scent that she noted down as 'Extremely angry Danny Hebert' filling the room.

“Proof, no. A lot of pretty solid circumstantial evidence, yes, I think so.”

“I see,” he said again, his voice tight. She was wondering if she could get a do-over and try again, break it to him more slowly.

Eventually her father slowly and with obvious, enormous, deliberate effort somehow forced himself to relax, which greatly impressed her. Even the Varga, who had been watching with interest and concern, murmured a few words noting the same thing.

“All right. I can't say I'm particularly happy about that, but… all right. Show me what you have.”

He took a couple of deep breaths, then leaned forward, looking at the laptop she opened and swiveled around on the table to face him. “OK. Thanks for not running out to scream at the PRT, by the way,” she smiled.

“I'm not ruling it out just yet,” he replied with a frown, staring at the screen.

She nodded a little. “This is a picture of the six current wards from off the PRT website,” she explained after a moment, tapping the space bar to zoom it to full screen. He leaned closer, inspecting it. Reaching over the screen from behind, leaning sideways a little to see it, she tapped each figure with her finger in turn. “Gallant. Aegis, the leader at the moment. Clockblocker. Kid Win. Shadow Stalker. And at the end, Vista.”

He nodded thoughtfully.

“I've met all of them but Aegis and Shadow Stalker so far. Gallant and Vista last week on my first night out, Kid Win and Clockblocker last night.”

Once again he nodded, smiling momentarily as she mentioned the latter two, having laughed until he cried at her footage of the time stopping cape nearly jumping off the roof in shock.

“You remember how good my senses are now? In human form they're nowhere near as good as even the Saurial form, the combat one is better, and apparently the full Varga one is best of all, but even now I can see, hear, and smell wildly better than a normal person can. If I change my eyes I can do much better than that, even.” She looked at him with orange-yellow reptilian eyes, which he simply looked at, showing no surprise.

“I understand. It's very impressive, dear. Go on.”

“OK.” She looked at the picture on the laptop again for a second or two. “I can easily recognize people by scent. I only need to meet them once, then I can pick them out again with no problem, even a long way away if they're upwind. Saurial or the combat form could track someone across the city better than a bloodhound. That's point one.”

He responded with a thoughtful look and a nod.

“It's public knowledge that at least some of the Wards attend Arcadia,” she added slowly. His eyes widened, narrowed, then widened again.

“Ah.”

“Exactly. I met three of them there definitely, and I'm pretty sure of a fourth one.” She sighed a little. “You remember what I told you about what they call the Unwritten Rules?”

Smiling for a moment, he replied, “Rules of engagement for capes, basically. On the face of it not a terrible idea.”

“Yep. Most of them, I think, take them pretty seriously. It's a big deal to out a cape. I'm not going to say anything about who they are to anyone, even you, because...” She shrugged a little. “Well, because I really don't want anyone doing the same thing to me and they deserve the same respect.”

“All right, I understand and approve. I won't ask. Go on.” He leaned back in his chair, tapping one finger on the chair arm, listening intently, now seeming more curious than furious.

“When I met Gallant and Vista, I didn't know who they were, but I noticed a really faint and not totally fresh, but not old either, smell on both of them that was vaguely familiar. It took a while to place it, because it was so faint and also because it was so unexpected. When I did work it out I got really, really angry for a moment, but I managed to push that down so I didn't do or say anything stupid. Like you just did.”

“Sophia,” he said. She nodded, scowling.

“Yes. The scent was so faint it's probably something that's been transferred from something that she touched, or sat on, that they then did the same thing to. It could have been a coincidence, of course. Maybe they sat next to her on a bus, or in the same chair at the library...” She shrugged. “Lots of possible sources. It worried me a little and the reminder of that bitch was a shock, but it could easily have been a coincidence.”

“I assume that Clockblocker and Kid Win share that scent, from your expression, though,” he slowly said, the tapping finger slowing down.

Taylor nodded again, with a small sigh. “Yes. Exactly the same thing, and it's fresher than Gallant and Vista. It isn't that all four of them bumped into her on the street at the same time, there are at least two encounters a week apart. Which seems unlikely unless they know her somehow. One I could believe was a complete coincidence, two would be a stretch, but four?”

“It doesn't seem likely, dear, no,” he agreed, staring at the screen.

“I'm almost certain that the fourth one I met at Arcadia is Aegis, I think I could smell traces of him on Clockblocker and Kid Win, but I'm not sure yet. But I'm pretty sure that when I see him again, he's going to smell like Sophia as well.”

She sighed a little. “Add to that the fact that Clockblocker told me Shadow Stalker is currently unavailable, as he put it, and when I looked it up on PHO last night, no one has reported seeing her since about a week after you went to Winslow...” She spread her hands widely, the end of her tail flicking irritably. “I know it's nothing that would stand up in court, and I'm not sure myself, but I can't see a huge hole in the logic. I think Sophia Hess is Shadow Stalker and that she's… what's the word… confined to quarters, somewhere that the rest of the Wards go regularly. Probably the Rig, I'd guess.”

Danny was silent, studying her with a look of slightly absent calculation.

“And look at this.” She pointed at the picture again. “Six teenagers, but only two are female. Vista is blonde and much too short to be Sophia, not to mention probably about two or three years too young. The only one left is Shadow Stalker. She's the right height, right build, right age… You can't see her skin or hair color in her costume and no one seems to know if she's white, black, green even. But she's got a reputation as being arrogant, cocky, aggressive, pushy… Does that remind you of anyone?”

“It does,” he noted, grinding his teeth together.

“I found a video clip of her stomping towards some poor guy she'd pinned to the wall with a crossbow bolt through his clothing, and...” Quickly bringing up the clip in question, she played it, Danny leaning forward again to watch. “…That walk is just like the one I remember. Like on the recording we made,” she continued. “Again, not proof, but it's another point in favor of my theory.”

Danny took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, swearing under his breath. “It fits, unfortunately. I agree, you don't have any real proof, but I believe what you can do and it seems a reasonable interpretation of your evidence.” He sighed angrily, then put his glasses back on and inspected her.

“What do you want to do about it?”

“Nothing.”

He seemed somewhat startled.

“Nothing?”

“There's nothing I can do about it, without revealing that not only do I know who Sophia is, but I probably also know who all the Wards are, and could easily work out who any cape I meet is in real life.” Taylor sighed, rubbing her own eyes for a moment. “That wouldn't go down very well. It's another potential reason for the PRT to get all flustered about me. They'll probably work it out sooner or later anyway but hopefully by the time they do they'll know me well enough to realize I'm not a threat.”

She smirked a little for a moment, showing very pointy teeth in a display that shouldn't fit in a human mouth. “Unless they make me one, of course.”

Danny grinned, his teeth nowhere near as sharp, but the feeling much the same.

“That's a mature attitude, Taylor, and I'm proud. Just a little surprised. I have to admit, at your age if I'd gone through what you did then found all this out I think I might have reacted, well, 'badly' is a mild word. Even today I'd probably do something I might regret later. I'm still tempted, to be honest.”

Taylor closed the lid of the laptop, then leaned back on the sofa. “I nearly did. I could so easily have ended up hating them all for it. But it's like you said last night, basically I need to pick battles I can win.” She smirked again. “That's probably a lot of them, actually, but you get the idea. There's no reason right now to go and pick the Rig up and drop-kick it into the Atlantic.”

He laughed, shaking his head. “I wonder how far it would go?”

“Pretty far.”

Sharing an amused look, they fell silent for a little while. “Of course, if they let her go without punishing her, and she comes after me, I'm going to hurt her. A lot.” Taylor looked reflectively out the window while Danny watched. “If she goes after you, I'll kill her. Eventually.”

She turned to him with a small vicious smile. “Varga has all sorts of ideas about that.”

Shuddering a little despite himself, Danny moved to sit beside her as was becoming a habit, so she could lean on him. “I mean it, Dad. If she hurts you, she dies. No one will ever find the body.”

“Hopefully it will never come to that, dear,” he told her, impressed, very slightly amused, and believing every word.

A few minutes passed, then she stirred. “There's one other thing.”

“Oh, god,” he sighed. “Why am I not surprised?”

“You know me, Dad,” she grinned. The grin slipped after a second or two. “I know who Gallant is. The problem is, he knows who I am too. Or rather, who Saurial is. I don't know if he knows about Taylor.”

“How the hell did that happen?” Danny asked after a moment.

She sighed minutely, shrugging. “He can apparently read emotional output, an empathic sense. I think either mine is distinctive enough to remember, or it's like scents with me, he can just track them individually. Probably that, in fact. Anyway, as I was walking past, I smelled someone I knew, looked over, and he was staring at me like he'd seen a ghost. He actually paled. I sort of glared at him for a second then kept walking. But he knows, and I know, and he knows I know.”

“Do you think he'll tell anyone?”

She shook her head. “Probably not. He looked really shocked and uncertain, but everyone says he's a stand-up guy. I think the Rules will keep him honest. If they don't, I can have a word with him.” She reached out with a hand that changed to a large taloned scaly thing and slowly mimed wrapping it around someone's neck, making Danny stare, then wince. “He'd listen, I'm sure.”

“I suspect he would, dear. You're very persuasive.”

“Thanks,” she giggled, reverting the hand to normal.

“I wonder if the other Wards know what she did?” he commented after a moment, making her look up at him. “It's not impossible that they weren't let in on the whole thing. I'm sure that Director Piggot is aware, it's her job to know things like that, and other people in the PRT must be in on it, there's no way Blackwell could have kept a secret however much she'd have liked to.” He grinned for a moment. “I suspect she got a good ass-kicking about it if you're right about Sophia.”

“Good,” Taylor laughed. “She deserves it. Maybe it will make her do her damn job.”

“Probably not, to be honest, that woman is… not very effective,” he sighed.

“I don't know about the other Wards,” Taylor mused, answering his original question. “I'd like to think that they'd not like Sophia. She's a horrible person in almost every way I can think of, but so far the ones I've met, I like. Clockblocker has a good sense of humor, Kid Win seems interesting, Vista is fun, and even Gallant seems to live up to his name. It will be interesting to meet Aegis.”

“I assume you'll eventually meet all the Protectorate capes in the Bay as well, if you keep running around terrifying poor criminals and scaring them straight,” he chuckled. She looked thoughtfully at him.

“I wonder if that works?” she asked.

“Assuming you don't give them coronaries in the process,” he added.

“I can hear their heartbeats, I'll keep it light.”

“Light horror?”

“Yep.”

“OK, then.” Shaking his head in amusement, he reached for his coffee, to find it was cold. “Damn. That was only a half cup problem. You overestimated it again.”

Standing, he headed back into the kitchen to make some fresh coffee, while she fondly watched him go, then went back to looking out the window and thinking.

Chapter Text

(Omake by YuffieK on Spacebattles)

<< 02/01/2011 - 03:14:59 >>

<< PRT Internal Threat Assessment Report - Security Level 4 access required >>

Protectorate ENE - Brockton Bay, New Hampshire
Reporting Officer - Lt Cmdr. Hannah Roberts / Miss Militia
Subject - Independent Hero Codename: Saurial

Appearance - Saurial resembles a teenaged female Human/Velociraptor hybrid: 6'5" tall, weighing approximately 175 pounds, with blue scales, a flexible tail and a crest of dark blue-black hair-feathers. Her costume is a dark blue Classical/Fantasy style armored cuirass and skirt with gold trim, composed of an unknown metal (see Shaker abilities).

Brute 6:
Saurial stated she is capable of deadlifting over 5000 pounds. She has also been unaffected by handgun and light machinegun fire at pointblank range.

Shaker 4: Saurial has displayed a matter-generation power, which includes the creation of a hyperdense refractory metal designated 'SaurialSteel'. This metal has proven indestructible to conventional damage. Saurial's armor is presumably made of this material and she has been observed creating various simple weapons (swords, warhammers, bats) and bindings of it. Extensive testing of the metal proved impossible as it vanished without any trace after a short period.

Armsmaster has stated that should any Heroes encounter Saurial, they politely request to obtain a sample of this metal for further testing and possible anti-Endbringer applications.

Mover 3: Saurial has been recorded running at speeds in excess of 50 mph, and is capable of climbing walls and ceilings with little effort.

Thinker 3: Saurial possesses highly enhanced vision and is able to function normally in near-total darkness. Despite the sunglasses she wears, she has stated she is not hypersensitive to light, but wears them to conceal her very distinctive glowing orange eyes. It is suspected her other senses are similarly augmented.

Changer 6+?:
It is unconfirmed that Saurial's powers are in fact the result of a Changer form, as she has declined formal power testing on two occasions.

Profile: Saurial has shown herself to be rather gregarious, even playful at times while on patrol, establishing a rapport with both law enforcement officers and the Wards she has encountered. Despite this, she is ruthlessly efficient at dealing with criminals. She is an expert in close-quarters combat, using an unknown martial arts style similar to Krav Maga, and she has stated this expertise extends to weapons she may create. She is also very talented at psychological warfare as this video demonstrates. This seems indicative of several years of experience, despite her apparent age.

One final note, while she does not seem to have an 'us vs. them' mentality. Saurial has stated that she would respond to threats against her family and friends with extreme prejudice. In light of this, it is my recommendation that she be allowed to consider Wards membership on her own terms, rather than attempting aggressive recruitment tactics.

<< END REPORT >>

Chapter Text

Looking around, Taylor smiled a toothy smile. The area was perfect for training, a large open concrete area some three hundred yards square next to the bay, several warehouses to the right side, more behind, and a long fifteen foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire around the two other sides. The main Dockworker's Union headquarters was in another part of the site, some distance from her, separated by another row of smaller warehouses, the entire area ultimately enclosed by the fence except for a few buildings on the waterfront, including the one she and her father had experimented in.

Without swimming some distance and climbing over extremely jagged and dangerous old concrete pilings festooned with barnacles and rusting pointy bits of old ironworks, there was no real way into the zone from the water. One long wharf protruded two hundred yards out into the deeper channel some way from shore, but the near end of it was closed off with very heavy gates. Overall it was fairly secure from casual passers-by who couldn't either fly, jump or climb over the fence, or simply rip it down. That did admittedly include a lot of capes but there wasn't much here for most of them with the ability to get in easily.

The security was mainly aimed at preventing casual theft, vandalism, and junkies looking for somewhere to shoot up, which according to her father it did fairly well. Someone managed to get in every now and then but they could normally be persuaded to go away again by a few burly stevedores with crowbars. Or one Zephron, who had a massive quality that made people turn around and walk the other way. Even most E88 members.

Excellent, Brain,” the Varga commented, viewing the area with her as she turned on the spot in the middle of the empty zone. “This will do nicely. You should call your father to let him know, and to produce the phone record he mentioned.

'Good idea,' she smiled, pulling out the burner phone and dialing her home number. When it was answered, her father's voice coming to her ear, she said, “I got here, it's great. Thanks. I'll make sure I clean up afterwards.”

OK, dear. How did you get in, by the way?

I jumped over the fence, it's only about fifteen feet high. No problem.” She grinned at his faint exclamation of amusement.

Most people seem to find it sufficient,” he chuckled. “Enjoy yourself and I'll see you at home for dinner. Around six?

Sure, that sounds good. See you later.”

Flipping the phone shut she put it back in her pouch then looked around again, before rubbing her hands together, the scales making a dry rasping sound. “Where to begin?”

You need practice using two swords, I think. It's considerably more difficult than one, but can be very useful under the right circumstances. Once you are proficient with two blades, we can switch to batons and make the strikes less lethal.

'Sounds like a plan,' she agreed happily. The next ten minutes were occupied by wandering around and allowing the Varga to create practice dummies, mostly out of something like wood, a few out of steel for taking heavier strikes, and a few more out of stone for the same reason and because she was curious to see what happened. By the time they finished there were about forty of them dotted about the place, alone or in little clumps representing a gang group.

“OK,” she muttered, letting the Varga manifest a three foot blade more like a saber than the sword she normally used in each hand and crouching down a little, leaning forward at the ready. She spun the swords once, not really thinking about it, then charged. Splinters flew as she dived into the middle of the first group of poor innocent dummies who had no idea what was heading at them, a grin stretched across her muzzle.

Mowing her way through them in seconds, she kept going, heading for the furthest group and taking long bounds that cleared the distance in seconds. Again, there was a cloud of wood and splinters, before she was heading for a lone stone warrior, laughing to herself.

“This is fun,” she giggled, removing the head with a backswing, then spinning around in a low twirl using the inertia of her tail to control the spin, chopping the poor bastard off at the ankles.

The Varga was making approving sounds in her head as she massacred her army, then went around remaking them to try it again.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Hello, Sarah.” Carol stepped aside and let her sister in, her niece following her mother into the Dallon house. “And Crystal. What brings you here?”

“We were thinking of going out later for a meal and wanted to know if you guys wanted to come, so we thought we'd walk over and ask since it's a really nice day for the time of year,” Crystal Pelham smiled as she took her coat off and hung it up. “Are Vicky and Amy here?”

“Amy's reading in her room, and Victoria is in the dining room,” Carol replied, glancing at her sister, who was smiling at the way her own daughter hadn't let her answer or indeed get a word in yet.

“Thanks, Aunt Carol,” the young woman replied, moving off towards the dining room, already talking to her cousin before she walked through the door. Carol watched, then turned to her sister.

“She's in a good mood.”

“She got very good marks on a test and it seems to have made her feel extremely pleased,” Sarah chuckled, briefly hugging her sister. “How are you, Carol, I haven't seen you for over a week”

“I'm fine, thanks, Sarah,” Carol replied as she went back into the living room, her sister following, then sat down. Sarah sat opposite her in another chair. “Although I've been trying to work out how to make a somewhat… awkward… phone call.”

Sarah appeared a little confused. “Awkward? Who are you calling?”

“Have you heard of a new cape called Saurial?”

Her sister nodded thoughtfully. “I have. There was some amusing video footage on PHO last night posted by Kid Win of a very impressive looking and to be honest, frankly scary cape by that name pulling an extremely funny practical joke on Clockblocker. It was hysterical, the poor boy looked like he nearly had a heart attack from the shock of it. Kid Win nearly laughed himself sick. There's a huge thread about it already, both Wards seem to find it very funny.”

She pulled out her phone and poked around on it for a moment, then turned it around so her sister could see the screen. Carol watched with impressed worry tempered with amusement. The Ward had seemed extremely surprised, while the reptilian cape was obviously enjoying herself, as was Kid Win. The Tinker had posted edited together footage from a camera he had which showed the girl sneak up on his totally oblivious partner, cut with the scene from her point of view, apparently taken with the camera she could see mounted on the girl's head. He'd set then entire thing to music, appropriately chosen to maximize tension, which worked somewhat horrifyingly well.

“That's… very impressive,” she finally said when the clip ended, smiling a little.

Sarah nodded, putting the phone away again. “She's been making a name for herself in the last week or so. Three outings as far as anyone knows, and she's so far managed to subdue and restrain eighteen E88 members, five ABB members, and six Merchants, with only two injuries, none serious. And recover a truly horrifying number of firearms. From what a couple of cops have posted, they're rather impressed and very pleased."

She grinned. “One called her terrifyingly cute and horrifyingly effective, or it might have been the other way around. He seemed to like her. But he also joked he didn't like going into dark places any more after seeing some footage she gave them. Like something out of a good horror movie, he said.”

“I see.” Carol was getting a little worried.

“She apparently records all her interactions with criminals with that camera she was wearing,” her sister went on. “Not a bad idea, actually, it's a good way to show what happened if anyone claims excessive force. The cops seem to approve of her methods so far and also seem surprisingly respectful. I've heard she seems to respect them right back which I imagine improves relations a lot. The one posting on PHO added she was very polite, with the implication he wished more capes would follow her example, but not actually saying it outright.”

Carol nodded, thinking. Hopefully the young woman would be reasonable. “So why are you trying to contact her?” Sarah asked curiously.

“Vicky had… a small disagreement with her downtown on Friday,” Carol sighed. “It didn't give a good impression.”

Raising an eyebrow, her sister mutely asked for details, so Carol obliged. Sarah winced. “Oh, dear. That's… not ideal, is it?”

“Not really. Having a recording of Glory Girl insulting, assaulting without provocation even in the fairly mild way she did, then threatening, a new cape, merely because she was in a foul mood and got carried away, released to the news would be more than a little damaging. I'm hoping desperately that we can persuade her to erase it.”

“You did WHAT?!” The cry of shock came from the dining room, making both sisters look that way, then at each other. Crystal's voice dropped, apparently having something of an argument with her cousin.

“I think Vicky just told her,” Sarah noted with a wry smile.

“It sounds like that.” Carol took her own phone out of her pocket and looked at it, as she'd been doing intermittently for nearly an hour, trying to work out the best approach.

“How did you get her number?” Sarah asked.

“A contact in the BBPD passed it on. Apparently she gave it to several officers over the last few days and it's in their system now.” Sighing, she selected the number, and hit dial, putting the phone on speaker then placing it on the small table between them. “Let's see what happens. I hope this works.”

The other end rang a few times, then was answered.

“Saurial's training ground, how may I direct your call?” a surprisingly chirpy sounding female voice with a hint of a somewhat odd hissing accent came from the speaker. There was a background sound of something that sounded like an ax hitting wood. The sisters looked at each other for a moment.

“Is this Saurial?” Carol asked a little tentatively.

“Yes, who's this, please?” The voice was still cheerful but seemed slightly more serious now. The rather odd background noises stopped.

“I'm Carol Dallon, or Brandish if you prefer. Glory Girl's mother? I was wondering if we could talk about the somewhat unfortunate incident a couple of days ago between you two.”

“Oh, right, I remember. Is she OK? She seemed kind of upset for some reason.” The reptilian cape sounded genuinely a little concerned, confusing Carol a bit.

“She's all right, thank you, although she's very upset about what she did. I was hoping that you might like to meet us and discuss it.”

“It's OK, but if you want, I can meet with you, yes,” the girl said thoughtfully. “I'm a little busy now but if you want to swing by the DWU compound down at the docks in about twenty minutes I'll be ready to take a break.”

Raising her eyebrows, Carol looked at her sister, who looked back, appearing slightly confused.

“If I may ask, what are you doing there on a Sunday afternoon?” she asked with sudden curiosity. Saurial laughed lightly.

“Just some training. I needed a large area I wouldn't be bothered in and asked around. This place is secure and empty on the weekend, and the guy who runs the place was OK with me using it as long as I didn't break anything. He's nice. Anyway, I'm practicing at the moment, but if you want to come down, I can make time. Or I could come over to your place later in the week if you want.”

“No, I think the sooner the better,” Carol replied after a moment's thought. “I'm happy to come to you. We'll be there within half an hour.”

“Great. OK, see you in a while.” The line went dead. Carol stared at her phone for a moment then raised her eyes to meet her sisters'.

“She sounds… happy,” Sarah finally said.

“Almost too happy,” Carol noted, frowning a little. “Although that may help.” They both looked up as Vicky, looking somewhat irritated, and Crystal who was grinning, entered the room.

“Mom, did you hear what Vicky did?” Crystal seemed amused and appalled in equal measure.

“I'm afraid so, Crystal. Vicky, that wasn't really a good idea.”

“I know,” the blonde sighed, shaking her head. “So everyone keeps saying.”

“You'll be pleased to know I've spoken to Saurial and she's willing to meet us to let you apologize. Hopefully we can ask her to erase that recording at the same time. We're meeting her down at the docks in the DWU facility.”

The teenager didn't look as pleased as her mother might have wished. But she nodded.

“What's she doing there?” Crystal asked.

“Training, apparently. She seems to have managed to get permission to use the space there for some exercises.” Sarah looked interested in the fact. “I have to say that's a novel approach to it. Just asking. Surprisingly few capes do that. Surprisingly few people in general do that, actually.”

“Can we come and watch Vicky grovel?” Crystal grinned. Her cousin gave her a dark look. “I've seen photos of Saurial on PHO. I'd like to meet her, she looks interesting in a sort of scary way.”

Sighing a little, Carol shrugged. “I suppose I can't easily stop you,” she remarked, making the girl smirk. “All right. Everybody who's coming, get into costume, we may as well make it official. Victoria, you will go in first, be very polite, apologize, mean it, then call us in so we can ask if we can talk about the recording. In that order.”

“Yes, Mom,” the young woman sighed, on her way to get her costume on. Crystal went with her, needling her about her poor people skills, which made Sarah snicker.

“She's more than a little embarrassed about all this, isn't she?”

“As she should be,” Carol growled, heading upstairs herself.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Fuck me sideways.” Glory Girl stared, appalled, as the four women stood on the roof of a warehouse overlooking the DWU facility below them, watching a six foot plus humanoid lizard woman absolutely wreck a couple of dozen dummies scattered around a few hundred yards of concrete, wielding a pair of huge war hammers, which she was swinging one handed with no apparent effort. Several of the dummies were made of stone, shattering into powder with one hit, while at least one was apparently solid steel, folding in half and being launched into the air and completely over the perimeter fence into the bay with the next hit.

Saurial didn't even slow down, pivoting on her tail and racing off at ninety degrees to her former path, moving at what must have been fifty or sixty miles an hour, only to make one hammer vanish somehow, hold the other one with both hands, then slam it vertically downwards onto another steel statue which instantly crumpled like an empty beer can under a foot. The only reason it didn't vanish into the concrete was that each figure was standing on a yard square plate of dull gray metal which seemed to be strong enough to take the abuse.

When she swapped the hammer for a sword as long as she was tall and started mowing the remaining dummies down like a particularly enthusiastic mulching machine on two legs, the blonde heroine had to sit down for a moment, just staring.

She was extremely strong herself and her force field was impenetrable to anything anyone had ever been able to work out, but that only applied to the first hit. A strong enough blow would make it reset, which took a couple of seconds. From what she could see, Saurial could probably hit her at least half a dozen times in that period, any one of the blows capable of shredding reinforced concrete with ease. She felt faint.

“I think you should pick the people you insult a little more carefully next time, Cuz,” Laserdream said slowly, watching with enormous eyes. She nodded, not able to speak.

Finishing with the last dummy, the lizard girl twirled her sword dramatically around her body in a sort of complex salute to the fallen, bowed to the debris, then made the sword disappear. She turned around. “Hey, you guys coming down, or do you want me to come up?” she called loudly.

She'd apparently heard them, which was impressive. And worrying, they were two hundred yards away and talking quietly.

Brandish nudged her daughter in the ribs. “Go down there,” she hissed.

“OK, Mom, I'm going,” Glory Girl said reluctantly, lifting off and floating towards the reptile woman who calmly watched her approach. Settling to the ground six feet away, the heroine looked at the other cape, who looked back, the sunglasses she was wearing glinting in the clear afternoon light as she cocked her head a little to the side, seeming curious.

“I'm really sorry about what I said, the way I said it, and how I insulted you and threatened you the other day, Saurial,” Glory Girl finally managed to say. “And for calling you an overgrown newt. There was no excuse for my behavior.” There was a long pause, then she added, “And I'm sorry about being rude about the police to you, I know you respect them.”

“Apology accepted,” the girl replied, making a small yet rather heavily toothed smile. Glory Girl managed to suppress her instinctive flinch, although the other cape apparently noticed. The smile widened slightly. “”We're good. You had a bad day, your mouth got away from you. It happens. No harm done.”

Sighing in relief, the blonde sagged a little. She looked up at her mother and waved.

Moments later Brandish, being carried by her sister, lifted off and headed for them, Laserdream flying beside them. All three women landed seconds later.

“Thank you for listening, Saurial,” Brandish said with a grateful look. “I'm very sorry about any distress that my daughter might have caused you.” She looked severely at Glory Girl, who lowered her eyes and poked the cracked concrete with her toe, feeling six years old again for a moment. Laserdream grinned at her from behind Lady Photon, making her feel worse.

Saurial laughed a little. “It's not a problem, honestly. Everyone has an off day every now and then. I've had lots of them. But I'm trying to reduce that, and not getting upset just because someone else is seems to be a big part of that.”

“A very good attitude to take, Saurial.” Brandish seemed pleased yet a little surprised.

There was a pause. “There's one other thing,” Glory Girl's mother began carefully. The reptilian girl cocked her head again, her body language a little odd but understandable, looking like a curious cat. “Did you by any chance record that interaction?” They could all see the small camera attached firmly to the side of her head like a limpet, the lens pointing at them.

Saurial snickered. “Yep. It was hilarious, actually. But don't worry, I erased it after I watched it again. I was trying to work out if it was something I did, but couldn't figure it out. There was no point holding onto it.”

Brandish let out a heartfelt sigh of relief at this, making Saurial laugh more openly. “Thank you. That would have been… more than slightly embarrassing, if it had become public.”

“I wouldn't do that to you guys without a much better reason than Glory Girl having a bit of a snit,” the cape grinned. All four New Wave members recoiled very slightly, which she didn't seem upset about.

A moment later, something hit the side of Saurial's head and bounced off. There was the distant report of a gunshot a second later. Glory Girl whipped around, scanning the horizon, letting out a yelp of shock, as did her family. She couldn't see anything, but someone had definitely fired a gun at the cape.

“He keeps doing that,” Saurial sighed, bending over and picking up a flattened copper-jacketed rifle bullet that looked like it had hit a steel plate. “I mean, full marks for accuracy, he's a good shot considering he's about two hundred and fifty yards away, but it's getting irritating.”

“You… keep getting shot?” Lady Photon asked very carefully as they all stared at the lizard girl who seemed remarkably unaffected by this. She nodded.

“Yep. Seven times in the last hour,” she smiled, turning and pointing. “Same guy. He's up there, second window from the left, top floor. A merchant, I think, based on the stink.” She sniffed the wind which was blowing from that direction as they exchanged glances. “Yes, definitely a merchant. That chemical smell and the vomit is sort of a giveaway.”

“And you don't mind?” Laserdream asked in a dreamlike tone like she couldn't believe the conversation.

“Of course I mind, it's very rude, but I've been busy and there's no one else around to get hurt.” Saurial shrugged. Another bullet whined past, going between the girl and the rest of them, then ricocheted off the concrete fifty yards away. Four of the five people present flinched violently while the fifth one looked to where the thing had gone, frowned, and said, “That's the first time he missed. Was he aiming at me or you guys?”

She turned and cupped her hands around her short muzzle, yelling, “Hey! You missed! Who were you shooting at?”

Glory Girl noticed that her three relatives had managed to maneuver so that she was between them and the shooter.

Yet another bullet smacked into the middle of the cape's chest, then dropped. “Oh. It was me again. I wonder how long he's going to keep doing this.” Saurial sounded mildly annoyed now. “Damn, I'd better go and get him, I don't want to leave him here. He might start shooting at the dock workers tomorrow. Hang on, I'll be back in a minute.”

Without waiting for a reply from any of them she sprinted towards the fence with appalling acceleration, her toe claws leaving gouges in the concrete, bounded over the fifteen foot fence with one leap, then made it to the brick warehouse and zipped straight up the outside of it with no more effort than she'd shown in running. Disappearing through the gaping empty window she'd pointed out she vanished from sight.

“Um...” Laserdream sounded stunned.

There was a distant scream.

“Please never insult this girl again, Vicky,” Brandish said in a slow, horrified voice. Glory Girl nodded dumbly as they all watched the girl reappear, a screaming man over her shoulder and a hunting rifle slung over the other one, slipping back down the building with her captive struggling frantically in her grip, using only three limbs and her tail to cling on. Reaching the ground she ran back, hurdled the fence, and dropped the now gibbering man to the ground with more care than they expected.

She unslung the weapon from her shoulder and examined it, found the safety, and prodded it to the safe setting, then stared at the thing for a moment. “Do any of you know how to unload this?” she asked curiously, holding it up. “I don't know a lot about guns.”

After a long pause, Brandish motioned for it, taking the weapon when it was handed to her, and removing the magazine. She worked the bolt to extract the last round, then handed it back, all without saying anything.

“Thanks,” Saurial smiled. Pulling out a phone she dialed. “Hi. This is Saurial. I caught a merchant who was shooting at me, I've got him and his gun down at the DWU facility. He's OK but he seems a little worked up, you may need to look at him. OK. Fifteen minutes? Yes, I'll still be here. Thanks very much, sir.” She hung up and put the phone away.

“Fucking hell,” Laserdream whispered.

“I'll just move him over there so he's not in the way,” Saurial stated, picking her prisoner up by the back of his coat and carrying him to the gate like a holdall. The man, whose hands were locked together by some manacles made of the same gray metal the training dummy stands were made from, whimpered a little but seemed to have stopped speaking in tongues.

“That was getting to be a pain,” she said as she came back. “Anyway, I need to get back to training. You can watch if you want.”

She turned around and walked a few yards away, a metal training dummy like the others, which they all suddenly noticed had quietly vanished during the gun interlude, forming out of nothing in front of her. Four pairs of eyes widened. She patted it on the head. “I think I'll call you Thag,” she smiled. Stepping back, she flexed her tail, the appendage sprouting four terrifyingly sharp blades, two on either side, on a fitting attached securely around the end. The whole thing was that same gray metal. Crouching in front of the newly christened 'Thag' she stared at it, then leaped, passing it on the right and whipping her tail around hard.

The steel parted like silk over a razor, the top half of the construct dropping to the ground with a clang. Before the echoes died she'd spun and whipped her tail across the legs at the knee from the other side, then straightened up, watching with satisfaction as the remaining piece toppled onto its side. “Hey, it worked. I was wondering if it would.” She looked very pleased.

Glory Girl opened her mouth, closed it, turned around, and lifted off.

“Bye! See you guys later, probably,” Saurial called cheerfully behind her. Shortly she was joined by her relatives, the small formation heading home, while behind them there were more clanging sounds. None of them turned to see what caused them.

Halfway home, Lady Photon said quietly, “Vicky, if you ever do anything that stupid again I'll kill you myself, got it?”

“Got it,” she told her aunt, shivering like she'd been dipped in ice water.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Point made, I think, Brain,” the Varga noted with amusement as they watched the quartet disappear past the buildings.

'I think so too,' Taylor snickered. Hearing distant sirens, she had the demon dissipate the remaining parts of training dummy and her tail-blades, walking over to the gate and hopping over it with her prisoner and his weapon as the police van came into view at the other end of the road. Soon she was heading home, pleased with the way the day had gone, and looking forward to showing her father the recordings.

Then an early night. Tomorrow was a school day, after all.

Chapter Text

Staring over the table at his daughter who was involved in cutting a piece of pork chop from the main part of her second one so far, Danny eventually shook his head in bemused wonder.

Why would you let someone shoot you in the head nine times with a hunting rifle even if you can take it, Taylor?” he finally asked with careful interest. “It seems… hmm, how do I put this without sounding rude… less than optimally sane.”

She put the piece of meat in her mouth and chewed, smiling a little at him, then took a drink of water.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time?” she ventured, experimentally.

Danny narrowed his eyes at her. He knew her too well. She looked a little guilty for a moment.

“Anyway, he missed once. And it was only in the head three times, it was in the chest or the back the other five. It stung a little when it missed my armor, but it wasn't much worse than those machine guns the first night I went out.”

He kept looking hard at her.

“For a smelly guy nearly as old as you are who was obviously on something he was actually a really good shot,” she kept going, glancing at him every now and then as she cut some more pork, apparently trying to judge how he was taking it.

“Old. I see. Thank you dear.” He smiled a little, but didn't look away. “Come on, out with it. I know you're both smart and careful and your ancient friend in there with you is all those plus incredibly experienced. There was a reason you didn't stop him earlier. You could have done that at any time over nearly an hour. Why didn't you?”

She chewed thoughtfully, regarding him with an expression he recognized as her talking things over with the Varga. Danny waited, while he resumed eating his own dinner.

Eventually she nodded slightly to herself. “Several reasons. One was because I really was curious to see how many times he could pull it off before he either gave up or missed. I could hear and smell him up there all along, he watched for about ten minutes before he took the first shot, which did actually take me by surprise. I thought he was probably just a merchant scout but I'm sure there's more to it, now.”

“OK. Somewhat worrying, but OK. Go on.” He added some peas to his plate from the bowl on the table, offering it to her, then putting it down when she shook her head.

“Another reason is that Brandish called just after he took his sixth shot and I had reasons for wanting her and Glory Girl to see it. I'll go into that in a moment. Lady Photon and Laserdream were a bonus.”

Danny felt a little startled, then sat back and thought. He was beginning to get a vague idea of where she was going with that comment, but waited.

“Yet another reason, and possibly the more important one, is that I wanted to see if the person who was watching with binoculars from another warehouse a little further away to the side would do anything interesting.”

She smirked as he coughed a bit, spraying peas across his plate, then stared.

“Someone was watching?”

“Yep. I'm pretty sure that it was whoever got that idiot to shoot at me in the first place.”

Clearing his throat, then drinking some more water to wash half-chewed peas and pork down, he inspected her. “I think you need to explain that, dear.”

“When I was exercising, I was keeping an eye out for anything odd, the whole time. To be honest I was more than half expecting some merchants or maybe ABB to turn up sooner or later, I wasn't being quiet and those guys are all over the whole dock area like cockroaches. But it was oddly deserted the whole time. The ABB I can understand, I saw on the news just now that big fight they had with the E88 near the boardwalk this afternoon which probably distracted them, but the merchants were a little strange. Every time I've been through there in the last week or so I've seen half a dozen or so junkies, who are obviously watching and reporting back if anything interesting happens. I think someone scared them off.”

“Which means… What?” Danny was worried and confused. He was aware of what she mentioned and she was right, there were almost always at least a couple of dirty and bedraggled homeless drug addicts hanging around the yard, although they seldom caused trouble these days. Über and Leet had left an impression, one that had been reinforced fairly vigorously on a couple of occasions since by some of the boys. They mostly seemed to give the entire facility a respectfully large clearance these days, but it was odd not to see at least one shambling past in the distance, a sign of the times.

“Varga thinks, and I think he's right, that someone was testing what I'd do in the face of provocation,” she said slowly, putting her fork down and leaning her chin on her hands, looking at him. “We think they found that guy and paid him to shoot at me, gave him the gun which looked brand new and shiny, scared off the other junkies to keep the rest of the merchants away, then watched from a safe distance to see what happened. I spotted the light reflecting from the lens while I was running around, but I didn't spend any time staring because I didn't want to scare him off.”

“Why would someone set something like that up?” None of the ideas he had were ones he was happy about.

She shrugged. “I don't know yet. I've got a couple of vague ideas and he's got more, but we don't have any proof of anything. Not even this for the most part. Although I do know for a fact that someone was watching, then left just after the New Wave ladies turned up. I checked where he was hiding on the way home and it was a man, probably white, not too old.”

“How on earth do you know all that?” he wondered.

She tapped her nose with a finger, smiling. “This thing is pretty remarkable when I'm Saurial. Male or female, that's obvious, rough idea of race is not too hard, age is more difficult but I'm learning.”

Nodding a little, he studied her, then smiled. “Pretty good, Taylor. Anything else?”

“I'll know him again if I smell him, definitely. I was half tempted to track him and see where he went but I wanted to get home and think about it. I can go back later, the scent will last for a couple of days. Unless it rains really hard, I think, which it's not supposed to do for a while.” She resumed eating. “The guy with the gun was hysterical when I grabbed him, I think the last two or three shots were getting a little desperate which is why he missed that time, or maybe seeing half of New Wave turn up threw him, but he did have about two thousand dollars and a big bottle of Ritalin in his pocket. I think he was on that, and probably something else, but I don't know about drugs. I could smell it on his breath, though.” She wrinkled her nose, making him grin.

“From about two hundred yards away. He was horrible, although in good condition physically from what I saw. He looked like someone who used to be pretty fit and went downhill. But he definitely had practice with guns, he knew how to use that thing.” She glanced at him while sticking her fork into a roast potato. “Two hundred and fifty yards is a good long shot for a rifle, isn't it?”

“What sort of gun?” he asked curiously.

“It said Remington 750 on the side. Some sort of expensive looking hunting rifle with a telescopic sight. Brandish unloaded it and it had about five pretty big bullets in it, he'd just reloaded it when I came through the window and he screamed and threw it at me.” She cocked her head, a mannerism he'd noticed with amusement that seemed to come from her reptilian side. “I wonder why people keep doing that when I turn up?”

“You know exactly why, dear,” he chuckled, “don't try to make me think you've changed that much. You may not find it odd yourself anymore but you know full well the effect you have on people.” She smirked and he laughed.

“Maybe. They overreact a lot of the time, but I guess I can see why. Saurial's not too bad, is she? We tried to make her look as safe as we could.” Taylor seemed mildly worried for a moment, making him smile tenderly at her.

“She's… an acquired taste. But not bad, no. Just a shock the first time.”

“OK.” His daughter looked pleased.

“But yes, you're right, that range to hit a more or less man sized target seven or eight times in a row and only miss once is pretty decent work from what I remember. Not incredible, but considerably better than average even with some practice. And a telescopic sight.”

“He was lying down on a pile of old pallets with a blanket over them, inside the room, bracing the gun on a broken chair,” she added. “Just like in the movies. Maybe he was trained in the army or something?”

“Not impossible,” he mused. “There are a lot of ex soldiers around these days, parahumans and the changes they brought to the world had a big effect on the military world-wide. I've heard a lot of them have fallen on hard times and tend towards drug abuse in some places, poor bastards. We've got a few that managed to avoid that in the DWU, they're good people. Disciplined and alert.”

She nodded, looking thoughtful still. “He only took a shot when I was standing still for more than a minute or so, which was useful, I could more or less pick when he'd fire after I worked it out. Three shots in a row with New Wave there was a difference, he'd always waited about eight or nine minutes between shots up to that point.”

“So why did you want New Wave, or as I suspect, specifically Glory Girl, to see you tanking a shot like that without flinching?”

“Reputation.”

Her response was immediate, but he got the impression it was the result of some considerable thought.

“Explain, dear,” he replied, resuming eating slowly and listening.

“I've been thinking about how to stop people coming after me, or through you to get to me,” she sighed after a moment, leaning on one elbow and picking at the remains of her dinner. “I want to stop that before it starts. One way is the way Lung does it for example. Incredible violence, then the threat of more incredible violence, that keeps people from attacking him, pretty much. But he's killed a lot of people to get to the point he's basically safe from most capes. I don't want to do that.”

She looked somewhat depressed. “If nothing else that's because I could make his body count look stupid without even trying. I could probably make Leviathan's body count look like he wasn't putting a lot of effort in.” She looked up at Danny seriously. “But, I might be able to get the same effect without killing anyone, or even threatening to kill anyone, by looking so dangerous no one wants to find out what I can really do because they're already worried about what they know I can do. Looking just a little nuts helps.”

Taylor grinned for a moment. “Plus, it's sort of fun, seeing the color people go when I do something unexpected.” Her face became thoughtful while Danny tried not to laugh. “Although sometimes they go weird colors at odd moments anyway, which is a bit strange.” After a couple of seconds, she shrugged. “It's probably nothing to worry about. I'm glad Glory Girl apologized, even though I didn't mind. It was nice of her. Her mother looked embarrassed about the whole thing.”

“From what I've heard about Carol Dallon, and New Wave, I can see why they would be,” he smiled. “That video didn't show the young woman in a very good light after all and I imagine it could have had fairly bad repercussions if it was on, for example, the evening news.”

She nodded, picking up a piece of cooked carrot with her fingers and putting it in her mouth. Finally finished, his daughter got up, then started moving around the table clearing everything away, while he smiled his thanks, grabbed the last roast potato out of the bowl with his fork, then let her continue.

“No, having Glory Girl going red and shouting wouldn't help them. I didn't want to do that to them, they're good people, even though it was pretty funny to watch. At the time it was just peculiar, though.” She giggled slightly, piling dishes in the sink. “That's what got me thinking about reputation, though. It's something that seems to be pretty important in the cape world.”

“It's important everywhere, Taylor, like in business, or in the union work I do, or anything else, really,” he acknowledged. “It goes with respect. Or fear. Lung has both, for example. People fear him, but to a certain level they also respect him, because while he's incredibly dangerous and violent, he holds back a lot of the time. Not that it makes him a nice person, because he isn't, but he could be a damn sight worse. Just look at the S9. Or any other one of several parahumans or groups of them I could point at.”

As she put the plug in the sink and turned on the water, adding a squirt of soap, she nodded slightly. “That's kind of my point. I could go full Varga and wreck cities without any effort at all. I could probably literally pick the Rig up and carry it off, assuming it was strong enough not to fall apart. Even the combat form in a fairly small size is probably the sort of thing that would make people think there is a fourth Endbringer in town. But I don't want to do any of that! All I really want is a fairly quiet life with my Dad, one where I can help out around the place and use the abilities I was given for good, preferably having fun doing it. Killing people and making them terrified of me because of that isn't something I want. At all.”

By the end of her rather impassioned speech she was looking at him almost with tears in her eyes. He studied her for a couple of seconds ago, then got up and held her.

“I understand, dear, and I agree. What I know you can do right now is impressive to a level that's somewhat worrying and I still haven't seen you more than forty feet high. Which now that I say it out loud is just silly.” He grinned down from the four or so inches difference in height between them as she looked into his eyes.

When he let her go she appeared less upset, turning back to the sink and speaking over her shoulder. “I was reading PHO and there was a thread about this sort of thing. Someone called AllSeeingEye, who seems smart and has a lot of information about capes somehow, was arguing that reputation is the most important thing a cape can have. More so for villains than heroes in some ways but it's important in both cases. He, or she, was talking about small groups starting up having to pull off spectacular things, both to get people to take them seriously, and to leave them alone. They gave some examples and it seemed to make sense in a way.”

He moved to stand beside her, drying the dishes as she washed them, still listening.

“I talked it over with Varga and he agreed. We decided that we didn't want to get a reputation as someone who was violent, but more someone who no one wanted see become violent. Both of what everyone knew they could do, and because of what they didn't. Fear of the unknown is pretty effective, after all. That's the whole point behind horror movies.”

She grinned for a moment, her teeth lengthening into razor sharp points and her eyes glowing yellow. “Which I seem to remind people of for some reason. I can't see it myself, though.”

“Obviously,” he laughed. They shared a silence for a while, finishing the dishes and putting them away, while he pondered her words.

When they were sitting down in the living room some minutes later, he asked slowly, “So the entire thing with the sniper, and if I know you at all, putting on a show for New Wave when they turned up as if you didn't know they were there, that's to make them worried?”

Taylor nodded, sighing slightly as she relaxed on the sofa on her back. “More or less. I don't want to terrify or threaten them, but acting all casual when someone's shooting me in the head, then laughing about it, seemed to work at least as well. They were already looking worried after they saw me running around with the hammers. I'll show you the recordings in a moment. It was a lot of fun and very helpful, I seem to have all the knowledge for all sorts of martial techniques in here somewhere but I need to practice them before I can use them properly.”

She smiled a little. “It's like the difference between memorizing a book on doing something, and learning the hard way. Once I've done it for a while it kind of comes back to me like I always knew how, but I make mistakes before that. Lots of them in some cases.”

“And you assume that Glory Girl will tell her cape friends what happened, the New Wave adults will do the same, and people will decide not to push you just in case your good humor wears off?” Danny watched her nod.

“That's the idea.”

“There's always the possibility that the PRT or someone else might decide you're potentially too dangerous. Or just want to try themselves against you anyway. Some of the capes are very aggressive.”

The young woman sighed, the end of her tail slowly waving back and forth as she gazed at it. “I know. It's a calculated risk. I'll have to deal with that when it happens. But according to the statistics I read, new capes tend to get… recruited, I guess… whether they like it or not, mostly by villains, but sometimes by the PRT. That seems to be what happened to Shadow Stalker when they caught her. Hopefully I can look dangerous enough to make people think better about it, but not so dangerous they think they need to stop me.”

“A fine line, I suspect.”

“Hopefully not too fine.” She rolled her head to the side to look at him. “I plan on sticking to dealing with low level idiots and helping with other problems like that, rather than being stupid and going after the big name capes. If they come after me I'll stop them, but I remember what you said about gang politics. Varga has helped me see how bad it could get, compared to how bad it is right now.” She shivered a little. “I don't want to be the cause of a gang war.”

“That would not be good, certainly,” he agreed. “Please try not to do that if you can.”

After a moment, he added more slowly and carefully, “I can't say I entirely disagree with your methods, as worrying to others as they might seem. Just be careful. On that note, though, I do have a criticism.” She raised an eyebrow, waiting. “You potentially put several members of New Wave at risk from a sniper, dear. Did you think about that?”

Her face fell. “Yes. Afterward. I was only really expecting Glory Girl and Brandish, and Glory Girl is bulletproof anyway, everyone knows that. And I was ninety percent certain he was going after me specifically as well. But I should have thought harder about her mother, the other two as well. They can make force fields that would have stopped him but that only matters if they knew he was shooting in the first place. Varga pointed it out as well. I'm sorry, I'll think it through better next time.”

“I'd still prefer there not to be a next time, Taylor. If someone starts shooting at you in future do your old Dad a favor and stop him, not just grin at him while the bullets bounce off your face? Please? Especially if there are other people in the area who aren't as ridiculously durable as you seem to be.”

With downcast eyes she nodded, her face red. “I'll be smarter about it next time, Dad, promise.”

“Varga, make sure she is,” Danny added firmly.

She snickered at the internal response from her companion, but replied mildly, “He said he'll try, Dad.”

“Good. Now, let's have a look at that video of yours. Is there any of my DWU still standing?”

“Dad! I was very careful.” She smiled, then looked slightly ashamed again. “After the first time I punched a hole in the concrete with a dummy. We fixed it.”

Shaking his head in amusement he waited as she got her laptop and downloaded the camera footage then watched with a mix of impressed awe, horrified awe, and amused awe, what she'd gotten up to that afternoon. The general theme was definitely awe, though.

“Have you thought about some form of ranged weapon?” he asked as he watched from the viewpoint of his daughter as her scaled arms wielded an enormous sword, cleaving wood, stone, and metal with equal ease. “I know you’re fast enough to chase most people down on foot but perhaps something other than hand held weapons would be useful eventually.”

She glanced up at him, then looked thoughtful. “Varga has mentioned the idea a couple times, yes, but I was concentrating on the close range stuff to start with. What do you think I should try?”

“Maybe some sort of thrown net or something? That Vargastuff as you call it seems basically unbreakable. The sheer weight of it might be a problem, you’d have to be careful not to crush someone, but if you made it it thin enough and flexible enough it would be fairly safe.” He thought for a moment, as she nodded with an expression of interest, then got up and poked around on the bookcase. Eventually finding what he was looking for he pulled the dusty book from its place where it had probably rested since the death of Annette and flicked through it, finally smiling.

Handing it to her he pointed at the page. “Look, this is the sort of thing. The Romans used nets, tridents, javelins, things like that. Nice and simple, no moving parts, which you said was easier. Less to worry about than a gun and you can scale them up and down easily.”

Taking the book from him Taylor looked at the page while he went back to watching the video, looking over occasionally as she turned pages and mumbled to herself, or her demonic partner. By the time the file had ended she was sitting up with an expression of concentration on her face.

“Any good?”

“He thinks so, yes,” she replied slowly. “He’s familiar with a lot of these in slightly different ways, the people of his old world had very similar things.” She held out a hand in which a thing that looked not entirely unlike a lawn dart appeared. “They threw something like this with a catapult. Sometimes lots of them bundled together. I think I could throw it pretty accurately by hand with some practice.”

Staring at the glinting needle-sharp point of the gray metal dart, Danny swallowed a little dryly. Perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea to mention?

“It looks… extremely lethal,” he commented carefully.

“Not as lethal as this is,” she smirked, hopping to her feet and making the dart go away, to be replaced by a seven foot long javelin like something out of the Olympics

The metal throwing spear tapered gently to a fine point at both ends, with the central few inches recessed below the remainder of it and a different color where it was wrapped with something grippy. He remembered how slippery the strange metallic substance was and knew this was so it could actually be used, while wondering how heavy it was, aside from 'very'. “That’s fairly horrific, dear. How far could you throw it?”

“Like this probably a few hundred yards at least,” she smiled. “Saurial could do a lot better, and the combat form could most likely toss it well over the horizon if it was big enough.” Hefting the thing, she looked at it thoughtfully. “I’ll have to practice a lot, I don’t have much in the way of premade skills with this. Princess Luna never used one although she’d seen them used.”

“Please do it somewhere a long way from anything breakable,” he smiled. “A very long way.”

"I will. Maybe the ship graveyard?”

“Go up to the far north end, everything up there is completely wrecked,” he advised. “It won't matter if you punch holes in things or something like that. Capes are always testing themselves there, as I understand it.”

Taylor nodded, going back to reading the book on historical weapons, intermittently snickering to herself. Now just the tiniest bit worried, Danny left her to it to go back into his office, intending on starting a preliminary list of questions to ask the various people he had in mind who might be helpful with her plan for the bay.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Think she'd be up for a commission or two?” Randall looked over at his friend, who was watching a video on PHO, which was currently playing something with a techno version of the Jaws music attached to it. He went over and watched as Clockblocker was scared witless, chuckling at the results. The new cape was impressively good at sneaking up on people.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “And have you forgotten she's a hero?”

Leet shrugged. “No, but I have a couple of ideas based on that old Turok game series and we could use a dinosaur. She's the nearest thing to one I've ever seen. She looks a hell of a lot like some sort of Velociraptor that decided to get an opposable thumb, put clothes on, and run around the place terrifying idiots.”

Mulling the idea over, Über laughed again. “I can see it, yes, but… still a hero.”

They exchanged a grin then went back to what they'd been doing.

A few minutes later, they looked at each other, the same thought hitting them at the same time.

“Long tail, wasn't it?” Kevin mused in a considering voice.

“Yep.”

They both thought more about this little fact as they resumed their activities, more slowly this time.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“What do you think?” the figure behind the large expensive desk said, after pondering the words of his subordinate.

“I think I don't want to get anywhere within at least a hundred yards of that thing,” the other man replied. “We knew she was tough, but she literally acted like being shot in the head with a 30-06 hollow-point round was funny. That's… not encouraging.”

“I'm more interested in its reactions overall. No signs of anger, or wanting to hurt the sniper?”

“No. It was weird. She seemed surprised by the first shot, but worked out his pattern quickly and after that was basically playing with him, treating it like some extra training. I have a sneaking suspicion she detected him before he even fired although I don't know how. She certainly looked in that direction several times, even waved once, after he started shooting, but just kept on with what she was doing like it was nothing to worry about.“

He thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Like I said, weird. Most capes would at least have got angry about it and done something sooner. Lung is at least as tough for example but he'd have killed the bastard after the first shot on general principles.”

“Lung is an uncultured animal,” the first man replied with disdain. “This one… Still an animal, but possibly trainable. With some care.”

“I'd advise against any action towards her until we have more idea of what she's capable of. What I saw today was… disturbing.”

“Why, specifically?” his superior queried, looking at him with calm interest.

“Generally, in my experience, most Brutes, which she definitely is, are brawlers. Lung is, he has no class or skill in fighting, he just keeps hitting and burning things until his opponent either escapes or dies. That's a common approach. When you're that strong and tough, and in his case regenerate that fast, you can just wade in without much thought. Not that he has any ability to think beyond a certain low cunning, you know his kind.”

The other man nodded, this was so obvious as to not be worth mentioning.

“Capes with less physical powers usually either die quickly or manage to leverage that power to some extent, but still seldom branch out into other methods of fighting. It happens but it's rare. They're basically individual fighters, or in some cases, like our people, they learn to work together in small groups, their powers complementing each other.”

“I understand,” the first man said with a touch of impatience. “But I fail to see the point.”

“The point is that what I saw today was someone who has significant skill in battlefield tactics and skills, not a brawler who simply hits things until they fall over. She was practicing attacking an army, not a gang. And she was winning. Admittedly her opponents were training dummies but she'd go through a normal human squad no matter how well armored like a threshing machine I suspect. The really disturbing thing is that she was doing it as if she had years of practice, not what's most likely only weeks at best.”

Tapping his fingertips together, his superior thought for a while, during which he waited patiently. “I see. Very interesting. I wish you had thought to take a camera.”

“So do I.”

“Pity. Still, it can't be helped. Perhaps we can arrange that at some future date.”

He thought some more, then nodded decisively. “We will watch for now, but not interfere. Perhaps some more interactions can be arranged with someone disposable to gauge its capabilities more precisely. We'd need some form of leverage, as well, I doubt it would comply easily. But it could be exactly what we need.”

He stood, walking to the window and looking out over Brockton Bay, lights glimmering into the distance, with large sections partly dimmed where gang activities were causing damage. “We could finally take over, clean this city up, and make it safe once more for the right kind of people.”

“Our kind.”

“Well, obviously,” the man smirked. Turning to his agent, he asked, “You're sure it had no idea you were watching?”

“As much as I can be, yes. I cleared up very carefully and left when I saw New Wave arrive for whatever reason they had, there was no point taking chances. But the sniper was clean, there's no way to trace him to us. The gun was recently stolen from a dealer in Chicago with no paper trail leading anywhere in particular either, as was the ammunition. As far as the man knows, he was just paid in drugs and cash to use his old marine training to shoot a troublesome cape, by a concerned citizen who was worried about a dangerous barely human animal beating up young men. The junkies were easily scared off as well so there should have been no witnesses. That idiot Skidmark had no idea anything was going on."

“Very good. Very good indeed. Well done.”

Returning to his seat the man made a couple of cryptic notes, then pushed the paper to one side. “Now, onto other business...”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taylor inspected the building with a certain amount of introspective interest. She'd had trouble sleeping, pondering the mystery of the sniper, so had decided at about one AM to go back and follow the scent of the mystery observer. It had led right to the employee entrance of this rather large facility halfway across the city.

Intriguing,” the Varga commented slowly.

She nodded without replying, then turned around and silently headed home, thinking about it and what it might mean.

Chapter Text

Monday, January 31, 2011

“Did you apologize?” Dean asked, as he walked up behind Vicky, who was standing on the steps of Arcadia waiting for him, looking the wrong way. Amy was off to one side casting her sister the occasional slightly curious look but as usual seemed somewhat withdrawn and uninvolved, although she did acknowledge him with a small nod. That was a bit unusual, normally she either more or less ignored him, or said something snarky and cutting, then ignored him.

He was used to it although he wished it was otherwise, he rather liked the girl. The feeling was apparently not mutual.

Turning around, his girlfriend stared at him, then hugged him, hard enough to make him grunt, while Amy seemed mildly amused now. “Ow. Vicky, relax a little before you break my arms, please.”

Embarrassed she let him go but stayed close. “I did,” she said in a low voice, casting a glance around, although no one was close enough to overhear her. “Mom, Aunt Sarah, and Crystal came with me. We met her down at the docks.” She didn't go into more detail.

“And?”

“Let's say I'm glad I took your advice and leave it at that. And if I ever do anything like that again, I'm leaving the US and moving to Europe. Or Mars.”

He inspected her curiously. “Did she take it OK?”

“That's not the part that was… worrying.” The golden haired girl shivered a little. “I'll tell you later when I stop being scared.”

Dean found the comment odd but instead of pressing for details, said nothing and simply smiled. He could feel his girlfriend was more than a little down at the moment, for a whole complex mess of reasons he didn't care to try to unpick.

“Hey, Dean, how's it hanging?” The cheerful voice from behind him made him turn to see Dennis, Carlos, and Chris approaching, having apparently come together.

“We need to get inside, the bell will go in about five minutes,” Amy announced, putting the paperback she was reading into her bag and standing up from where she'd been sitting on the low wall next to the steps up the front entrance of the school. He checked his watch and noticed she was right. Following the fairly large number of students still arriving, he and his friends went into the building, separating after a minute as they headed off to their different home rooms. He, Dennis, Carlos, and Vicky shared one, while Amy and Chris were in a different one.

Heading to his home room he slowed for a moment as he noticed the slightly younger tall curly-haired brunette walking towards him on the other side of the corridor, checking locker numbers. He met her eyes, then quickly looked away. She said nothing, not apparently noticing, but he could feel mild satisfaction from her, knowing she'd noticed and knew, somehow, how he felt.

Turning into his room with the others, at the back of the pack, he looked at her again for just a moment, at which point she peered sideways at him through her hair and smiled very slightly.

Shivering, suddenly knowing what Vicky was feeling much more than he wanted to, he lost sight of her as he entered the room, heading for his desk while trying not to look worried.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hiding a smirk at the faint waft of worry that came down the corridor towards her from the Stansfield boy, Taylor checked the number of the locker she was looking at with the piece of paper in her hand, then smiled. Reaching out she spun the combination dial built into the door back and forth to the numbers she'd memorized already, until it clicked and she could open the thing. The lockers here were much smaller than at Winslow, not to mention much newer and much cleaner. Arranged in two rows all the way down both sides of the corridor there were at least four hundred of them, with her assigned one being number 212 on the top row.

Looking inside she saw with satisfaction that there was no way to push anyone over two feet high into the space revealed, although it was rather deeper and wider than the hated cell she remembered so well in the middle of the night even now. The Varga had helped her several times so far, showing her things from his old world and the experiences of his previous Brains to distract her.

Sighing a little at the thought, she firmly pushed the memories down, which was getting easier by the day, then swung her backpack from her shoulder and put all the books she didn't need before lunch into the locker. Most of them were brand new, given to her when she went to the secretaries office to retrieve her introduction information from Meg, who seemed genuinely pleased to see her again.

Double checking she had everything she needed, she closed the locker and spun the dial, then tugged the handle to check it was locked properly. Satisfied, she looked at the map she had once again, nodded, and headed for her new home room, curious to see what the day would bring and actually happy about being in school for probably the first time in nearly two years.

She reached the relevant room just as the final bell rang, looking at the door with momentary trepidation, then taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out.

It is easy, Brain. Go in, do well, and go home again,” the Varga advised with calm amusement. “If anyone causes trouble like they did in your old school, we can eat them.

'It would probably be better to follow the guidelines,' she giggled inside. 'I don't think that eating bullies is one of them.'

Perhaps. Perhaps not.” Her demonic companion laughed for a moment. “We will see. But in all seriousness, you will be fine. Go inside and prove it to both of us.

Nodding once to herself and him, feeling much more confident, she opened the door and stepped inside. The teacher sitting at the desk, a man of about thirty, tanned and fit looking with a head of black hair, glanced over at her then down at his desk.

“Miss Hebert?” he asked in the tone of someone who already knew the answer.

“Yes, Sir,” she replied calmly. “I'm sorry about nearly being late, I had to pick up my things from the school office.”

“That's fine, Miss Hebert, just try to arrive a little sooner from now on, please. You can take any free desk.”

She looked around the room, spotting to her pleasure Mandy and Lucy near the back of the room with two empty desks next to them. She raised her eyebrows inquiringly, making the first girl smile and wave to the seat next to her. About sixteen pairs of eyes followed her as she went over and sat down, slipping her backpack off her shoulder and under her chair with a quick motion, trying not to hit anything with her tail.

“Hi, guys,” she said in a low tone. “Thanks.”

“I'm glad you're in this room, Taylor,” Mandy whispered back, looking quickly at her then back at the teacher, who was watching but said nothing. Taylor nodded and gave her attention to the front of the room, making him smile a small smile, then look down at the register.

“Anderson, Lily,” he said in a not loud but easily audible smooth baritone voice, the result of much practice.

“Here.”

“Arthurs, Jack.”

“Here.”

The roll call went on for a little while as he ticked each name off, nodding to himself. When he reached her name, he looked up at her. “Hebert, Taylor, also here,” he remarked, ticking her name off. She smiled at him.

The teacher continued until the last voice had replied, then put the pen down.

“All right, people, as you have already gathered, we have a new student. One Miss Taylor Hebert, a new transfer from Winslow, so be sympathetic and also pleased that yet another human being has survived that place.”

A ripple of laughter ran around the room as Taylor grinned. If nothing else the teacher had a sense of humor, not to mention a very pleasant voice. “If you wouldn't mind, Taylor, could you stand and tell us a little about yourself, please?”

“Of course, Sir,” she replied, standing and moving to the side a little so she wouldn't hit her tail on the desk behind her. Everyone turned in their seats to see her clearly.

“Oh, by the way, my name is Mr Hanks. Like the actor. You may refer to me as such if you want, although I quite like Sir.” He smiled at her in a friendly but not too friendly manner. Remembering Mr Gladly from Winslow, she was grateful. This man seemed to want to be professional and respectful, not every student's best friend, something that suited her perfectly.

“Thank you, Mr Hanks. Sir.” She grinned as he chuckled. “Well, my name is Taylor Hebert, as you just heard. My father is the hiring manager at the Dock Workers Union, my mother was a professor of English literature at the University until she died a few years ago.” She managed to get the words out without letting the pang of regret she felt color her voice with the calm reassurance of the demon linked to her, who had helped in so many ways. “My interests include reading, mathematics, computers, and running. Recently I've decided I want to learn first aid and self defense.”

She looked around the room. “I didn't have much fun at Winslow, the place is crawling with bullies, and I don't like that sort of thing at all. But other than that I just want to get on with learning and live my life.”

“Wise words, Miss Hebert. Thank you, you can sit down.” She did as requested while beside her Mandy gave her a thumbs-up, smiling. “Brief and to the point. Good. Now, I know that you tested very highly in the evaluation exams on Friday, but I still suspect that you may run into minor difficulties with the practical differences between your last school and here. Please don't hesitate to approach any teacher to explain why and ask for help. I'd think you'll be up to speed very fast based on your test results.”

She nodded, feeling pleased. He seemed genuine.

“All right, let's get on with it. Eyes front, people.” The other students who had been inspecting her curiously all turned around again, and paid attention. Taylor did the same, smiling to herself and pleased with how simple that had all been. This might work out just fine.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Tapping her pen on the pad of paper in front of her, Hannah listened with interest. She made the occasional note, then sighed slightly. “Thank you for the information Lady Photon, it's appreciated. I understand why you're reluctant to get involved but I agree it could be important.”

Listening again, she smiled. “Thank you. Give my best to your family. Bye.”

Hanging up the desk phone, she kicked back in her chair, put her feet on the desk, and intently studied the notes she'd made for a while.

Eventually coming to a decision, she stood up and made sure her scarf was in place, before leaving her office and heading for the lower levels of the Rig and a boat to shore.

Not that long afterward, she was cautiously riding her motorcycle through the outskirts of the Docks, in the direction of the DWU facility, while keeping a wary eye open for trouble. This close it was unlikely, the dock workers had somehow come to an arrangement with the merchants and other junkies who infested the area, which she suspected was along the lines of 'stay away and we won't break your legs', a thought that made her smile for a moment.

Eventually arriving at her destination she slowed, looking around, then parked the bike somewhere it was inconspicuous but not so much someone might be tempted to interfere with it, although in that case the security system would make them regret it. Arming it, she looked over towards the large and fenced in DWU compound, seeing a number of men working on a large unidentifiable steel construction, the light of the welding arcs bright even in the sunlight. A couple of them were watching her with what looked like considerable alertness and readiness, but didn't move from where they were.

Feeling the eyes on her back she turned and looked up, then around at the mostly empty and in many cases long-abandoned warehouses surrounding the facility as grim reminders of better days. The only buildings that looked even vaguely maintained were on the other side of the fence.

Deciding on her target she headed for one particular building, finding a doorway with a smashed door hanging from the bottom hinge only and making her way inside, pulling a flashlight from her pocket in the process.

In the bright light she could see a dozen or more sets of footprints embedded into the crud on the floor, which seemed to be a mix of crumbling concrete, mold, and something much less salubrious. Suppressing a grimace of disgust she picked a path through it towards the metal staircase she spotted in the back of the building, rusty and damp with condensation.

When she got to the top, the heroine walked down a hallway that ran down the back of the old building, past broken windows looking across an alley into other broken windows of the next warehouse along, until she found what she was looking for.

A set of footprints, from what looked like worn but serviceable military-pattern boots, led into but not out of a side room. Cautiously looking in, then entering when she was sure it was safe, her power forming a pistol in her free hand even so, she looked around the room.

In the middle of it was a pile of six or seven moldy wooden pallets with a ratty wool blanket draped across them, while in front of this was an office chair that had seen much better days. Probably about the time of the moon landings. Curious, she moved to the back of the stack and looked across the chair, to see she had a perfect view of most of the open area of the DWU facility.

“Interesting,” she mumbled to herself.

She also noticed that the two apparent guards were still watching her, or at least the window. From where she was, in the sunlight, she didn't think anyone outside could see in very well without a good pair of binoculars.

Looking around the floor, she spotted the glint of shiny metal to the side of the pallets, going over and squatting down. There was a fresh expended 30-06 cartridge lying against the wall. Glancing around she saw at least half a dozen more scattered about. Turning her pistol back into the large knife on her leg it was normally in the form of she picked the brass up and sniffed the open end.

“Definitely fired recently. OK,” she muttered in a low voice.

She retrieved a couple of the other ones then put them in her pocket before standing up again and looking around some more.

In a line from the window to a set of marks on the floor that suggested a struggle she saw more footprints, but these ones weren't from anything that wore boots. They had three slender toes tipped with impressive claws, and no heel prints, although there was a mark in the dust that suggested a long tail. She studied them for a moment, then went to the window and looked out and down. It was at least sixty feet to the ground. Inspecting the windowsill she could see small divots in the stonework that looked like they were from claws as well, claws that were harder than the stone.

She pondered the scene for a moment, looking around, then squinted at the people working inside the fence. The two watchers were still there, watching, although one of them seemed to have a walky-talky at his mouth. Ignoring them she peered around at the other buildings, before spotting what she was looking for and memorizing the location.

Miss Militia pulled her head back into the room and looked around one last time, before leaving, thinking hard.

A little later the watchers in the union facility saw the motorcycle-riding female cape leave, heading back towards the good part of town.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Did she, now...”

Danny listened, then nodded thoughtfully. “Thanks, Mark.”

“No sweat, Danny.”

“Did you find the bullets?”

“Yep. Or at least, we found eight of them. No sign of the ninth, it probably bounced over the roof from what you said she told you. There's also a freshly patched hole in the yard about two feet across but the boys have no idea what it's patched with.

“Don't worry about that, it's not important.” He accepted the small glass jar with eight badly flattened bullets in it, shaking it and watching them rattle around.

'Jesus, Taylor, this is horrifying,' he thought to himself, inspecting them. 'I don't like the thought of someone shooting at you. Although I'm amazed that you can take it like this.'

“So why was someone shooting at this cape, Boss?” the other man said, then grinned when Danny frowned.

“You've been hanging around Zephron too much, Mark.”

The man, a tall slender blond with a wiry strength visible through his clothes, smirked slightly but didn't reply.

“I'm not sure,” he added, answering the question.

“How did you meet her?” the blond asked curiously.

“She found out who was the person to call to ask about using the yard when no one is there and called me yesterday. I couldn't think of any good reason not to let her and we could use the goodwill, so I told her to go ahead. I've written a letter of permission for her as well in case anyone gets nosy, she's going to pick it up this afternoon around four or so.”

“I'll make sure to be here, I'd like to see her,” Mark grinned. “Hey, is the DWU getting a cape of its own, then? That would help if those asshole merchants come around again.”

Danny sighed, smiling. “I don't think we're a gang or need a cape just yet, Mark. She's just a good natured independent looking for some empty space to train in.” His colleague shrugged, still smiling a little.

“OK, thanks. Tell the guys to keep an eye out for anything odd, but hopefully this is a one off.”

“You got it, Boss.”

“Stop calling me Boss,” Danny shouted after the man as he left, chuckling, but couldn't help a grin of his own.

Rattling the bullets around again he studied them for a moment, shook his head, then put the jar away in his desk, going back to his research.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“So how's your first full half day at Arcadia, Taylor?” Taylor looked up at the cheery voice, to see Mandy and Lucy standing next to the table, trays in hand. She smiled, nodding to the chairs on the other side, both girls sitting.

“Full half day?” she queried. “Isn't that a bit redundant?”

“Of course it isn't,” Mandy grinned. “You've been here for half a full day, or a full day of which you've only been here for half so far. Full half day.” She picked up her burger and bit into it as both Taylor and Lucy smiled at her logic.

“Don't argue, or she'll keep talking for the entire lunch period,” Lucy whispered loudly from behind her hand. Taylor got the feeling this was something of a running joke between them.

“Ah. In that case, my first full half day has been fine, and I expect the next full half day to be similar,” she snickered, then took a bite of her mac and cheese, nodding appreciatively as she chewed. “This really is pretty good food for a school,” she said after she swallowed. Her companions smiled back.

“I told you. Sometimes I like to bring something from home for variety, but it's more than edible,” Mandy replied happily. Taylor was realizing that the girl was generally pretty cheerful most of the time. She glanced at Lucy, who was much less outgoing but still friendly. It had turned out that she shared two of the four hour-long slots in the morning with both of them, and one each of the others with each of them. In the afternoon she shared one class with both and the other two with neither.

“You're taking advanced mathematics and computer studies, aren't you, Taylor?” Lucy asked quietly. Taylor nodded.

“Yes. The administration thought that my marks were good enough to place me in the advanced classes in both. I may also end up there in English, but they wanted to see how it went after the first couple of weeks.”

“Wow. An intelligent person, at last,” the other girl giggled, shooting her friend a sly look, which caused her to splutter in indignation.

“Hey! I smart! Look, me eat with mouth now!” Both Taylor and Lucy collapsed laughing as Mandy shoved half the burger into her mouth in one go, completely ruining the classy teenager look she normally promoted.

Nearly choking as she chewed because she was also trying not to laugh, the girl went slightly blue before she managed to swallow enough to clear a path for air, then took deep breaths for a while. Several of the other tables of young people looked over at the laughter, most of them smiling.

“You're going to kill yourself doing that one day you idiot,” Lucy giggled. Mandy shrugged.

“It's funny.”

Shaking her head in amusement the Chinese girl looked back to Taylor who was now just enjoying the company of people her own age who were basically normal. Although in Mandy's case that was possibly not entirely correct, she mused, smiling internally.

“Have you thought about any after school clubs or extracurricular activities yet, Taylor?”

Taylor had a sudden moment of wondering what the other girl would say if she told her what she’d been doing in her evenings recently but tried not to let the amusement make her sound odd as she replied. “Not yet. What sorts of things are available here?”

Lucy thought for a moment as Mandy listened. “Well, there’s the computer club, the chess club, a classic film club, the literature club, several sports groups like swimming, track, judo, that sort of thing...” She glanced at her friend who nodded.

“There’s also the electronics club and an engineering one,” Mandy added. “Not to mention a number of courses that aren’t really clubs, but extra credit things like advanced first aid and basic paramedic training, car maintenance, basic household repair… A few others but I forget what they are now.”

“Wow. That’s a lot. We didn’t have anything like that at Winslow.” Taylor grinned for a moment. “There it was more along the lines of basic firearm cleaning, knife fighting, car theft… You know, practical skills to allow a young person to get ahead in life.”

Both her table-mates started laughing again. “Honest, it really was nearly that bad. I’m sure you could have found someone to teach you all that, but you probably wouldn’t actually have received school credit for it. I think.”

“You must be so relieved to be out of that place,” Mandy commented, picking up her can of coke and popping the tab, then taking a drink from it.

Taylor sighed heavily, nodding and wiping her forehead with a hand mockingly, making the other two grin again. “More than you’d believe. The mere fact that I can simply sit here, have lunch, and talk to people without...” She fell silent as they looked at each other. “I haven’t done this in a long time.”

“What happened?” Mandy asked quietly, looking concerned and leaning forward a little.

After a while, Taylor shook her head slightly. “I don’t want to talk about it for a while, sorry. Just thinking about it depresses me, talking would be worse, and it would ruin the good day I’m having. Maybe one day.” The other girl nodded, straightening up again. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not really important, I’m just incurably nosy,” Mandy smiled. “But I’m glad you made it out alive and sane.”

“Alive...” Taylor quickly took her pulse with a finger to her neck and a look of concentration. “Yep. Sane… How do you check that?”

“I think you have to unscrew the little cap under your hair at the back and look at the dipstick,” Lucy replied immediately with a straight face, making Taylor snort with laughter.

“I’m as sane as I need to be and no saner,” she replied, going back to her lunch. The two girls who she decided were definitely becoming friends nodded wisely, doing the same.

While she ate, she listened to the chatter around her, separating out the individual voices into understandable conversations, then moving on after briefly listening to each on. She wasn’t deliberately eavesdropping, she was simply practicing with her enhanced hearing, taking the opportunity the crowded lunch room provided her as she sat there.

Her own name being spoken quietly, in a female voice, made her listen more carefully, though. “...Hebert, I think. She’s a sophomore who transferred in from Winslow, Maria said she heard there was some sort of trouble there with bullying. She’s in Maria’s home room with Mr Hanks, she introduced herself as the daughter of someone called Danny Hebert who’s supposedly someone important with the dock workers union or something.” The voice wasn’t one that she recognized, but the one that spoke next was.

“Thanks, Alicia,” the voice of Dean Stansfield replied.

“Why?” the girl asked curiously.

“Just curious, I saw her on Friday, then twice today, she was looking for a locker this morning. I wondered why since I don’t remember seeing her before. Nothing important.”

“OK, Dean. Say hi to Vicky, I need to get back to the girls now.”

“Bye, Alicia,” he replied. Taylor suppressed a momentary flare of indignation, realizing that it was a perfectly normal thing for someone to do and the scene had probably been replayed dozens of times today. Teenagers were curious. It was only the juxtaposition of the question with the questioner that concerned her. Looking in an apparently idle manner she spotted Dean staring at her from the other side of the cafeteria. As soon as their eyes met he flinched, then turned around and hurried over to his friends, who were all at one table with Victoria and Amy Dallon as well, the latter watching him the same as Taylor was.

The dark haired girl transferred her gaze to Taylor for a moment, then went back to reading her book.

“He’s pretty good looking, isn’t he?”

The sudden voice from feet away made her look, to see Mandy smirking at her. “Hey, it’s not like that, I was just curious, that’s all,” she replied hastily.

“Suure you were,” the girl smirked. Taylor sighed.

“And he’s taken. You know, Vicky Dallon? Glory Girl? The Coleslaw Queen?”

Mandy howled with laughter while Lucy stared, then giggled furiously. “Oh, god, she’d go purple if you called her that. People are still poking her about that whole thing nearly a year later. She was really embarrassed.”

They all looked at Vicky, who was now sitting very close to Dean, talking quietly. His friends were listening, huddled together, with Dennis popping up like a curious meerkat now and then to check no one was close enough to hear. “It looks like our plan may be having an effect, Brain,” the Varga commented as they watched. There was a certain degree of disbelief and nervousness coming from the six people now, as far as she could tell, but from this distance with this number of people in between them, she couldn’t quite decipher the scents enough to be sure what they were feeling.

Looks like it. With any luck they’ll have the right amount of worry and pass it around. I don’t want to really upset them, though, I kind of like them.’

I think they are good people as well. It is a careful balance to strike between terror and cautious respect, but I believe you can manage it, Brain.” He sounded amused as he so often was.

“I dare you to go and say that to her,” Mandy added, making her look back at her new friend and raise an eyebrow as high as she could, which made the girl snicker. “Work it casually into conversation.”

“No thanks. I like my liver where it is, and having it pulled out my nose would be annoying,” Taylor replied calmly, finishing her food. Both girls looked amused and did the same.

“I might look into that first aid course,” she went on when she’d put her knife and fork back on the plate and pushed it away. “Like I said in class, I’m interested in learning more about it. I know enough to put a bandage on someone gushing blood, Mom taught me that, but I’d like to know how to do it properly. Just in case. You never know when it would come in handy.”

Lucy looked thoughtfully at her. “That’s actually a really good idea,” she mused. “I’ve been thinking about finding some extra credit work and that could be a good one to look at.”

“It would be nice to have someone I knew there,” Taylor smiled.

The bell rang a few minutes later as they were discussing the merits of knowing how to stop someone bleeding out, so they headed back to class, still talking.

Taylor was in a good mood and having fun, something that little more than a month ago she would never have thought she’d say, probably in general and definitely anywhere within a mile of a school. It was a nice change.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Dean cautiously watched the girl he now knew to be Taylor Hebert, as well as Saurial, leave the cafeteria in the company of the same two girls he’d seen her sitting with on Friday, all three of them seeming happy and talking to each other. She didn’t turn at the door and give him a knowing look as he half-expected her to, something that relieved him more than he liked, especially after hearing the story Vicky had related. He didn't recognize the name, which didn't mean anything, but the fact that her father was someone with some local government pull was interesting.

Dennis was still protesting that the blonde must have dramatized it for effect, while Vicky was getting mildly upset, claiming every word was the absolute truth. He glanced at Amy, who looked back as she put her book away and stood up, but said nothing.

“Come on, guys, back to the grind,” Carlos commented as he picked up his tray and headed off to return it.

Sighing to himself, still wondering what the hell to do about the whole thing, Dean followed, as did the others.

He wasn’t in a particularly happy mood and was worried. It was not a nice change.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Danny?”

Danny looked up from his computer, to see Habib, one of the office workers in the DWU, leaning in the door with an odd expression on his face.

“Yes, Habib?”

“There’s… someone… here to see you. Says her name is Saurial?”

He smiled. “Tall, sort of scaly?”

“That’s her.”

“OK, thanks.” Danny opened a desk drawer and pulled out a sealed envelope, then got up and went to the door. Looking into the other, larger, administration office, he saw his daughter in her public persona signing an autograph for Mark, who looked pleased. The blond man glanced at him, grinned, then wandered off again, while she looked over then smiled.

Reaching her he held out his hand, which she took and shook, still smiling. “Hello Saurial. It’s nice to meet in person. Here’s the letter of permission to use the yard whenever it’s empty. You’re responsible for any damage of course, the DWU can’t take responsibility for anything that happens to you while on our property either.”

“That’s fine, Mr Hebert,” the lizard girl said, a look on her face that even through the non-human physiology he recognized as Taylor trying not to laugh. “It’s very good of you and the DWU as well. I’ll make sure not to break anything when I use the area.”

“Did your session on Sunday go well?” he asked.

She nodded. “Very well. I was here for about four hours or so I suppose, it was a useful training exercise.” She grinned, exposing enough teeth that two or three of the half-dozen office workers surrounding her, all of whom were staring and listening intently, gasped a little. She didn’t seem to notice. “There was a minor problem with a merchant sniper but I grabbed him and handed him to the police before I left. I didn’t want him shooting at any of your people. Other than that everything was great.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. How annoying.” Danny smirked internally as several of the odd glances shifted towards him. He was beginning to see what his daughter meant, acting casual while saying or doing something peculiar was quite funny.

“It was rude of him, yes,” she laughed. “He was a good shot, though. Only missed once.” Looking at the envelope in her other hand, she smiled, then folded it up and put it away in one of her pouches. “Thanks very much for this. If the DWU ever needs help, just call and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Saurial, that’s very good of you.”

She nodded politely to him.

“Would you like a quick tour of the place, maybe?” He glanced at his watch. “I was just about to start packing up to go home, so it’s not a problem.”

“That would be very nice, thanks, Mr Hebert,” she replied.

“Call me Danny,” he told her, suppressing a grin. “Come with me and I’ll show you around.”

They left the admin rooms, talking quietly, while behind them the office workers looked at each other. It took them several minutes to get back to work.

The legend of Danny Hebert was growing…

Chapter Text

Glancing up from her novel, Amy looked at her sister again, then sighed a little, put her bookmark into the page, closed the book, then put it down. “What the hell is wrong with you, Vicky?” she asked, more or less sympathetically. “You've been moping around ever since you insulted that new cape. You apologized, she accepted, why are you still looking like someone pissed in your cornflakes?”

Vicky, who was sitting in a chair beside her sister's bedroom window peering out at the skyline, shrugged. From her position on the bed Amy watched her curiously. The girl had drooped her way in after dinner, muttered something that might have been a hello, then slumped into the chair like a golden blonde pile of depression, which Amy found both odd and irritating. She had enough angst for the both of them herself, she didn't need her sister adding to it. Or, at least, doing it in her room.

Picking at some loose paint on the windowsill with one long fingernail, Vicky sighed. “I don't know, really. I'm… worried? Scared? Sad?” She shrugged again. “It's difficult to put into words.”

“Surely Saurial can't be that terrifying,” the healer remarked. “I know what you said at lunch and it's obvious that she's not only ridiculously strong and fast, but has some weird powers on top of that, but that sort of thing isn't all that unusual in capes. She's a grab bag with a very heavy dose of Brute, right?”

Vicky looked over at her for a moment, then went back to wrecking the paint job. Amy winced as her sister managed to peel quite a long strip of white gloss paint loose, looking guilty for a moment and hastily pressing it back down again. When she moved her finger it fell off onto the carpet. “Oops.”

“Stop ruining my décor and tell me what the problem is, you idiot,” Amy sighed, getting off her bed and moving to the other chair next to her sister, shuffling it around so she could look at her more directly.

It took a while for the other girl to nod, but she finally opened up a little. “Partly it's me, I guess. I did something really, really dumb, just because I was angry with Dean. It wasn't even his fault, I know that, and I'm sad about always flying off the handle so easily. Partly it's because she did accept.”

“What on earth do you mean?” Amy asked, somewhat confused. “That's a good thing, right?”

“Yes, I guess,” the blonde mumbled. “But I can't get over the fact that I blew up over a trivial little thing and went off looking for a fight just because of that, but she genuinely did get insulted and yelled at and just thought it was nothing serious. She actually asked Mom if I was OK! And Mom thinks she meant it. What does that say about me as a person? Never mind the fact that someone was trying to kill her for over a fucking hour and she just said it was rude. Every other cape I've ever met, assuming they didn't actually die, would have been ranting and raving about that sort of thing, not laughing about it.”

She momentarily smiled, adding, “Can you imagine what would happen if someone started shooting at Lung like that? He'd burn down half the city just to avenge the insult even if he wasn't hurt.”

“Lung isn't known for a sense of humor, no,” Amy admitted with a wry smile. “Although as far as I know if you actually got him in the head with a large caliber rifle before he started to ramp up you'd stand a good chance of killing him. After that, you're toast.” She thought, then continued, “Actually, now that I say it, I'm kind of surprised that no one has ever actually done that. He doesn't make a lot of friends.”

“Maybe they tried and it didn't work,” Vicky noted, going back to looking depressed. “I can guarantee from what I saw yesterday it wouldn't work on Saurial. Which is fucking terrifying in a way.” She looked at her sister. “You didn't see it. Hearing about it is one thing, seeing someone charge about the place at freeway speeds with a sword six feet long cutting solid steel mannequins into little chunks and laughing about it is… not comforting. Sure, if she hit me with the thing it would only knock me flying. The first time. The problem is that she's so quick she could do it again before my force field reset and I'd be dead just like that.”

“There are lots of capes that technically could kill you, though, and it's never stopped you before, or made you like this,” Amy noted.

“True, I guess. It was just one more thing to add to all the weird shit. She doesn't act like any cape I've ever met. Not even Case 53s. She seems totally comfortable with herself even though she looks so different, which is… odd. If that had happened to me I'm sure that in only a couple of weeks or so which is what Dean says is how long she's been active as far as anyone can work out, I'd still be curled up in a ball crying about what I looked like.”

“She does seem quite different to a normal human,” Amy smiled, remembering the PHO videos she's seen. “But as far as I can see she's a decent person.”

“I know. Everyone who's met her who wasn't a criminal seems to like her. In a weird way I like her. She's friendly, polite, obviously happy, and stupidly skilled. That's part of the problem, even people who think she's terrifying like her. It's strange. She looks so… dangerous, I guess, but she acts like she just wants to be your friend. When she's not acting like something out of Alien.”

“Hmm.” Amy thought for a moment. It was true enough, there were a surprisingly large number of people, often cops, who were quite complimentary about the reptilian cape on PHO, to a level that seemed a little odd for such a short active career. “Maybe she's a Master of some sort, and is influencing them to like her,” she joked.

Vicky's eyes went wide as she lifted her head and stared at her sister. “Oh My God!” she breathed, sounding horrified. “You really think so?”

Laughing, Amy shook her head. “No, I don't. I think she's just a happy and polite person who is nice to people and so people are nice back. It happens.” Looking at her sister for a moment, she added sarcastically, “Anyway, why would you of all people be worried about that, Aura Girl?”

Vicky flushed, looking embarrassed. “I try to keep it under control.”

“Not very hard,” Amy replied. The flush deepened. “You really should, you know.”

“Dean told me the same thing before our last but one fight,” Vicky said with a grin. “What do you think the fight was about?”

Sighing but amused, her sister shook her head. “You're a strange girl, Vicky.”

“But you love me even so, right?”

Vicky looked a little confused by the expression Amy felt cross her face as she quickly turned it away, going red and not answering. Regaining her composure after a second or two and a deliberate act of will, she looked back. “You're my sister, of course I love you, idiot,” she said in a snarky tone. “Stop moping around. Saurial isn't going to hurt you, even if she could, unless you do sometime a lot worse than calling her names, so don't keep thinking about it. I'm getting sick of hearing about her. Saurial this, Saurial that, all lunchtime, and after school as well. You'd think that Dean and his friends can't talk about anything else than her. It's irritating.”

Vicky seemed surprised about the sudden diatribe, but also considerably less depressed. “OK, we can talk about something else.”

“Thank you.” Amy huffed a little, but was very relieved that she'd managed to change the subject from something that was getting a lot too close to home.

Although she really would like to have a look at how the lizard girl's body worked. It was intriguing and possibly less boring than the rest of her life.

With an inner sigh she listened to her sister chatter on about something silly one of her friends had managed to do to her Dad's car, which was admittedly quite funny, the blonde noticeably cheering up as she spoke and soon enough more or less back to normal.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mayor Christner looked at the somewhat elaborate metal clock on his desk, a present from an old friend in Boston and some extremely fine work, noting the time. If his next appointment kept to schedule as accurately as usual, any moment now…

Less than fifteen seconds later the old fashioned intercom on his desk, which he kept because for some reason it amused him, made a discreet buzzing sound. “Yes, Maria?” he said.

“Mayor, your half past three appointment is here,” his secretaries' voice came through the speaker.

“Send him in, please,” he said, standing and moving out around his desk. Moments later the door opened, the familiar figure of Danny Hebert, head of hiring at the Dock Workers Union and the man everyone knew essentially ran the DWU whatever he said about it, strode in. “Hello, Danny,” Roy said, holding out his hand, which was taken and shaken with a firm grip. “Nice to see you again. You're looking well.”

This was true, the man before him was looking happier, calmer, and generally fitter than he'd been for years, the perpetual stoop of the downtrodden no longer in evidence. He looked confident and ready for anything the world threw at him.

Roy was pleased about that, he liked and respected the Union representative, although there were certainly times around a negotiating table that he deeply wished the other man would find a different career path, one that was less trouble to the city administration. Perhaps home explosives manufacture or something nice and inconspicuous like that.

Hiding a smile at the ridiculous thought, he motioned to a pair of chairs on the other side of the office, a small table between them, in a less formal layout that being on either side of a desk. “Sit, please. Can I get you anything?”

"Thank you, Mayor Christner,” Danny replied, looking pleased. “Some water would be fine.”

He moved to sit down, placing his briefcase, the one he'd been carrying around for as long as Roy had known him and which was a wedding gift from his wife, on the floor beside his chair. Going to the small refrigerator built into the other side of the room next to his desk, Roy retrieved a pair of bottles of water from it, then a couple of crystal glasses from the cupboard above it, taking both sets of items back and putting them on the table. “Help yourself. Are you sure you don't want anything else?”

“This is fine, thanks,” Danny replied, removing the top of the glass bottle and pouring half of it into his glass, then taking a sip. Roy did the same, sitting in the other chair.

“How is your daughter?” Roy asked, inspecting the other man. “Taylor, isn't it?”

“She's very well indeed, thanks,” Danny smiled broadly. “She's transferred to Arcadia after some… minor unpleasantness at Winslow made us both feel she was under-appreciated there. Her entrance tests on Friday went very well. She started on Monday and seems to be having fun so far, she's already made a couple of friends.”

“That's good to hear,” Roy nodded, taking another sip of water and listening. “I wish something could be done to improve Winslow, it's more run down than I like, but it would take a lot of money that simply isn't available to do more than maintain it.” He sighed slightly, as Danny nodded understandingly. “We don't have the budget for massive rebuilding projects which is what I fear it would take.”

“Arcadia seems to be doing well, though,” Danny noted.

Roy sighed again. “That point has come up more often than you'd think. The problem is that Arcadia is partly privately funded by people with deep pockets, who of course send their children there as well. They generally have little interest in funding other schools. I've asked, but the answer so far is always no.”

“I understand. It's annoying but I suppose life isn't perfect. I'm just glad Taylor is going there now.” Danny shook his head a little, before topping up his glass. “She was unhappy at Winslow and not doing as well as she's capable of. You should see how she's changed and blossomed in the last little while since the transfer came through, though. Completely different girl in some ways.” He grinned. “She looks so much like Annette now you wouldn't believe it and has inherited more than looks from her. Determined young lady.”

Roy grinned back. “I remember Annette well, Danny. It was a tragedy losing her like that, so young.”

“It was,” his guest replied, a momentary distant look on his face. “However, I have things to remind me of her, one of them the best thing in my life, so there's that. Enough about me, how is your family?”

“Rory's doing well, thank you, as is Kyla and Deb. I'll mention to Deb that you asked after them, she'd like that.”

“Good. Nice to hear it.”

“My niece has been a little unwell recently, though. She keeps getting headaches from what I'm told. Hopefully there's nothing too serious wrong, she's only just twelve, so that's pretty young for most of the bad problems I can immediately think of.” Roy sighed, shaking her head. “She's a nice girl but so serious a lot of the time. I'll have to visit my brother and take her a little get well present or something. Oh well, I'm sure she'll recover, the young are pretty resilient.”

Danny nodded knowingly. “Oh, yes, they certainly are, trust me.”

Pleasantries over, Roy leaned back in the comfortable chair, holding his glass of water, and studied his guest, who smiled a little under the inspection. “So, Danny, what can I do for the DWU today? I'm afraid that there aren't any large contracts available at the moment, although there may be one or two small short term projects available.”

“I'd be interested in talking about those at some point, but at the moment, it's not so much looking for work as presenting a proposal.” Danny's smile had gone somewhat mysterious.

Looking narrowly at him, knowing damn well the man always had some sort of angle, Roy slowly parroted, “A… proposal.”

“A proposal, yes. One that could benefit the city considerably, and I'll admit my own men and women as well.” Danny's smile grew. “But it's somewhat… unusual.”

Putting his now-empty glass down on the inlaid tabletop with a click, Roy leaned forward again. “How unusual?” His voice was suspicious.

“Quite.” Danny's was amused. After a moment, he put his own glass on the table and stood up, walking to the window overlooking the bay in a generally northern direction from the sixth floor of the building. “Come over here a minute, if you would, Mayor.”

Curious now, Roy did as asked, moving to stand beside his guest, who pointed out the window. Roy looked in the direction indicated. “How would you like that removed,” Danny said quietly.

Roy stared, then looked back to the other man's face. He seemed serious. “The tanker?”

“Yes.”

Silence fell for a few seconds while the mayor thought hard. Danny wasn't known as a man who played jokes, although he certainly had a good sense of humor. And one hell of a temper if you managed to ignite it, which was never good. But at the moment he just looked like he was patiently waiting for an honest answer.

“I suppose it would be a good thing, but you probably know better than I do how incredibly expensive that would be. Marine salvage is pricey at the best of times, which these aren't. How would it even be done, anyway? That thing must weigh thousands of tons at least.”

“Thirty one thousand six hundred,” Danny nodded. “According to the records. Probably less now because some of the equipment was either removed or stolen over the years, but in that ballpark.”

“That's a hell of a lot of steel to cut up and take away,” the mayor commented, looking back at the vast old ship miles away on the horizon. “It would take years, surely. And what would you do with it? Refloating it would be nearly impossible, I know for a fact that there are at least a dozen large holes in the hull from where rocks went through when it sank.”

“True. But, at the current price of approximately two hundred and thirty-five dollars a ton for good quality bulk scrap steel, that represents a little less than seven and a half million dollars, just rusting away. Just for the steel, there are other metals that are worth more in the engine room, the drive shafts, that sort of thing, so call it about eight to eight and a half million dollars. Owned by the city, as far as we can determine.”

Roy was a little startled at the figure. It wasn't huge, but it was nothing to sneeze at, either. “OK,” he replied, not sure quite what the other man was driving at. “But even so, I can see it costing that much at least to salvage it.”

“But even if that was indeed the case, it would then unblock the harbor and allow much larger ships to come and go. The damn thing is completely blocking the deep water channel into the bay. Only fairly small trawlers or cargo ships can go around it, the water either side is too shallow for anything that has very much draft. Not to mention the wreckage in the area which makes it dangerous even then. That's why the port died, of course.” Danny sighed in remembrance, as did the mayor.

“It wasn't that long ago that from here you'd have seen a couple of dozen ships and thousands of men working every day down there.”

“Those days are gone, Danny,” Roy replied sadly.

“Not necessarily.”

They shared a look, then Danny went and sat again, pushing his glass and empty water bottle to the side and putting his briefcase where they'd been. The snapping sound of the latches unlocking was loud in the quiet office. The DWU representative pulled out a thick sheaf of papers in a folder and put it in front of Roy, who had just sat again as well.

“This is a very preliminary proposal and a lot of information is missing from it, but the basics are there,” Danny told him as Roy looked at the document with raised eyebrows. “However, I've checked with a salvage expert, a ship dismantling yard on the west coast, a marine law expert, the records department, and even a marine biologist. It's possible. Even fairly easily doable with some care. And it would revitalize the port, create or maintain close to eight hundred jobs just in the first year, and possibly even allow for the ferry to reopen. You already know my views on that, of course.”

“All too well, Danny,” Roy chuckled, opening the report and reading the first page, a summary of the proposal. His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline within the first two paragraphs.

“You can't be serious.”

“I am. Very.” Danny looked it, when Roy glanced at him. Intrigued, he resumed reading, picking the document up and leaning back. Danny waited patiently.

The actual proposal was only about eight pages, the remainder of the thick stack of papers being made up of charts of the bay, proof of ownership of what looked like at least ninety percent of the junked ships in it, maps of the ships graveyard, a topological relief cross-section of the mouth of the bay, and many other things besides. Most of it had obviously been cobbled together in a hurry but as far as he could see, all hung together.

Feeling a little faint, he closed the report and dropped it to the table, resting his hand on it. “Is this possible? Really?”

“Yes, I think it is. I know how… bizarre… it looks on first sight, but I really think it could be done. The parahuman in question is happy to donate their time and effort to the city, they don't want to profit from it. That makes it much easier from a legal standpoint. The lawyers I spoke to thought it was eminently possible with the right wording in the contract.”

He fell silent again, allowing Roy to think. Getting up and wandering back to the window, the mayor stared at the graveyard of dead ships, slowly going orange in the setting sun. “The entire graveyard, the bay, everything?”

“That's the plan.” Danny smiled when he looked back for a moment. “Clear some space on the docks first, which would require demolishing several warehouses, which are derelict anyway and also belong to the city and would have enough steel in them to be worth salvaging as well. Repair the ground in that area, one of them has a cellar which would need filling with concrete, which is easy and not too expensive, resurface the whole area, add retaining walls and absorbent zones for any runoff, that sort of thing. It's not complicated or very expensive and it's a known process.”

“Once the scrapping area is ready, which we think would take about two weeks, maybe less if I put enough men on the job, we start with the tanker. It would be towed to the docks and the bilges pumped out, because it will be full of all sorts of crap we don't want leaking into the bay. Then, it's sliced up and brought on shore. My men could easily reduce the slices to smaller pieces, sort out anything that wasn't steel, then load the stuff onto rail cars. We'd need to rebuild about half a mile of track that's too badly damaged to repair, to link the rail yard to the main line, but I'm told that would take about two weeks at most, which would be done at the same time as the ground prep work. We even have the track in stock, left over from the refurbishment in the late seventies.”

Roy turned around and stood by the window, listening intently. “The scrap steel would be shipped out by rail. There are six smelters within two hundred miles alone that could handle that quantity of scrap at a price like the one I mentioned earlier, and from what I've been able to find out with some discreet questions, at least three of them are desperate for metal and would probably bid for a contract for as much of it as we could supply.”

“Once the tanker was gone, which would take about three months with a team of perhaps a hundred working on it, the money from it could be used to dredge the harbor, although the parahuman whose idea this ultimately was could help as well and is willing to do it. That then lets larger cargo ships in, which in turn makes shipping out further scrap easier. We can work our way through the graveyard, at a quick minimum estimate there's over sixty-five million dollars worth of steel there that could be sold off, several supertankers worth of smaller ships. It could be considerably more, there are a lot of ships with very incomplete records on the bottom of the bay half-buried in silt, some of them are pretty big. Not to mention at least a dozen hulls that are sound and refloatable. They could either be sold intact or rebuilt.”

He paused for breath, while Roy stared, almost shocked. “Once the graveyard is clear, that's nearly three square miles of prime industrial land right next to the water, all of it owned by the city, available once again. It clears the way for the ferry, as well, which is a bonus. Not to mention allowing for an influx of exactly the expertise we need to revive it, the funds to pay for it, and the jobs for people to run it. At a rough calculation we would clear more than ten million dollars a year over three years after transportation, labor, and material costs are taken into account. But the indirect payback could be as much as ten times that during the same period. Much more over a decade, it could attract a hell of a lot of business to the Bay.”

“We'd need to bring in some equipment, we have most of it in stock from the old days, but some is too old, some is worn out, and some is just not in large enough quantities. Large quantities of oxygen and fuel for thermal lances and cutting torches, new rail cars and replacement parts for some of the old ones that are still lying around the rail yard, things like that. Nothing very exciting, just normal heavy industrial equipment. A lot of it could even be purchased used in this economy for a large cost saving. We could upgrade it as needed when the money starts coming in, and the repair work means yet more jobs.”

Falling silent, he watched the Mayor, who was gaping.

“That's… certainly an ambitious plan, Danny,” Roy finally managed to say. Danny acknowledged the comment with a nod but didn't say anything.

“Too ambitious?” Roy mused.

“I don't think so, sir. The tanker is the bottleneck. Even without the help of the parahuman involved, once that was gone and the harbor dredged we could do the rest the old fashioned way. It would take years longer but is still practical. The figures are in the report.” He shrugged slightly. “I'm told that they are happy to help do the whole thing, or any subdivision you want. They don't want to put good people out of work but at the same time they don't want to see the city decay any more. And you know as well as I do that Brockton Bay is dying. If we don't do something fairly soon, it might be too late.”

“Depressingly true,” Roy nodded, thinking deeply. “The gangs are killing us, we're on the edge of a cliff the whole time. If we could pump more money into the economy and stop it instantly disappearing into Lung's or Kaiser's pockets, the effect would probably be profound. A lot of the drug problems which fuel the gangs are in the end the result of poor desperate people, after all. They have nothing to lose.”

“But give them jobs, even fairly basic ones, they have,” Danny pointed out. “Start at the bottom and build from there.”

“What about security and the gangs?”

“Page five. The equipment is the only really expensive thing and most of it is both so heavy and so specialized it's hardly worth the effort of stealing in the first place except for by a few Tinkers. We could secure it well enough just by putting a large fence around the entire site except the waterfront and posting a few guards, as we do with the DWU facility. More jobs. The upfront cost is fairly high but not unreasonable and could be done in stages, easily. The scrap itself is only worth anything in quantities measured in tons, so unless someone steals an entire trainload it's not an issue. If they do, that's what insurance is for.” Danny smiled, again stopping.

“Christ.” Roy sighed, flipping the report open and looking at the summary, then leafing through it to a table of estimated costings and studying it closely. “This is… I'm not sure what this is.”

“A good idea?”

“A completely insane idea. But it's so crazy it just might work.” He grinned as Danny chuckled. “You're sure this parahuman of your can do it?”

“I am, as mad as it sounds. Quite easily.”

“There's a cape in Brockton Bay with that sort of power?” Roy was astounded. “A Tinker?”

“Oddly enough, no,” his guest smiled. “That part is still a surprise. But they can do what's needed.”

“You're absolutely certain of that?”

“I am. Some preliminary experiments have already been done.” Danny snickered at the look on Roy's face. “Discreetly. But it's not too hard to arrange. The PRT will go mental when they see it, of course, so I'm half tempted not to tell them just to watch their expressions, but we should probably be more responsible than that.”

Roy stared, then started laughing. “Oh, god, I can imagine Piggot's face if she looked out her window one day and that tanker was flying away or something. She'd pop an artery on the spot.” Shaking his head, he snickered for a while. He found the PRT director, while he respected her, someone he preferred not to deal with too often. She was competent, but hard to like.

“Is this parahuman you found associated with the PRT?” he asked curiously.

Danny smiled. “The person in question respects the PRT to a degree but has no immediate wish to be directly associated with them,” he said dryly. “I suspect that once they become known for what they can do, though, the PRT may be very interested in them. Not that it would do them much good if the parahuman decided they wanted nothing to do with them.”

“A little difficult to deal with?”

“Not at all. Just dangerous if pushed too hard or threatened.” Danny shrugged again. “Personally, though, I'd trust them with the lives of myself and my daughter any day of the week, which I have to say isn't quite the feelings I have for the PRT, sadly enough.”

Shaking his head in wonder, Roy closed the folder. “I'm going to have to think very hard about this, Danny. It's a hell of a step to take and if it failed, it would fail spectacularly. Neither one of us would come out of that well.”

“I know, but I have faith in the plan.”

After a moment or two more, Roy sighed but nodded. “Look, you go ahead and work this up into something more concrete. Get all the facts and figures right. Bring it back when it's ready and I'll read it again. I'm going to think it over in the meantime, but...”

He trailed off. Danny nodded.

“All right, sir. Thank you for listening to my insane idea.”

“Thank you for bringing it to me. I think.” Roy smiled as he stood. “I really hope you're right about this, Danny. It could be… remarkable. But we need to be sure.”

“I'll continue with working it out quietly,” Danny replied. “We don't want to publicize any of it until we're ready, that would cause all sorts of problems, I think, but with some luck I can have a much more detailed report in about a week.”

“Fine. I'll have to get it checked out, but I'll wait until you have the details ready.” He held out his hand, feeling rather more positive about the day.

Danny Hebert might well be nuts, but he had both ambition and common sense, two abilities that seldom seemed to go together. The last one was so rare it was almost a super-power in its own right.

Shaking the outstretched hand, Danny put his paperwork back in his briefcase and left with a final smile.

Returning to the window, Roy stared at the dimming shape of the huge tanker. It had been part of the background for so long he had real trouble working out what the view would look like if it was gone, but he was suddenly feeling quite interested in finding out.

Chapter Text

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Roy smiled as the door opened to reveal his sister. “Roy!” she said with delight. “I haven't seen you in weeks. Come in. What brings you here?”

Entering the house, he embraced her after she closed the door. “Hi, Sis,” he smiled. “I was reminded of you guys yesterday by a visitor, and decided I should stop in. I've been so busy I haven't had time for anything much else for over a month so it's time I did something else. How are Jim and Dinah?”

His sister Cheryl smiled again. “Jim is fine, he's in the living room. Dinah is in bed, her headaches have been worse this week. Poor girl.”

“Have the doctors found anything wrong?” Roy asked as he followed her deeper into the house having hung up his coat and taken his shoes off. She shook her head.

“Not yet, no. Overall she's very healthy and active. They think it's probably migraine, but they're not sure what the cause is. She's going in for some more tests on Monday.”

They entered the living room, where his brother in law was looking at a pile of paperwork with a small thoughtful frown, but glanced up when he heard them. “Oh, Hi, Roy,” he said with a grin as he put the paperwork down and stood. “How are you. How's the Mayoring business doing?”

“Pretty well, Jim, in both cases,” Roy smiled, shaking his hand, then sitting in the chair he was waved to. “Money is tight, as always, the gangs are a nightmare, I wish Kaiser and Lung would kill each other and make life easier for everyone, but other than that...” He chuckled as Jim and Cheryl laughed. “Could be worse. In fact, I had a very interesting talk yesterday with Danny Hebert from the DWU that makes me think things could improve a lot soon with some luck.”

They looked interested. “What do you mean, Roy?” his sister asked curiously.

“I can't go into the details yet, but it could clean up a lot of the problems around here, and make the city a lot of money, not to mention saving a lot of jobs.” He shook his head wonderingly. “I still have trouble wrapping my head around it, but the man thinks big, I'll give him that. And he seems to know what he's talking about.”

A sound at the doorway made all three of them look over, to see a petite twelve year old girl standing there looking a little fragile. Her eyes met his and widened a little, then she smiled. “Uncle Roy!” she said, coming over to him. “You haven't been here for ages.”

“I know, dear, and I'm sorry,” he smiled, moving over in his chair to leave a gap. “Come here.” She hopped up beside him and leaned on him, looking happier.

“I'm glad you came, Uncle Roy. I was getting bored.”

“How are you feeling, Dinah?” he asked. She shrugged.

“It hurts, but not as bad. Sometimes it's worse.”

“How is your schoolwork going?”

“It's boring,” she sighed. “Did you bring me anything?”

“I did,” he grinned. “Go and look in my coat. Right hand pocket.”

Sliding down with a smile, she left the room, while Jim and Cheryl laughed. “You spoil that girl,” his sister said.

“Of course I do,” he grinned, “She's the only niece I have.”

Coming back into the room holding a small gift-wrapped box, Dinah retook her seat and studied it carefully. She shook it gently. “What is it?” she asked.

“Open it and find out.”

With frowning concentration she carefully unpicked the tape holding the green wrapping paper in place, then removed it intact, making him grin again. His own daughter did exactly the same thing, while his son would just tear the paper away as fast as possible. Maybe it was a boy thing.

Revealed under the paper was a small box, with a picture on the front that made her smile. She lifted the lid to reveal a small, high-tech music player, made so precisely it was almost jewelery. “I hope you like it, Dinah. I know how young people are into their music.”

Lifting it out of the foam she inspected it closely, turning it over in her hands until she found the power button, which she pressed. It gently beeped and the small display lit up. Touching it she played with the various icons for a moment, then found the manual in the box and started gravely reading it from cover to cover. “Thank you, Uncle Roy,” she said in a distracted but grateful voice.

“You're welcome, Princess,” he replied, stroking her hair for a moment.

“Thanks, Roy,” his sister smiled. “That will mean a lot to her. She's been at home for days now. The school sends her work, and she's keeping up, but she's also bored out of her mind most of the time.”

“I'm sorry to hear that, Cheryl,” Roy told her honestly. “That must be very hard for all of you.”

“It's not ideal,” Jim agreed soberly. Standing up, he added, “Would you like a drink?”

“A small one, thanks. With ice.” Shortly Roy found himself holding a small tumbled of amber liquid with a couple of ice cubes in it. Dinah looked at it, wrinkled her nose, then went back to reading the documentation for her new toy, making all three adults laugh.

“How is your family getting along?” Cheryl asked.

“Not too bad at all,” he smiled. “Rory seems to be having fun, Kyla is apparently doing well in school, and Deb is keeping busy with various projects. Can’t complain overall.”

“Good. Things here are much the same, mostly, except for poor Dinah.” The girl looked up at the sound of her name, smiled a little, then went back to her job. “So, what is this big secret project?”

“It’s a big secret, so I can’t say,” Roy laughed, making Jim look amusingly sad. “Sorry. It’s a little sensitive right now, but with some luck I can let you in on it in a few weeks. It’s going to be spectacular if we can pull it off, though. We could revitalize the city to a level I can hardly believe if it works out the way Danny thinks.”

“I’ve never met the man but I’ve heard quite a lot about him,” his brother-in-law remarked thoughtfully. “Didn’t his wife die a while back?”

“Yes, it was a car accident. Very sad. She was only about thirty-five and a really smart, funny woman. Her daughter apparently takes after her but I’ve never met the girl. She recently transferred to Arcadia, though, and Danny says she’s doing well, which is nice. The poor guy was really depressed about his wife for a long time but seems to have recovered very well recently, if what I saw yesterday was any indication.”

Roy smiled. “I think his daughter was a big part of that, whatever prompted the transfer from Winslow to Arcadia seems to have done them both good in the aftermath.”

“God, Winslow.” Cheryl looked appalled. “I visited that place once, it was awful. Why on earth can’t you do something about that, Roy?”

“It would take too much money, Sis. Way too much. We simply don’t have it without raising taxes, which would probably spark a local civil war on the spot. No one has the money to go for that, aside from a small number of people, who would simply not pay one way or the other.” He shrugged a little fatalistically. “I may be the mayor but I know where the real power is in this city. I’m not stupid.”

After a little thought, though, he grinned evilly. “If this plan works, that might well change.”

“If that’s the case you should definitely do it, Roy, whatever it is. Right, Jim?”

“Yes,” her husband nodded, also smiling. “We need to make the city safer, so if you have a plan that will do that, go for it.”

“A poll of local voters returned a unanimously positive result,” he snickered. “Small sample size, but significant.”

Beside him, Dinah put the manual back in the box, then looked up at him. “What does unanimously mean, Uncle Roy?”

“It means everyone agreed. What about you? Should I go ahead with the plan? Will it work, do you think?”

She winced. “84.3% chance of success if you proceed,” she muttered. “Ow.”

Roy stared at her, then at his sister, who smiled sadly. “She keeps saying things like that. No one seems to know why.”

“How very strange,” he mumbled, suddenly thinking very hard. Dinah went back to her music player, still wincing a little, fiddling with the device in a way that suggested she had remembered everything she’d read.

After a couple of minutes and a wildly odd thought, he asked, “Dinah?”

She looked at him.

“How many coins do I have in my pocket?”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t work like that, Uncle Roy. Only percentages.”

Nodding very slowly, he thought for a moment, then asked, “What are the chances I will take less than three coins from my pocket?”

“9.49%,” she replied, rubbing her head with her free hand. “It hurts if you do that too much.”

“OK, dear, last one. What are the chances I will take more than four coins out?”

“96.3%. Ow.” She paled a little, looking like she was going to fall over. Stroking her hair with his other hand, he looked over at Cheryl and Jim, who had been watching with worried curiosity.

He put his hand in his pocket, rummaged around randomly, then pulled it out, opening it flat to reveal three dimes, one nickle, and two quarters. “I need to call someone about Dinah,” he said quietly. “But I think I know why she gets headaches.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Slowly rotating her office chair back and forth while she thought, Hannah puzzled over the whiteboard on the wall of her office. On it were written a number of observations from several sources about the new Cape Saurial. She’d been scribbling them down and adding to them in various colors of marker and no particular order since she'd started writing the preliminary PRT threat report a few days ago and had just finished adding in some more, squeezing them in wherever she could find space on the now full board.

Looking at the list she now suspected the report was quite likely a gross underestimate.

  • Appears to be reptilian, although she told Clockblocker and Kin Win she was not
  • Speech pattern and overall mannerisms, ignoring the physical variance due to different body type, are broadly consistent with female teenager, approximately fourteen to seventeen years old
  • High Brute level strength, upper limit unknown, but claims to be able to dead lift over two and a half tons. New Wave observers note this figure likely underestimate. Brute rating possibly too low
  • Significantly enhanced senses, sight and smell verified although level unknown, hearing suspected. Thinker rating possibly too low
  • Extremely fast reaction time, far better than human scale, added to high speed motion ability. Can run at minimum 60mph, suspected true limits higher. Possibly significantly. Shows no preference for which way up she is in combat, scales walls like level surfaces and can run across ceilings. Uses claws for purchase. Mover rating too low
  • Extremely durable. Showed no reaction to high velocity bullet impact to side of head except minor verbal annoyance. True durability unknown
  • Can apparently create matter from nothing, in specific forms, maximum complexity unknown. Matter generation confirmed for several types of cloth and metal, including the material Armsmaster has designated SaurialSteel, although he is also insistent it is not any form of ferrous metal. Most qualities of this material unknown at present
  • Gallant claims to detect two distinct although related emotional signatures from her, but has difficulty describing them except as very faint. Appears perturbed by it
  • From Lady Photon's observations, has significant skills in weapons handling, such as sword work, and demonstrated capability to dual wield such weapons with ease
  • Appears, again from the above observations, to have skill in battlefield tactics. This is confirmed by video recording given to Kid Win. Such abilities would be expected as the result of many years training and experience, but no such experience can be found and is inconsistent with estimated age range
  • Is actively leveraging above skills and abilities to produce new techniques, such as tail mounted blade set, observed to be 'horrifyingly effective'
  • Can move with extreme silence if required. Clockblocker completely missed her and Kid Win stated that if he hadn't been watching, he would never have known she was there. Possible minor Stranger ability?
  • Non-aggressive, polite, and respectful to authority in the form of the BBPD, and generally friendly demeanor. Considered likeable by almost everyone. Shows no worry about entering shops and purchasing snacks. Likes raw eggs with shell. Exhibits mischievous sense of humor
  • Extremely effective in close quarters combat, using martial arts techniques unlike any on record except superficially, shows preference to work in dark, possibly for psychological impact on opponents
  • Shows preference for minimum force take downs, no injuries reported from last several operations. Minimizes collateral damage when possible
  • Has developed working relationship with DWU and Danny Hebert, seen at DWU facility on at least two occasions
  • Suspected medium to medium-high level changer, no evidence so far available for this

Studying the list, she looked particularly at the notes about estimated age and her skill level which was in conflict with that estimate. There was something bothering her about the whole thing, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.

Leaving those aside, the list described a cape with a remarkable range of abilities, mostly revolving around the Brute rating. Her speed and reaction time were probably all part of the same thing, the very high strength giving her the ability to move very fast indeed. So that could lump Brute and Mover into one easily enough. The Thinker rating was a nicety, really, it just gave a convenient handle on the enhanced sensory package.

Even the possible minor Stranger rating she'd jotted down a few minutes ago was only a reflection of her extreme level of control over her movements. Move slowly and carefully enough and most people won't see or hear you.

She thought it all hung together much better if you considered her as more like the reptile she appeared as, despite her protestations to the contrary, than a human. Many lizards were very strong for their size, had remarkably fast reactions, could move extremely fast or ridiculously slowly at will, and had wildly better senses than humans as well. It was as if someone had taken a lizard and reworked it around a human frame more than anything else. Or possibly the other way around. Although a true reptile slowed to a crawl in low temperatures due to being cold blooded which she definitely wasn't, showing no problems walking around barefoot in near freezing temperatures.

The vaguest hint of another possibility came to her, making her try to bring it to the front of her mind. She couldn't for the moment and stopped straining, allowing her subconscious to work on it, while she looked the list over once more.

The mismatch between what she thought was fighting experience and the estimated age was odd. Either the cape was quite a few years older than she seemed and had racked up a lot of time fighting quite serious odds, without leaving a paper trail, or her Trigger had been nice enough to gift her with a lot of skills that most people would need to learn the hard way. Not impossible but very unusual.

The other very weird bit was that part about Gallant being convinced she had two different emotional patterns at the same time, almost like…

She froze, her chair stopping dead, then leaned forward and read the list again very carefully. A wild surmise came to her as her eyes widened.

“God. It fits, more or less.” Hannah leaned back in her chair, her mind racing. It was a possibility that seemed fairly out there but there was precedence. Not that she liked to think about that.

“Oh, hell,” she sighed. “The Director is going to have a fit.”

Looking the list over again, she shook her head. A few things, specifically the matter creation ability if that's what it really was, stood out as not being quite aligned with her alarming hypothesis, but she could come up with various possibilities even they might be explained by, if you took the central precept of her idea as true. And it explained the lack of any evidence so far for the last point, making it unnecessary.

Copying her notes from the board into a notebook, she erased the original. If she was right, she didn't want anyone knowing before she had a chance to run it past Director Piggot. There were known to be a minimum of two moles reporting to people unknown in the PRT at the moment, although so far only one of them had been positively identified. The man in question was being carefully fed a diet of believable but misdirecting information in an attempt to see who he was working for without tipping that person or group off. So far it hadn't produced anything particularly useful.

Checking the time, she nodded to herself. It was still early enough that the director would be awake, although she'd gone home a couple of hours ago, neither having her own ability to not sleep, or as much physical stamina as might be wished due to her various ailments. After debating with herself for a moment, she decided not to call in advance, going down to the equipment room and checking out some gear she thought might be useful, before heading for the boat to the city.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Emily Piggot sighed slightly as the doorbell rang, looking at the clock on her bedside table and seeing it was just after half past nine. She normally went to bed early except on days where she had a late dialysis, which today she hadn’t had, and had been looking forward to a quiet night reading for a little while then going to sleep.

The bell rang again, so she mumbled something rude under her breath, struggled to sit up on the edge of the bed, then as a precaution, reached under her pillow and removed her service pistol, checking it with the familiarity of long habit. Standing with a grunt she made her way to the door, checked the entry screen to the side, raised her eyebrows, then opened the door on the security chain with the pistol at her side.

Seeing it was in fact Hannah in her civilian guise, she sighed once more, closed the door, removed the chain, and opened it again waving the woman in. “I’m sorry to disturb you so late, Director, but I have information I don’t trust to the PRT computers or the phone,” Hannah said apologetically as soon as she was inside and the door was shut. She didn’t even blink in surprise as Emily flicked the safety on the pistol on again and put it in her dressing robe pocket.

“Come into the living room and tell me, then,” Emily yawned. “I need some tea if I’m going to have to think. Do you want some, Hannah?”

“Please. Thank you, Director.”

The younger woman followed her superior into the other room, taking a seat when she was silently waved to it and waiting patiently as Emily boiled some water and made two cups of tea, bringing them back with her along with milk and sugar. Sitting down with a sigh of relief she added the latter to her own in a small amount, knowing it was bad for her diabetes but not at the moment caring, then took a sip. The other woman did much the same.

“All right, what brings you here at this time of night that couldn’t wait until morning?” Emily asked.

“Saurial. Or, some thoughts I have had while going over various things about her.” Hannah looked worried, which made Emily’s heart sink a little. The other woman was one of the very few capes she genuinely respected and if she thought something might be amiss… It could be bad.

“Go on.”

“You’ve read my initial threat report?”

“I have. Also the other reports from the Wards, and the BBPD interactions as well. So far this young woman, despite an unconventional appearance and methodology, appears to be doing good work. Much better work than most new capes and quite a lot of experienced ones.” Emily smiled faintly. “I wish more heroes would try to minimize the damage to people and infrastructure the way she seems to.”

“All that is true, yes. She’s been impressively effective. Even though several people seem to be worried about going into dark places now having seen her recordings.” Hannah smirked slightly. “Poor Clockblocker, despite seeming to rather like her, has said more than once that there’s no way you could possibly pay him enough to go into a dark warehouse with her in there as well.”

“Her prank on him was amusing, I thought. It was refreshing to have him the target for once. And if you say I said that, you’re fired.” Emily smiled a little more widely, making her guest grin briefly.

“Noted.”

Hannah’s smile disappeared after a moment. “I’ve been going over my notes and the various reports for days, thinking that there was something missing, something that I should have seen. On Monday, I was contacted by Lady Photon, who passed on some more information on Saurial, which was… intriguing.”

“New Wave?” Emily was a little surprised. “What have they been doing with Saurial?”

“Apparently last week Glory Girl had a run in with her. Words were exchanged. She didn’t go into detail, she seemed embarrassed, but apparently Glory Girl said some things that were quite rude, then stormed off. Not entirely surprising knowing the young woman, she can be quite hot headed.”

“Yes,” Emily nodded sourly. She was all too aware of that. It certainly wasn’t the first time. “How did Saurial take it?”

“Oddly well, apparently. She didn’t rise to the challenge at all, merely asked her to go away and stop being rude. When Brandish contacted her on Sunday, she asked if Glory Girl was all right and seemed genuinely to be concerned. Which is somewhat unusual, and rather nice.”

“It’s not normal cape behavior in many cases, certainly,” Emily replied, frowning in thought.

Nodding, Hannah continued, “Apparently Saurial was at the time ‘training’ as she put it in the DWU facility at the docks. Brandish asked if they could meet so Glory Girl could apologize and she invited them to meet her there, which they did, ‘they’ being Brandish, Glory Girl, Lady Photon, and Laserdream, the latter two visiting at the time of the call and going along out of curiosity, I think.”

“The DWU facility?” Emily frowned again, surprised. “What was she doing there?”

“She said she needed a large open place that didn’t have anyone in it for training, looked around, spotted it, then tracked down the number of the person to ask if she could legitimately use it. Danny Hebert.”

“Oh.” That was a name she’d hoped not to hear again for quite a while. At least this time it wasn’t accompanied with evidence of serious wrongdoing from her people. “And he said yes?”

“So she claimed. Since then, she has visited the facility at least once, she was spotted going inside on Monday late afternoon and apparently staying there for over an hour.”

“Interesting. I wonder why?”

Hannah shrugged. “I have no idea, although I’m discreetly trying to find out. So far without any luck, the dock workers tend to stick together and not talk too much to other people. They’re surprisingly loyal.”

Emily thought more about it, nodded, then motioned to the other woman to continue. “Anyway, the New Wave women arrived in time to see Saurial engaged in what Lady Photon described as one of the most high speed and horrific series of hit and run attacks she’d ever encountered, on a large number of training dummies that Saurial had apparently manufactured. They witnessed her making more later. They were made of some sort of stone, metal, and something like wood. At the time they turned up she was using a pair of the large war hammers that Gallant and Vista reported seeing, apparently frighteningly competently.”

“It worried her?”

“It did. Glory Girl was staring in shock, apparently. When Saurial switched to a huge two handed sword she nearly fell over. The girl can hit so fast that you’d get half a dozen strikes inside a second, which to be honest is probably complete overkill for most people outside Lung. Assuming the weapon is made of the hyperdense metal she seems to like using, it would both be remarkably heavy and probably implausibly sharp. Armsmaster is of the opinion that it would accept and maintain an edge he called molecule-scale. Later observations by New Wave would bear that out.”

Hannah looked somewhat disturbed. “At the end of their meeting, she formed a set of four blades on a fitting on the end of her tail and used it to dissect a solid metal dummy with ease. I was told she seemed pleased by the effect.”

“God. That’s… unpleasant,” Emily couldn’t help but say, picturing the event. Hannah nodded a little.

“In close quarters, she would be appallingly hard to deal with if she went all out. Especially since she appears to raise the concept of bullet-proof to new heights.” She explained how the girl had been sniped at nine times and laughed it off, then captured the sniper with minimal fuss and no real effort. Emily listened closely.

“I checked the scene and found expended 30-06 cartridges, which match the gun the police were given. The weapon was a brand new Remington 750 hunting rifle, quite high end, along with a very good scope. The serial number traces to a batch of weapons delivered to a gun dealer in Chicago. It was reported stolen recently, along with several other weapons and a large amount of ammunition. There are no leads as to who was behind the theft, but that isn’t unusual in that area. Or here.”

After a moment to allow her superior to absorb the information, she went on, “I had a thought when I was studying the scene and looked around for a while. The warehouse the shooter, an ex marine now associated with the merchants, was firing from was well picked, it gave a perfect view over the DWU yard where Saurial was. However, to the west and another two hundred yards away, I spotted a similarly good position from the first one. When I investigated, I found a room that had been recently and professionally cleaned. No traces left of whoever did it, aside from the fact that it been cleaned in the first place. From that point, an observer could watch the sniper and Saurial’s reaction to him.”

She broke off, waiting. It didn’t take Emily long to connect the dots.

“You think it was a setup, not a random merchant sniper or something Skidmark ordered, and someone was watching the results. An experiment to see what she’d do.”

“I do.”

“Who and why?”

“I don't know, and I don't know. But it's… concerning. The other interesting thing is how did they know? I mean, either whoever was watching her, or they knew ahead of time that Saurial was going to be there. From what I've been able to find out she was probably only there for between three and four hours so they'd have had to move fairly quickly in any case.”

Emily considered the idea, then slowly nodded. “What about the shooter? Does he know anything?”

“No, nothing useful. He's an ex marine, as I stated, dishonorably discharged for drug use some six years ago. It seems he ended up in Brockton Bay about a year back and fell in with the merchants, he's basically homeless but seems to somehow have managed to keep himself in fairly good condition. He can't remember very much of any use, he was approached by 'some guy' as he put it, two days ago, paid nearly two and a half thousand dollars in cash, and a quantity of various drugs he asked for to sweeten the deal, given a photo of the target, and a disposable phone. He got a call and did the job. He was pretty incoherent even the next day when I went to see him, so how he managed to pull off that series of shots I have no idea. A lot of Ritalin and ingrained experience, I think.”

Hannah sighed a little. “It's basically a dead end. Neither the police or I have any idea who did it, who stole the weapons, or what the purpose was. Except for the thought I had, which is about all that makes sense. They must have known it wouldn't actually harm her, she's already well known to be pretty invulnerable, the information is all over PHO. So I think it was a test.”

“I wonder why Skidmark and his crew didn't interfere?” Emily mused out loud.

“As far as I can tell the local junkies were scared off an hour or so later by some men in masks who went around and told them to leave, waving baseball bats. No actual violence but the threat was there. I found one of them when I left the warehouse, he said the guys meant it, so he and his friends left without any arguments. That's all he knew.”

Sipping her tea, Emily leaned back and looked at the other woman, who was watching her patiently. Eventually she nodded a little. “OK, it all seems to hang together, although the point escapes me right now. Is that it?”

“No.” Hannah looked troubled again. “I've been trying to rationalize all the oddities about her that we have noticed and had a wild idea I find… worrying. I may well be completely wrong but I think it needs to be considered, but it's so sensitive that I didn't want to risk it getting out. Nothing is on computer, only in a notebook I carry with me.”

Surprised, Emily asked, “What's the idea?”

Leaning forward, Hannah pulled a small notebook from her pocket, opened it, then glanced at the page, but didn't show it to her yet. “We've got her down as Brute 6, Shaker 4, Mover and Thinker 3, and a possible Changer rating of 6 or above at the moment. The last one is purely speculative but would explain some of the peculiarities about the case.”

“Yes, I know all that, Hannah. It's an unusually large number of different abilities but hardly unique. So?”

“I was thinking about it and you could easily roll the Brute, Mover, and Thinker abilities into one, really.” She explained her reasoning, making Emily nod thoughtfully. “The Shaker power is in some ways the oddest, Armsmaster is very intrigued about it. A possible Changer ability would be one explanation as to how she vanishes so well from public view when she's not out doing things, but I realized there might be another possibility that explains a lot of what we've seen.”

Impatiently, Emily replied, “Stop beating about the bush, Hannah, and tell me. What's your disturbing idea.”

“She's a construct made by a Biotinker Master.”

Emily dropped her teacup and paled. She felt her heart jump for a moment.

What?” she finally whispered, horrific memories from years ago coming back, screams in the dark and terrible things chasing her and her squad…

“I'm not certain, Director, as I said,” Hannah hastily added, looking a little worried. “It's just a hypothesis at the moment but it fits quite a lot of the observed facts.”

Breathing heavily, Emily waited until her heart-rate settle down, then picked the cup off the carpet and put it on the table. “Explain, please.”

“OK.” Hannah looked at her notes, although she didn't need to due to her eidetic memory, as Emily knew. She tended to do that sort of thing to give herself time to think. “Saurial appears as far as we can tell to be between fourteen and seventeen. She's already said she's under eighteen. My best guess would be sixteen. She would also appear to be a recent trigger, probably no more than four to six weeks ago.” Glancing up to see if her superior was following, she received a nod to continue, which she did.

“The problem is that she also exhibits skills and techniques that in my estimation are the result of several, possibly many, years practice in martial arts, combat techniques, weapons use, battle tactics… The list is quite long already. It's difficult to correlate with the age. Either she's a lot older than she looks and has somehow stayed out of the public eye for years, or somehow she's learned years worth of abilities in weeks.”

“Powers are largely unknown, Hannah, that could be part of hers.”

Hannah nodded agreement. “It could. Or it could be the result of an external agent essentially programming her with a large number of abilities and techniques. If, for example, a Biotinker had set out to design a warrior creature, he or she could quite possibly have based it around a reptile of some sort. It's a good choice assuming the metabolism could be redesigned to function in low temperatures, since reptiles are strong, fast, tough, have excellent senses, and often good regenerative abilities. I can only assume that a biotinkered version would be improved in all those things to one degree or another.”

Pondering the suggestion Emily admitted to herself it was possible. “Why make it with the personality of a sixteen year old girl, though?” she asked.

“Perhaps to make her likeable, which she definitely is. It throws people off, her appearance is fairly threatening, but she's also friendly and seems pleasant. It makes people underestimate her.”

“A deliberate ploy, you think.”

“Possibly, yes. The really disturbing thing is that the poor girl may not even realize the truth. In a way, like a Case 53, but worse. She may well be a completely artificial person, who thinks she's real.”

Thinking, Emily fell silent, as did Hannah, while she went over the facts. After a minute or so the other woman looked at her notes once more for a moment. “It explains the appearance, all the abilities except the Shaker one, and several other incongruities. Where she vanishes to after she does her thing, for example. Some lair where she might perhaps just get more or less switched off and reprogrammed. It also explains the dual emotional signatures that Gallant reported, if the biotinker is a master as well, and connected to her in some manner. Possibly controlling her, possibly simply aware of what she is.”

“It may also be that the sniper test was done by her maker to evaluate her performance without her knowledge. I can see that happening if I'm right about her.” Hanna shrugged. “Which I may well not be, she might be exactly what she appears to be. But I thought you should know.”

Absently Emily nodded, still thinking. A lot of it fitted unpleasantly well. Which was worrying. “What about her Shaker abilities, then? How do you explain that?”

“At the moment I can't,” Hannah admitted. “One possibility is that the proposed Biotinker may have found a way to induce powers artificially in his or her creations.” Emily paled at the thought again. “Or it might be something completely different that's just appearing to be a Shaker ability. Teleportation, perhaps? I don't know. But can you say it's impossible?”

“Unfortunately, no, I can't,” the Director sighed. “Too little is known about powers and as Clockblocker is more than happy to say, they're bullshit at the best of times.”

With a slight smile Hannah nodded.

“If I'm right about it, I think that at some point we're going to see other constructs along the same pattern, it's unlikely the Biotinker would stop at one. I would assume that the basic design could be modified in many ways, or they could come up with something entirely different. I think we should be on the alert for that. Hopefully whoever it is, they're not actively hostile, the actions of Saurial to date would support that, but we should remain observant. And continue to try to persuade her to come in for tests which might prove it one way or another.”

The woman leaned back with a sigh. “As I said, Director, I may be going down the wrong path, but I think there's enough merit to the idea to consider it. The ramifications could be unpleasant.”

That's putting it mildly,” Emily replied with a sour look. “Shit. Just what we needed. OK, thank you for telling me, and making certain I won't be able to sleep tonight.” She sighed as Hannah smiled again.

“I think we need to be very careful about this. Any rumors that got out could cause absolute chaos. I'm classifying this to the top level, you mention it to no one. Not even Armsmaster at the moment, I want it kept to the absolute minimum number of people. Write up a report, by hand, and I'll look it over. We need to keep gathering evidence to confirm or deny it as well. I'm going to have to think about the next step. We'll have to notify the Chief Director sooner or later but I'd like to have something more than a theory and some rather circumstantial evidence, no matter how convincing, to show her.”

“Yes, Director,” Hannah agreed.

“And if any more reptilian capes turn up, we can start getting worried. All right, I'm going back to bed. You go and do whatever it is you do when everyone else is asleep.” Emily struggled to her feet with a groan, her back killing her, as Hannah also stood, then let her out, before locking the door. Going back to bed she put the pistol under her pillow again and picked up the book she'd intended to read before going to sleep, but in the end found it impossible to concentrate on.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Danny smiled as Taylor leaned in the doorway to his home office, smiling back. “Are you going out tonight, dear?” he asked. She shook her head.

“No, I'm going to get an early night tonight. I've done my homework and I think it all went well.”

“You're enjoying school, aren't you?” he asked. His daughter smiled again and nodded.

“Yes. It's a lot of fun right now. Mandy and Lucy are nice, I've met several other people who seem like they're friendly, the work is going well, and there aren't any bullies. I can't complain.” She grinned for a moment. “And I've caught three more groups of criminals, helped the fire department get two people out of a wrecked car, and met Clockblocker and Vista again. Still haven't met Aegis yet or any of the other capes.”

“Have you decided whether he's the one you thought he was?” Danny asked.

She nodded, her smile going away. “Pretty much, yes. I walked past him yesterday and his scent was definitely the one I smelled on Clockblocker and Kid Win, and it also had traces of Sophia mixed in. I think that probably confirms my idea but I won't be sure until I meet him in costume.” Taylor shrugged a little. “Not that it really matters but I'd like to know for sure.”

“I understand.” Danny thought she was handling it in a very mature way and was proud of her for it. After a moment, he smiled again. “You really did make an impression at the DWU on Monday, dear,” he laughed. “I've been bumping into people ever since who want to meet you and were disappointed that they missed your visit. Perhaps Saurial should stop by again.”

“I'll check her schedule, Dad,” she grinned. “She's busy but may be able to make time for the little people.”

“The little people would be grateful,” he snickered. “Most gracious of her.”

She pushed off from the doorway and made an elaborate bow, her tail waving behind her, which cracked him up. “You're entirely welcome, sir,” she giggled, straightening up again. “I may go back on Sunday for some more training, but I also need to go and try those javelins and darts. They're too dangerous for the DWU yard, I'll go up to the shipyard like I said.”

“Have you used your combat form in public yet?” he asked curiously. “I know you use that form when you're running around but it's always cloaked, right?”

She nodded. “So far, yes. I haven't run into any problem that needed anything more powerful than Saurial yet but I guess I will sooner or later. I'm trying to think of a name for it. I'm not sure if I want to let people know Saurial can change shape or size at the moment, it's possible that could lead them back to me and you.”

“Don't you think having two different reptilian capes running around in the same place is going to make people suspicious anyway?” he asked. “You are fairly distinctive after all. Not to mention all the other similarities, like the weapons and armor.”

“The armor looks completely different, Dad,” she protested. “No skirt, different color, everything. Anyway, what are people going to do? Just put it down to a weird coincidence, probably.” She giggled as he nodded thoughtfully. “Or some great big conspiracy theory,” she added. “There are some idiotic ones on PHO about me. I haven't posted yet but I should start soon. But it's fun reading about all the things people are saying, even though some of them are just creepy. That Void Cowboy is a freak.”

“I can agree, I found some of the posts… unpleasant,” Danny shuddered. “But the moderators seem to smack him down pretty fast.”

“I might go for another swim as well,” she mused after a nod and a smile. “I liked doing that. Maybe go up the coast for a while and find somewhere uninhabited to do some more experiments. I still haven't tried the full Varga form, it's too big for the city except in an emergency. People could see me from the other side of the bay. I want to try the blast voice as well, which is much too dangerous to do around here.”

“Be very careful with that, if you do,” he warned. “From what you've told me it's horrendously powerful. Don't blow holes in the landscape anywhere around people.”

“I won't, Dad,” she assured him. “I'll look up a map of the coast and find somewhere really remote. There are a few places further north that might be useful, or maybe one of the uninhabited small islands up there. I can swim pretty fast, I think I could get there and back in a couple of hours. Probably at night so no one saw anything.”

“All right.” He shook his head in wonder. “I really want to see this aquatic form of yours at some point, especially when it's that size, but I agree it's not a good idea in the bay.”

“How's the proposal coming?” she asked after a moment, looking at his desk. He followed her eyes.

“Not bad, actually. I should have it done by probably Tuesday at this rate. I've got most of the costings nailed down pretty well at the moment, I'm going to be looking into the transportation and labor requirements in more detail tomorrow. I've also got some of the boys checking the state of the railway and the rail yard itself and inspecting the warehouses that would need to be torn down.” Smiling at her, he added, “You could help with that as well, I think. It would only take you hours to do what my guys would take days over, and it would be safer.”

“Let me know when you want some warehouses stepped on,” she grinned. “But that's going to make people stop and stare, I think.”

“We might reserve the actual Godzilla attack for later,” he laughed. “But I'm sure you could rip down a building at a much smaller size.”

“I'd love to find out,” she snickered.

“The thing I'm trying to work out is how we're going to announce this to the public, though,” he said after also laughing, looking thoughtfully at her. “I don't want someone panicking and hitting the Endbringer siren, but I also don't want the entire city on the docks watching. It will take some careful planning. The PRT are an issue as well, they may try to interfere.”

“We can deal with that when it needs to be done,” she assured him. “I can just tow the thing from underwater most of the way anyway, once it's off the rocks the water is deep enough for me to swim while pulling it for at least two thirds the distance. Varga thinks we should try lifting it with some sort of floats at high tide to get it off the rocks that are punched into the bottom, so we don't rip it to pieces, then pull it with a harness and cables. It sounds like a good idea. Then I can shove it right up against the dock in the deeper part and let it settle again. You said it would need to be pumped out?”

“Yes, there will be all sorts of nasty crap in the bottoms of the intact tanks, so we need to get that out of the way first. After that you can cut it up and put the bits on the dock. Hopefully that wouldn't take too long.”

She smiled. “I think I can do it pretty fast. I was wondering if I could lift the entire thing onto the shore, but it would probably fall apart. It was looking a bit fragile. Although… maybe reinforce it with Vargastuff first?” She got a calculating look on her face which made him grin.

“Slices will be fine, dear. They're easier to handle. While the entire ship would be impressive I think it's overkill.”

“OK, Dad,” she said agreeably. “You guys are the experts, I'm just the muscle.”

Laughing, he stood and hugged her. “You're far more than muscle to me, Taylor. Although that aspect is certainly going to be useful.”

“Hey, I was wondering something,” she said after he released her. “Once that land the graveyard is on is finally clear, isn't it going to be worth a lot of money?”

“Yes,” he smiled. “A hell of a lot. Prime industrial land next to the city and the bay will be worth millions. Right now it's actually a net loss to the city, it costs money just sitting there.”

“Could we buy some as an investment?” she suggested thoughtfully. “I don't mind using some of the settlement money for that. If we'd be allowed to, that is.”

“I'm ahead of you there, dear, I've already looked into it. There's no law to stop us, although I'd have to do it in my name as you're underage at the moment. I'm going to talk to the Mayor about purchasing a parcel of land on that basis, and also see if we could have the DWU itself buy some. In a few years it would pay back enough to give us a very nice pension fund. I think it's possible. But there's going to be a complete feeding frenzy when the news gets out assuming that the project goes ahead, although I'm feeling pretty confident about that part.”

Danny smiled as his daughter looked impressed. “Not the first time around the block for your old man, kid.”

“You're not old old, Dad,” she laughed. “Only old.”

“Foolish girl. Go to your room,” he chuckled.

“I intend to,” she grinned. “A little time on the internet then bed. Night, Dad, see you in the morning.” With a small wave she left, her footsteps on the stairs going up then into her room.

Smiling to himself, he turned back to the computer and the latest draft of the report, checking his figures carefully.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Lying on her bed in her quarters in the PRT building, Sophia spun a crossbow bolt through her fingers over and over, walking if back and forth and admiring the way the light glinted from the broadhead point on the end. “Fucking Hebert,” she mumbled. “This is all her fault. Somehow, I’m going to make her pay. And her father too, the bastard.”

Over and over the bolt spun as she thought dark thoughts.

When they were dead, she could find that new cape and ask her to teach her.

That video had been beautiful.

Chapter Text

Friday, February 4, 2011

“What are you looking at now, Lucy?” Taylor asked curiously as she sat at her desk a few minutes before the bell rang, barely conscious of the way she carefully moved a little sideways to allow her tail to slip past the back of the chair and onto the floor behind her. It was somewhat inconvenient, she'd have preferred to remove the chair and sit on her tail like she did at home, but that was probably a little too much. Luckily they were at the back of the class and hardly anyone ever needed to walk behind her, although in other classes there had been some embarrassing and somewhat funny incidents with people tripping over it, stumbling, then wondering why. The cloak technique seemed to be holding up nicely so far.

She was running most of the way to school most days in either her combat form, which she still couldn't think of a name for that she liked, or as Saurial, under the cloak, then jogging the rest of the way as her human self, visible to the world. She'd taken the bus twice but preferred the physical effort. At the speeds she could reach, weaving in and out of the oblivious traffic, she was much faster than the bus anyway. Sometimes she wondered what the reaction would be if she let people see her, and stopped at traffic lights and the like just for fun. It amused her but again was probably a little excessive.

Her friend, as the girl had definitely become, along with Mandy, tilted her high end smartphone towards her, Mandy and another classmate, Rich, moving around to keep the screen in view. “Saurial and Vista talking on the boardwalk the day before yesterday. Clockblocker was there as well but this video doesn't show him.”

“They're just standing there talking, why would anyone video that?” Taylor asked, inwardly amused. She remembered the encounter well, the young Ward had had some questions about her climbing and running abilities that she'd answered to the best of her abilities, propping herself on her tail and left leg so she could raise her right foot to her waist and show the girl her toe-claws. The inhuman jointing of the limb made it easy, but had made Clockblocker choke a little, then stare.

“People video anything to do with Capes, you know,” Mandy put in, smiling. “Lucy is sort of obsessed with Saurial. Actually, she's into reptiles, did you know she has a pet iguana?”

“No, I didn't,” Taylor laughed, looking at the Chinese girl who was keeping her eyes on the video but going slightly pink. “That's interesting. How big is it?”

“About four feet long,” Lucy replied quietly, looking over at her for a moment. “He likes eggs. Like Saurial does, someone on PHO says she comes into his shop and buys them by the box full then walks away eating them in the shell, raw.”

“Uurgh,” Rich laughed from the other side of Mandy's desk. “That's horrible.”

“She seems happy enough with eating them,” Lucy giggled. The video ended, so she put her phone away, the bell ringing shortly thereafter. “And I was right that time. Her scales are definitely blue, a nice shade. I wish I could meet her, she looks interesting.”

Smiling to herself, Taylor turned her attention to Mr Hanks as he took roll, thinking that she should one day let her friend meet her other persona. It would make her day.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sitting on her bed, Lisa paged through the various PHO sightings of Saurial, wondering what it was about the cape that was bothering her. Her power was poking her something fierce but every time she tried to draw some conclusions, she got the mental equivalent of a blue-screen, then had to go and lie down for a while to recover. It was annoying, frustrating, and somewhat worrying.

Giving up on that train of thought for the moment she amused herself trolling PHO for a while, before reading some Alexandria fanfiction and giggling about it. She posted a few snarky comments about how out of character Legend was, waited to see the explosion of annoyance, then sighed with boredom and shut the laptop, lying down and staring at the ceiling.

She was no closer to working out Coil's power, which left her no closer to working out how to get out from under the bastard's thumb. This was also annoying, frustrating, and worrying.

The upside was that he'd gone surprisingly quiet the last couple of weeks, only calling her four times in that period for what on the face of it were fairly innocuous questions. He'd called her in to his base once, talked for about ten minutes, then threw her out again, giving off the impression of being nearly as annoyed as she was about the entire pointless activity.

She dearly wished she could simply take out her pistol and shoot the fucker between the eyes but she knew that wouldn't end well, until she could work out how to neutralize any advantage he had over her. Sooner or later she'd work it out, hopefully before he dropped them in so deep they couldn't get out. Send them to fight Lung or something like that.

Laughing for a moment at the absurd idea, she got up, wandered into the kitchen, and made some coffee, which she drank. Finally, deciding she was just running in circles, she left her apartment and headed towards the Undersider's base, just for the company.

On the way she went back to the odd conversation she'd hacked into between Piggot and her people and Shadow Stalker, the principal of Winslow, and some PRT agent, who by the sound of it would soon be an ex PRT agent. It had been both funny and disturbing by turns. Feeling a considerable sympathy for this Taylor Hebert girl, and a lot of respect for her father for the remarkably neat way he'd shut the entire thing down, she wondered how much they'd ended up with as a settlement. Hopefully it was a lot.

Idly trying to extract more information from the conversation, with her powers producing wilder and wilder ideas, she headed away from the fairly civilized areas of the city into the beginnings of the docks. Half a mile further on, she stopped to observe a group of men who seemed to be carefully checking the rail line that ran through the area from the direction of the main waterfront towards the rail yard. There were a dozen of them walking along both rails looking at them, and poking them with crowbars and other tools, while each group of six had one extra making notes. Surrounding them were half a dozen more men who were clearly guards, keeping a wary eye on the surroundings and carrying metal baseball bats.

“Hmm.” Lisa found a good vantage point and aimed her power at the group.

Dockworkers, from the DWU facility

Checking rails for damage

Thinking of reopening rail line

Excited about possibility of new work

Big project possible in near future

Driven by DWU

They don't know the details but are still willing to do whatever is necessary

Loyal to their boss


She blinked a couple of times in surprise, kept watching for a little while, then went on her way. She noticed a number of Merchants were also watching and muttering to themselves but were obviously not keen on going over and asking what the men were up to.

Wary of dockworkers

Afraid of dockworkers

DWU has made them afraid


“Interesting,” she mumbled, glancing back at the workmen. She noticed that one of the guards was watching her closely and sped up a little, feeling just a small amount of worry.

She was going to have to tell Brian and the others about this new development, they'd need to be careful. Her power was telling her change was on the horizon and it might be a good idea to stay clear.

She wasn't going to tell Coil, though. Fuck him, let him work it out himself.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Dinah looked up at her parents, and Uncle Roy, who had come with them to the PRT building. She'd met some interesting people including Miss Militia, who she thought she liked, and told them all about the numbers that she kept seeing when certain types of questions were asked. She had no control over the answers, not really, it hurt too much not to answer.

She'd discovered she could ask the questions herself and whatever was giving the answers would do the same for her, but she still got the headaches after half a dozen or so. But at least an adult was finally listening to what she had to say and not just telling her she had something wrong but they didn't know what.

It was a little annoying, she'd been trying to tell them that for nearly three weeks, but just because she was only twelve, no one seemed to take her seriously. They were now, though, thanks to Uncle Roy.

Smiling at him, which prompted a smile back, she went back to playing with the music device he'd given her. Her father had helped her put all the favorite music on it the night before and she'd discovered that listening to some of it at low volume with her eyes shut helped the pain her ability produced if it was overused. Yet another thing to thank Uncle Roy for.

Turning the music to a low level so she could hear past the earphones, she listened to the discussion between the three adults and Miss Militia, who was looking at a folder of paperwork in the private room they'd been shown to after a lot of tests elsewhere in the building. Miss Militia had, somewhat oddly, reached up and carefully unplugged the security camera mounted on the wall by the door as soon as they entered. Dinah wondered why.

“Testing has confirmed that Dinah has a very powerful precognitive ability. We're tentatively rating her at Thinker 8, although that might go up a little with further testing. Due to the power-induced migraine we're very limited in the number of questions we can ask her at any one time, she says it hurts too much after about six or seven. She needs several hours between sessions to recover. The scientists think that she risks injury if it's pushed so we want to avoid that at all costs.”

“Are there any drugs that can help?” Her mother seemed worried. “We gave her ibuprofen at the doctor's suggestion but it didn't do anything worthwhile.”

“Thinker headaches are notoriously difficult to treat with anything other than time to recover and not inducing them in the first place,” the scarf-wearing woman replied with a smile in her voice even if it wasn't visible on her face. Dinah thought she had a nice voice. “There are a few Tinker drugs that can help a little, and stronger painkillers can take the edge off, but all in all it's best to simply limit the occurrence of it as much as possible by avoiding whatever provokes the power into action. In Dinah's case that's asking definite questions about the future which can be answered as a percentage.”

“So we just don't ask her the chances of snow later or something like that?” her father asked.

“76.3%” Dinah grinned at them. The question hadn't been directly asked so it was just a wild guess, although looking at the sky outside the window was probably pretty close. Uncle Roy was the first one to get the joke, grinning back and ruffling her hair.

“Precisely.” Miss Militia sounded amused. After a moment, though, she became more serious. “The real question now is, what do you want to do?”

All three of the other adults exchanged a glance. Uncle Roy looked at Dinah, who peered back, not entirely certain what the heroine meant.

“What do you mean?” her father asked, sounding worried, asking the question she wanted to but was a little scared to.

“What I mean is, Thinkers of any level, never mind ones as high level as Dinah is, are in very high demand. So high, in fact, that their services can be desired whether they want to give them or not.” Miss Militia looked seriously at them, while Uncle Roy sat back with a thoughtful expression and nodded slowly. Her parents stared at the woman, then looked at each other, before turning to Dinah for a moment.

“She means, Jim, that we have to be careful. There are criminals who would probably love to have a precog as powerful as Dinah is, and would stop at nothing to get hold of her,” Uncle Roy sighed. “I'm half-sorry I arranged this testing, perhaps you could have kept her abilities a secret.”

“I doubt that would have worked, Mayor,” Miss Militia replied with a shake of her head. “All the information is already out there, unfortunately. The hospital visits and the records of the tests done, not to mention the things Dinah has been saying, all of those are clues that would eventually attract the wrong sort of notice, if they haven't already done so. There may well be other Thinkers already putting the clues together for someone.”

“You mean someone could try to kidnap her!” Her mother grabbed Dinah and held onto her like she thought someone would burst into the room right then and there. Dinah felt a little frightened and also slightly irritated about how tightly her mother was holding her.

With a sigh, Miss Militia nodded a little. “It's neither unknown or impossible, unfortunately. I suspect that if you hadn't noticed, Mayor, and worked it out, something like that might have happened sooner or later. Mrs Alcott, don't worry too much, we should be able to prevent that now, though. We know about Dinah now and we can keep her safe. Or as safe as anyone can be in this world.”

“Assuming that the PRT itself doesn't end up being what causes someone unpleasant to find out about Dinah,” Uncle Roy muttered. Miss Militia looked at him, making him talk louder. “I'm pretty sure, from what I've heard over the last couple of years, that you have more than one leak in this organization.”

The heroine inspected him for several seconds, then sighed again. “You're probably not wrong, Mayor Christner, I'm afraid. We've had issues like that before. It's difficult to totally prevent in any organization this large, as you know.”

He nodded silently.

“That said, I fully believe that Dinah is safer now than she would have been if she hadn't come to our attention so soon after triggering. Obviously, we would strongly advise that she joins the Wards program. It's up to you, Mr and Mrs Alcott, but it would be the safest thing for her.”

“The Wards?” Her mother sounded worried, and was still clinging to her hard enough to make Dinah wriggle a little to escape. She loosened her grip a little but kept her hands on her shoulders. “Is that really necessary?”

“As I said, I personally believe it's the safest option,” Miss Militia nodded. “We can set up a number of security protocols to protect her from most threats. If necessary, it would be possible to arrange to have you all relocate away from Brockton Bay, to a less… complicated… city.”

Uncle Roy looked both amused and a little insulted. “Leave this fair city?” he commented, making the woman look like she was grinning under her scarf. “With all the vibrant night life? How could anyone do that?”

“It has it's good points, Mayor,” she replied with a laugh in her voice. “But bad ones as well, as you know.”

"You can say that again,” he sighed. “But it's not boring.” Both of them looked at Dinah's parents.

“What do you want to do, Cheryl? Jim? Miss Militia is probably right, although I wish she wasn't.”

Once again her mother and father looked at each other, then at her. “Dinah? What do you want to do?,” her father asked. “You know what we're talking about, don't you?”

She nodded. It was pretty obvious, she'd heard them talking only moments ago, and she wasn't stupid.

Thinking for a little while as everyone waited, she turned to Uncle Roy. “If I joined the Wards, could I still see you?”

“Of course you could, Princess,” he assured her, smiling. “And possibly more often, City Hall is a lot closer to the PRT building than to your house. I'm sure I could see you regularly.”

She nodded, then turned to Miss Militia. “Could I see my parents as well?”

The woman smiled again, her scarf moving slightly. “We're not suggesting locking you in the PRT building, Dinah. You would have a room here and could stay if you wanted, but normally you'd be living at home the same as you do right now, and go to school as well. It's just that you'd have us making sure nothing happened to you. You'd spend some time here most days, we'd want to test your powers more and find out what would be the most useful way you could use them. But no one will force you to use them, if you don't want to.”

“Mom? What do you think?” she asked after another few seconds of thought.

Her mother held her again. “I don't want to lose you, Dinah. I don't like thinking of you being away from home like that, but if it will keep you safe...” She wiped her eye, trying to make it look like she wasn't about to cry. Dinah wasn't fooled.

She was feeling both slightly confused about how quickly everything suddenly seemed to be going, pleased that people were taking her seriously, excited about meeting other parahumans, and worried about not seeing her parents. Not to mention mildly terrified about the whole 'being kidnapped' thing that the adults had been talking about.

After a moment, having carefully decided on the wording, she said out loud, “Chances I get kidnapped or someone tries to kidnap me if I don't join the Wards?”

They all stared at her, somewhat shocked. The numbers came to her along with some mild pain. She'd mostly recovered from the testing session a couple of hours earlier, but it was still uncomfortable.

“79.45%” she announced. Her mother gasped, Miss Militia frowned, her father looked like he was going to shout, and Uncle Roy reached out and put a hand on her shoulder next to her mother's, squeezing gently.

She pondered the answer, then asked herself, “Chances I get kidnapped if I do join the Wards?” The answer popped into her head, as she winced slightly. “8.82%”

Miss Militia looked even more annoyed, but was writing the questions and answers down on a pad at the same time.

“Chances someone tries to kidnap me if I join the Wards?” A pause. “16.45%”

“Ow,” she muttered after the last answer, rubbing her head between her eyes. Closing them she leaned back in her chair for a moment, trying to think. No one spoke.

“Chances that someone outside the PRT will find out what I can do in... the next two weeks, other than Uncle Roy or Mom and Dad?” Miss Militia was looking closely at her, she noticed when she opened her eyes. “85.21%”

“Fuck,” the woman mumbled under her breath, obviously not meaning to be heard. Dinah giggled to herself, even through the pain that she was now feeling as her head throbbed. The heroine looked slightly embarrassed, her eyes showing it surprisingly well.

“I would assume that means that someone most likely has the information and can put it together but probably hasn't done so quite yet,” Miss Militia said thoughtfully. “Otherwise the answer would, presumably, have been one hundred percent. So there's a possibility that they either won't, or it will take some time or at least more than two weeks, but I doubt we could rely on that. These figures would appear to support my case, Dinah would be safer in the Wards than out.”

“Although it's still not a guarantee of safety,” Uncle Roy replied, glancing at Dinah, then her parents, who seemed all right with him taking the lead.

“No. I wish I could promise you that there's no way that anyone could do anything to her now, but I'd be lying if I did.” Miss Militia sighed faintly. “However, a chance of less than nine percent versus a chance of nearly eighty percent is a big change. Admittedly we don't know from the first question how it splits between attempts and successful attempts, but...” She shrugged slightly. “As I said it's up to her parents in the end although everything is pointing towards the Wards being the safer option. We would be pleased to have her.”

The military cape leaned forward as apparently a thought struck her. “Hmm. I wonder...” She studied Dinah closely, then stood up. “Please wait here for a moment, I need to make a phone call. I'll be right back.” She left the room, the door opening and closing quietly, leaving them all looking at each other.

There was silence for a little while, until her father spoke. “Roy, what do you think we should do?”

“I tend to agree with Miss Militia,” her uncle said with a small frown. “I wish I didn't, as you both know I'm not entirely happy with the PRT for several reasons, but she's right. They have the resources, skills, and experience to keep Dinah safe. Or as safe as she can be.” He smiled down at her. “I have to say it would be nice knowing she was both safe and sometimes close enough to see more often. We could have lunch together sometimes, if you'd like that, Dinah.”

Smiling back at him as the pain from her self-questioning ebbed she nodded enthusiastically. “I'd like that, Uncle Roy.”

“But the Wards? Being an official superhero? Isn't that dangerous?” Her mother didn't sound happy.

“Much less dangerous than being kidnapped by a gang, Cheryl,” Uncle Roy replied, glancing at her. Her mother went white.

“Oh, god, don't even joke about that.”

“I'm not, actually, but don't worry too much about it, sis. The PRT would take very good care of Dinah, like Miss Militia said, high level Thinkers are very rare and very valuable. Dinah would never be out on the street or anything like that, they'd probably give her a nice office and ask her to answer a few very carefully designed questions every now and then. Not to mention there's a fair amount of money involved, they'd set up a decent trust fund for her, which would certainly pay for college nicely, and a good allowance until she's eighteen. It would take a lot of stress off you both from that point of view.”

“We're easily able to pay for what we need, Roy,” her father noted, slight irritation in his voice.

“I know, I didn't mean to suggest that you couldn't provide for your family, Jim,” Uncle Roy smiled, holding up a hand. “All I meant is that there would be some money that could be helpful in the future. I think she'd be safe here, more so than most places.”

Looking back to Dinah, he smiled more widely. “I wish I could provide the security she needed at City Hall, I'd love to have a precog on staff. Even a cute twelve year old one.”

Dinah giggled, smiling back. “You think I'm cute, Uncle Roy?”

“Everyone thinks you're cute, Princess,” he chuckled.

“I'll always answer any questions you want to ask me.” Dinah grinned, holding out her hand. “Promise.”

Gravely he shook it. “Thank you, my dear. I may well take you up on that.”

They all looked up as Miss Militia came back into the room. Closing the door behind her she retook her seat. “I've been talking to Armsmaster. He says that he can provide a subdermal tracking implant that Dinah can have put under her skin, which would allow him and no one else to track her position. If, by any chance, someone did actually kidnap her, we could get her back and hopefully catch them in the process.”

They all looked at Dinah, who thought for a moment, then said, “Chances that I would be successfully kidnapped if we did what Miss Militia has said?” The numbers came, but so did the pain. “Ow ow ow. 2.34%” She held her head with both hands, closing her eyes again. “I can't do that again for a while,” she whispered.

“OK, dear,” her mother said, smoothing her hair gently. “We get the point.”

“It's not perfect, but all things considered it's probably the best option at the moment,” the heroine said after a few seconds. “If you want to go ahead with it I can have the implant here within half an hour.”

Opening her eyes as the pain faded slightly, Dinah watched her parents exchange glances, then look at Uncle Roy who nodded slightly. They both sighed and turned to look at her with difficult to interpret expressions. “Oh, Dinah,” her mother sighed, still holding her like she was afraid someone would take her if she let go.

“I think I'd like it, Mom,” she said, mostly honestly. “I can meet Vista and the other Wards, that would be cool.”

“She's about your age, actually,” Miss Militia put in. “She'd love to meet another female Ward. You'd probably get on with most of them very well. They're good kids.”

“Most of them?” Uncle Roy asked curiously.

She sighed very faintly. “Shadow Stalker is somewhat… abrasive… at times.”

“Ah. Yes, so I've heard from other people,” he chuckled. “Five out of six isn't too bad, though.”

“There are mean girls at school as well,” Dinah added. “I know how to ignore them.”

With a laugh, Miss Militia nodded, then turned to her parents. “If you want to do this, I have all the paperwork with me for the Wards acceptance. You can read and sign it immediately or take it and look at it later.”

“May I see it, please?” her father requested.

The woman picked up a folder from the table beside her and opened it, looking through the contents then removing a set of stapled-together pages and sliding them over the table to him. Picking them up he began reading them very carefully. Everyone waited quietly for him to finish. When he did, he looked thoughtfully at her, then handed the papers to Uncle Roy, who also read them. “They look fairly straightforward, Jim,” her uncle said, when he finished a couple of minutes later.

“There seem to be a surprisingly large amount of marketing and public relations clauses in the document,” her father noted, glancing at Miss Militia.

“The PRT feels it's important,” she replied. “I understand the reasons, capes scare a lot of people, not surprisingly considering what many of them are capable of, and the PRT goes to significant effort to present their capes as responsible and safe. Part of that process is a careful public relations exercise, including acceptable naming, costuming, appearance, that sort of thing. It sounds silly but it does have a very large effect on public perception. So does the marketing aspect, although I have to admit that some of the things the Marketing people have come up with over the years are… somewhat dubious.” Her face moved a little under her scarf, indicating another smile. Uncle Roy laughed a little. “A fair percentage of the profit generated by marketing a Ward's public persona is added to the trust fund, so it benefits everyone.”

“I see,” her father said, reading the document once more, then turned to her mother. “I have to admit that as much as I'd like to I can't find any reason not to go for this.”

Her mother sighed heavily. “I hate it. But you're right. If it keeps her safe, we don't have a choice.” She looked at Miss Militia, who was giving off an air of sympathy. “We agree, she can join the Wards.”

“Great,” the other woman replied. “If you'll both sign on page five at the bottom, both copies, please?”

Her parents took the pen she held out, then did as requested. She retrieved the papers and the pen and signed in two places as well, then separated the document and gave one half to Dinah's father, who carefully folded it and put it into his inside jacket pocket. “Wait here and I'll call Armsmaster, we can get the implant installed immediately. I'd feel safer if you didn't leave before that happened. Just in case.”

Getting up she left again. They all looked at each other, then Dinah's mother began crying a little, holding her. Dinah, both excited and sad, held her back.

“It'll be OK, Mom,” she said quietly. “I'm nearly certain. 97.66% certain at least.”

Despite herself, her mother started laughing, setting them all off.

Chapter Text

Taylor discreetly watched the table full of known and suspected Wards, along with Victoria and Amy Dallon, who were talking fairly quietly amongst themselves, with Dennis cracking jokes every now and then. Carlos sighed at most of them although she could see he was amused by more of them than he showed. His thermal output in her enhanced vision showed things on his face that most people could never pick up on.

She was using it more and more as part of her base form senses, getting used to it. As Saurial or any of the other modified forms it came much easier, she suspected due to her brain changing to handle it. There was obviously a change of a similar nature even in her human form, but it wasn't quite as instinctive to use yet. The boosted senses of smell and hearing had been much easier to get used to.

It seemed pretty likely that she could indeed become very good at detecting lies, by listening and watching all the tiny cues that a normal person wouldn't notice at all. She'd poked around in the school library, which was a very comprehensive one, finding a couple of books on voluntary and involuntary responses in the biology section, as part of a higher level neurology study, and borrowed them, puzzling her way through with the aid of the Varga. He turned out to know, not that surprisingly, much more about human bodies than she'd first expected, although his terminology was different.

They were both learning a common vocabulary for the various scientific fields that were apposite to the abilities he gave her, even though in quite a few cases the word 'scientific' needed to be more strictly replaced with 'magical', a thought that still made her smile. He'd told her that while in time he could certainly teach her more of his form of magic, one that most humans who had any ability in the field would never be able to learn due to the differences between demons and non-demons, it would be a slow process. She wasn't too worried, she had more than enough new abilities to keep her occupied for a long time even now.

The shape-shifting part of things was so easy after only a month that she sometimes had trouble remembering when she couldn't casually grow scales and claws. It took an act of will, it wouldn't happen accidentally, which was probably a good thing overall, but it didn't take much effort. The Varga still had to help with new variants on the forms but the existing ones they'd worked on were simple, in whole or part.

Looking forward to experimenting on the weekend, Taylor smiled internally, turned away from the Wards although she kept part of her attention on them even so, and raised an eyebrow at Mandy, who had said something she'd missed. “Sorry, miles away. What was that, Mandy?”

Her friend sighed theatrically. “I said, do you want to go and see a movie with us tomorrow night? There's that new Aleph animated one that looks pretty fun, 'How to Train Your Dragon.'” She glanced at Lucy while Taylor suppressed a snicker at the appropriateness of the title. “Lucy wants to see it. Reptiles, you know. She wants a dragon of her own.”

Lucy went red while Mandy and Taylor both grinned. Rich and another boy, Eric, who were sitting at the next table having been talking to the Chinese girl, laughed. “She's got you, Lucy. Hey, maybe you could adopt Lung?” the latter commented with a smirk.

“I don't think that would work out very well,” the girl said, sighing but smiling. “He's not very cuddly.”

“No, that's certainly not a word anyone would associate with Lung,” Eric snickered. “Dangerous, now that's a good word. Psychotic, another good one.”

Giggling, Lucy tossed a french fry at him, then broke down in laughter when he neatly snapped it out of the air with his mouth, chewed, and grinned widely. “Idiot.”

Talented idiot, Lucy,” he chuckled.

She started tossing more fries at him, most of which he caught in his mouth, until one of the teachers monitoring the cafeteria caught her eye and she went red again, stopping quickly.

“Busted!” Mandy laughed. Turning back to Taylor, who had been watching with amusement, she added, “So? You in? It's all of us here, including those two guys, and a couple more from home room. Downtown tomorrow night at seven thirty at the Plaza. We can get something to eat after.”

“It sounds good, thanks, Mandy,” Taylor smiled. “I'll check with my dad but I don't think there will be a problem.”

“Great. Text me if you get lost or can't make it.”

“OK.”

Feeling eyes on her, Taylor casually looked around to see Dean staring at her, the boy quickly looking away when she turned her head and pretending he was looking at the chalk board on the wall near the hot food line which listed tomorrow’s menu. Mildly amused she went back to her food. He seemed to be unable to completely ignore her, although to give him credit he was trying. She thought that she was probably, at least at the moment, safe from that quarter, which was a relief.

She had no real problem with the Wards but the near certainty that the PRT was sitting on Sophia Hess left her somewhat disinclined to get any closer to them, despite the new found equanimity she had towards other people. Glory Girl and her somewhat unfortunate interaction was one thing, she’d been certain even at the time it was abnormal, since the girl smelled very stressed, and was quite happy to make allowances.

But there were limits to how much she’d accept. As she’d told Alan Barnes, she had no intention of either forgiving or forgetting the months and months of deliberate torment the Triumvirate of Pain had put her through. She could live with it and move on, but she wasn’t going to just pretend it never happened. The Varga was of the opinion that even letting people like that live was probably something of a mistake, as there was no guarantee that they would take the sensible approach of living with the fact they lost.

Taylor sighed faintly, finishing up her salad. Hopefully she’d never see any of them again, and if she did… Well, she’d see what happened. If Sophia wanted to have a fight, she could have one, but it would be very short and to the point. With any luck that would never happen, since she wasn’t really all that interested in finding out what the girl’s head tasted like. Probably rather stringy, she thought, amused again for a moment.

“Deep thoughts, hmm, Taylor?” Lucy asked from the side, apparently noticing the sigh. Taylor glanced sideways to see her friend looking a little concerned and smiled back at her.

“Sort of. Just thinking about a bad experience at Winslow. Something reminded me about it.” She shrugged. “It’s not important, that part of my life is over. I’m having a lot of fun with the new parts.”

“It can be hard when you have something bad in your history,” Lucy replied with a small nod, sounding sad. “I know. I...” She paused, swallowing for a moment. “I said something horrible to my grandmother when I was about twelve, because she didn’t let me go out with my friends but wanted me to do my homework instead. I screamed at her, then went out anyway.” She was staring at her plate, while Mandy and the others were looking at her sympathetically, apparently knowing the story. “While I was out, she had a heart attack. Mom and Dad were away on business, so I was the only other one in the house. No one found her for hours, a neighbor discovered her lying on the ground in the back yard. If I’d been there, I could have called 911 and she might have lived.”

The girl sighed heavily, tears running down her cheeks. “I’ve always wondered if it was my fault she had the heart attack in the first place. I was so nasty to her, even though I loved her. I never even got to say goodbye.” Everyone on both the tables in earshot was silent as she finished talking. “So I know what it’s like to have something in your past you wish you could forget but at the same time you can’t.”

Wiping her eyes carefully with a paper napkin, she looked at the smudged makeup on it and sighed again, but smiled a little. “And now I have to go and fix my makeup as well.”

Mandy patted her friend’s hand, smiling. “I’ll come and help you, Lucy.” Both of them stood.

“It’ll probably get better, Taylor, don’t worry,” Lucy added, smiling a little tearily at her. “See you in class.”

Thoughtfully watching her two new friends walk off, Taylor nodded to herself, having learned something new. And feeling very sad for the Chinese girl, who obviously still felt very strongly about the whole thing nearly three years later. It reminded her of her mother, not surprisingly. A subject she was slowly becoming less affected by although she was certain she’d never get over it completely.

Making a deliberate effort to not let the rather sudden morose turn of conversation affect her, she picked up her glass of apple juice and sipped it slowly, looking around the cafeteria. Eric and Rich got up, nodded to her, then headed off to do something in the few minutes of lunch break left, while she waved briefly, then went back to looking around the room, cataloging all the scents of people who walked past on their way out. She was pretty sure now that she could probably identify by scent over a third of the school, at least as familiar even if she didn’t know their names. The idea amused her, but it was a useful byproduct of the whole abilities deal.

A particularly familiar scent, one she’d made a special note of, wafted from behind her at the same time she heard rapid footsteps. A sudden impact on her tail made her twitch, then turn her head to see what had happened.

“AAGH!”

Amy Dallon sprawled full-length on the floor behind her seat, making her wince in sympathy, having obviously tripped over her invisible appendage which she'd accidentally left sticking out a little too far and promptly face-planted pretty solidly on the tiles. The girl rolled over and sat up, clutching her nose in her hand and swearing inventively.

“What the fuck was that?” Amy eventually snarled in a muffled voice, looking around wildly for whatever had tripped her, but obviously unable to see the cause. “Fucking hell, my nose!” There was blood running from under her hand.

Picking up some of the paper napkins that were stored in a dispenser on each table, Taylor got up and knelt next to the healer, who was pretty clearly not in a good mood, even before nearly breaking her nose. “Here, tip your head back and use these,” she advised, handing the other girl the napkins, which were instantly snatched from her hand.

“I know how to handle a smashed nose, thanks,” Amy grumbled loudly, sniffing hard and nearly choking on the blood, before slapping the wad of paper over her face and clamping down on it. “I don’t think it’s broken but it fucking hurts.”

Looking around again, she scowled blackly. “What the hell tripped me? Was it you?”

“No,” Taylor half-lied. “I didn’t see anything, I just heard you scream and fall over.”

“I didn’t scream, I yelped. In surprise,” Amy replied defiantly. Taylor shrugged, smiling a little but willing to allow the correction.

“OK.”

“I need to get to the nurses office and get some proper bandages and a cold pack,” the other brunette grumbled, struggling to stand up. Taylor stood and offered her a hand, at the same time glancing towards the table the Wards and Victoria had been at, seeing they’d gone, presumably headed back to class already.

“Here,” she said. Amy sighed, annoyed, and grabbed her hand.

Gently heaving, she lifted the other girl to her feet easily, then looked at her.

Then looked more closely.

“Um...”

Amy was staring at her with her pupils so widely dilated it looked like her eyes were solid black. Taylor could see the blood vessels in her face dilating as well as blood rushed to her face, and her electrical sense was showing her neural activity was going nuts, based on what she’d learned so far about it. It wasn’t something she’d experimented with much so far beyond using it to trace power cables.

“Are you all right?” Taylor stared, then waved a hand in front of the girl’s face. Reaching out she carefully tapped Amy between the eyes with a forefinger. “Anyone in there? Hello? Amy?”

Several seconds passed with the healer just giving her that disconcerting stare, a little blood running down her face past the napkins, before Amy suddenly blinked wildly and shook her head, apparently back in the room.

“What… the fuck...” she whispered.

Worried, Taylor looked around, seeing that hardly any of the lunch crowd were present now, and that according to the wall clock it was only about two minutes to the bell. “Hey, we should get you to the nurse,” she said as she returned her attention to the other girl. “You’re acting a little weird. Maybe you hit your head harder than you thought.”

Amy blinked again, then looked around, wincing as her right hand which was still clamped firmly on her nose pulled on it slightly. “Nurse. Right,” she mumbled in a slightly dazed voice, before turning and walking off towards the exit, towing Taylor with her.

“Um, could you let go, please?” Taylor tried, not wanting to be rude but more than a little confused.

“No.”

Staring at the Dallon girl, Taylor sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

And it had started so well.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“She seems content to simply take down low level criminals so far.” The man speaking looked mildly puzzled. “No signs of wanting to go after any capes at all. She turns up, wanders around more or less randomly for anywhere from an hour to four or so, inevitably finds some crime being committed, terrifies the people involved into catatonia, then disappears again. She's been seen in the company of the Wards several times and seems to be on friendly terms with them, and she's also popped up at the DWU at least once more so far. She spent over an hour there, talking to the various people still on site.”

Behind his desk, his superior leaned his expensive chair back and gently stroked his chin with a finger, looking fascinated. “How very unusual,” he finally said. “Although, it is an unusual creature in more than one way so I suppose its behavior is only another example of that. Do we know what it was doing at the DWU again?”

“No. The best I can work out, she was picking something up, but it's mostly guesswork. I don't have anyone in the DWU facility itself, although I'm working on it.”

“Annoying.” The man at the desk sighed slightly. “Oh well. All good things take time. Have you thought of any other methods to test its abilities?”

“Not as such,” his agent commented. “We have a pretty good idea of what she can do from the reports we have from those of our men who were involved we've been able to contact. Assuming they're not curled up in a ball sobbing.” He shook his head in disgust. “Fine, she's a scary monster when she's at work, but that's just pathetic. One of the guys is saying he's going to become a priest now.”

His superior smirked, amused. “That suggests an impressive ability to scare the less intelligent amongst us. Normally it would take months or years to build a reputation like that, not weeks.”

“She seems to be an old hand at psychological warfare,” the other man agreed, frowning a little. “Yet another oddity that doesn't match the time line.”

“I'd like to see how she handled a tougher fight than mere cannon fodder with small arms, though.” The man at the desk thought for a while, then smiled a tiny, cruel smile. “I think it would be interesting to see what happened if Hookwolf became involved.”

“How do you propose to arrange that?” the agent asked, appearing slightly surprised.

“It should be simple enough. Hookwolf is not particularly smart, of course, although he's certainly cunning and an excellent fighter. It has so far managed to capture over two dozen of his flunkies, from what you tell me. Perhaps we should arrange to point this out to him, and also suggest that an example should be made. It's not difficult to enrage the man to the point he attacks.”

“Attacks where, though?” His subordinate looked at him. “Saurial is somewhat random in her movements, she doesn't seem to have a set patrol route like a lot of capes do, or any particular territorial claims so far. She turns up all over the city. It might be difficult to 'accidentally' have them encounter each other, and he could take some time to find her if he just goes running off in a rage.”

“It has visited the DWU twice, though, and would appear to have some relationship with them. It may well be that pointing Hookwolf at them and urging him on his way would produce a reaction. If not, we lose nothing but a few dockworkers who aren't on the payroll, and a little effort.”

“Ah.” The first man nodded slowly. “I see your point. Yes, that might work.”

“See to it. As soon as possible, please. And this time take a camera.”

The first man nodded without a further word, standing and leaving the office, while his superior pulled a stack of paperwork in front of him and began reading it.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Her head spinning from more than the fairly solid impact with the floor of the cafeteria, Amy strode a little uncertainly towards the nurses office, towing the rather reluctant new girl she'd seen Dean eying up for over a week now behind her. The girl, who she remembered was called Taymar or Tayly or something like that, was sighing to herself but didn't seem too upset.

What the hell was going on? That was what Amy was wondering, and had been from the instant she'd grabbed the other girl's hand. A sudden overwhelming urge struck her as she approached a supply closet she happened to know from a story her sister had related was usually unlocked and, as they came abreast of it, she darted sideways, grabbed the door handle and yanked, opening the door, then shoved the other girl inside and followed her in, pulling the door shut behind her.

“What the hell?” Tayway or whatever her name was yelped. “What are you doing, you weirdo? I thought you wanted to go to the Nurse?”

“In a minute,” Amy hissed, looking around in the near pitch darkness of the closet. She dropped the hand she'd been clamped onto like a vice for the last couple of minutes, then turned and ran her hands over the wall beside the door trying to find the light switch.

“Is this what you're looking for?” the other girl said mildly, immediately before there was a click and a fluorescent fitting in the ceiling hummed into life. Amy turned to see her captive just in the process of releasing a pull-cord at the side of the closet that went up to a switch above them

“Yes,” she replied, staring hard at the girl, while wondering for a moment how she'd found the switch so easily.

“Was there a reason you dragged me in here, or are you just finding it difficult to meet new people?” Taytay or whatever seemed more amused now than surprised. “I have to tell you, your approach to making friends is a little… confrontational.”

“What the hell are you?” Amy blurted, unable to stop herself. The girl abruptly stopped moving.

Completely.

She just stared at Amy, who suddenly became aware that she might have made a very bad mistake.

The eyes of the girl narrowed a little, giving her face a remarkably predatory look, while her entire body language changed slightly, in a way that was particularly eerie as she didn't actually move.

Amy swallowed hard.

“I mean...”

“You mean you somehow found out something I'd prefer you not to have found out,” the girl, which Amy was beginning to think wasn't entirely accurate, said in a voice that was rather less human than she was wildly happy about. “I have to ask myself how, and more importantly, what you intend to do about it.” She leaned closer, making the Dallon sister suddenly realize how remarkably tall she was for a teenaged girl.

Not to mention, the way that her slender body suddenly seemed to give off the impression of something far more dangerous and a hell of a lot bigger. And… were her eyes glowing a little?

“Oh, shit.” Amy's voice was faint.

“Oh, shit, yes, Amy Dallon,” the girl hissed. “Talk. Fast.”

Her thoughts whirling, Amy tried to work out how to extricate herself from the situation she'd managed to get herself into with one stupid move, feeling a sudden understanding of what her sister had felt when she'd gone off on Saurial for no good reason.

The thought stuck with her...

Amy's eyes widened. “Saurial,” she gasped.

She didn't even see the girl move. Before she knew what was happening, she was slammed against the door by a pair of hands that were covered in scales with talons an inch long tickling her skin, her feet a foot off the floor. A face that was far less human than seconds before was inches from her own, sharp teeth bared in a growl.

“You are dabbling in dangerous waters, Amy,” the thing holding her stated softly. “Talk very quickly and very honestly or I may have to push you under the surface.”

“My power lets me see an entire organism's biology if I touch it,” Amy gabbled, trembling and not even trying to hold anything back. She had a good idea that the threat was a real one with a definite time-sensitive aspect. “I can modify anything organic right down to the DNA. My healing ability is a byproduct of that.” Fright was making her open up far more than she had done to anyone before.

“So when I offered you my hand...” the girl, Saurial, said in a musing yet still not entirely human voice.

“I saw instantly that you were… different.” Amy looked at her captor, who looked back. “Very different. I mean, totally different in some specific ways from anything I've ever seen or even heard of. Your DNA, or something that I think is the equivalent of it, is absolutely insane! It's a quad helix, not a double helix, with more redundancy than I can believe. My power can hardly make anything sensible of it at all. I can see that, somehow, don't ask me how, you're compatible with human DNA, but other than that and the appearance most of you is totally alien. Literally. Like nothing that's ever lived on this planet.”

“Hmm.” The creature seemed genuinely interested, but not surprised.

“You already know this, don't you?”

“Not those specific details, no, but the overall picture, yes, I know,” she replied absently, almost looking as if she was holding another conversation at the same time. “What else?”

“I can't affect you at all. My power just goes 'nope' if I try.”

“You tried to affect me?” Saurial's eyes were abruptly totally focused on her again.

“I'm still trying,” Amy whimpered. “I've been trying to make you fall asleep since you grabbed me. All it's doing is giving me a headache.”

“Ah. So that's what...” Saurial paused, cocking her head to the side, then nodded to herself. “Stop it.”

“OK,” Amy yipped in a high pitched voice, “OK, I'm stopping.”

“All right. Thank you for the information, it's very useful. Now, what are we going to do about all this?” The girl cocked her head the other way, inspecting Amy closely. The healer swallowed again. “I take threats, or possible threats, against my family extremely seriously. I'm not particularly happy about you knowing. Your friend Dean is a big enough problem already although he at least had the sense not to confront me about it. I have to wonder why you did. It seems… somewhat incautious.”

“I couldn't help it,” Amy replied despite herself. “It was so… so… weird. Interesting. Amazing.” She sighed heavily as the girl watched curiously. “You wouldn't believe how boring my life is. Work, sleep, school, over and over again until I want to scream. Always healing people, the same stupid problems again and again and again. It's… maddening.”

“Why do it then?” Saurial asked quietly.

“Because everyone expects me to,” Amy responded with a heavy sigh. “I have to heal people, have to use my power for good, or… Or I might just end up using it for something horrible. I could destroy the city with a breath, or possibly the entire planet without much more effort. You wouldn't believe how much having that sort of power terrifies me. Sometimes I wish so much that I'd never triggered.”

“I don't know if the planet would be possible, but destroying the city is pretty easy,” the girl replied after a few seconds, sounding less threatening despite the comment. “So I have some idea.”

Amy stared at her, but decided that she'd already dropped herself in it deeply enough so didn't ask.

“So, all this is because you saw something interesting and wanted to learn more?” the girl asked, sighing when Amy nodded. “You really need to learn better impulse control, Amy, before it gets you killed. What happened to the Unwritten Rules?”

With a wince, Amy shrugged as much as she could in the unyielding grip. “I didn't think it through.”

“That seems to run in the family,” the other girl smirked. Amy couldn't help snickering a little, because it really was sort of funny. Assuming she actually lived through it.

“Look, I won't tell anyone. Promise. You terrify me to the depths of my soul and I really don't want to see what you can do if you get mad,” Amy said slowly and honestly, trying to impress the truth of the statement on the girl, who was studying her closely. “I did a stupid thing, I know, and I'm really sorry. Can we just sort of… forget about it?”

Inspecting her face for several long seconds, Saurial finally sighed gently and carefully lowered her to her feet. “You Dallon girls really need to keep your urges under control,” she sighed. “I don't want to have to kill and eat Panacea just because she can't keep her mouth closed.”

Amy paled, not at all sure the other was joking. Those teeth… Shuddering, she shook her head violently. “I won't tell anyone. I mean, I already...” She snapped her mouth shut as the girl looked at her curiously, then smiled a little.

“You already know who half the capes you've healed are, if not all of them, right? Your power can identify them.”

Feeling like a total idiot, again, Amy slowly nodded, rubbing her forehead in irritation at herself. The other girl was obviously much too sharp. As were her teeth. “Shit. Please don't tell anyone.”

“I have absolutely no intention of giving away anyone else's secrets, Amy, believe me.” The girl looked bemused for a moment. “I wonder how many other capes can do the same thing by one means or another?” She snickered slightly. “Wouldn't it be amazing if there were dozens of them wandering around all knowing who everyone really was, but all convinced they were the only ones who did?”

Amy stared, then started laughing. Saurial joined in for a few seconds. Bending down she retrieved the bloody pile of napkins from where Amy had dropped it, looked at it distastefully, then put it on a shelf next to her shoulder. Poking around for a moment she found a roll of paper towels for the bathroom dispensers, slit the plastic covering with a quick motion of a taloned finger, then pulled a few sheets free and handed them to Amy. “You're still bleeding a little,” she pointed out.

While Amy dealt with that problem the other girl wrapped the bloody paper in some more toweling and picked it up, putting the roll away again. Holding out her other hand, which had shifted back to normal, as had her eyes and teeth, she said, “Taylor Hebert. Nice to meet you, Amy.”

Somewhat startled, Amy looked at the offered hand, then carefully shook it while holding the paper towels to her nose. “Amy Dallon. Also known as Panacea, of course. Nice to meet you, and I'm sorry, really.”

“It's all right. Just don't say anything. I meant it about being very upset if anyone threatens my family.” She had a look in her eyes that promised instant dismemberment for anyone stupid enough to try something. Amy shivered a little.

“I believe you.”

“Good. Now lets get you to the Nurse, then get a permission slip so I don't get detention. I've only been here a week or so and I don't want to have things go wrong this soon.” Taylor smiled a little.

“Um, Taylor…?” Amy spoke carefully and cautiously as the other girl, now an ordinary if rather tall teenager as far as looking at her went, put her hand on the doorknob.

“Yes?”

“Would it be possible if I could talk to you at some point? About you, I mean? I still find your biology… amazingly weird.”

Taylor studied her for a few seconds, looking thoughtful. “I might be open to that at some point,” she replied in the end. “I'll have to think about it. I'll let you know.”

“Thank you. And I'm sorry.”

“Keep quiet about it and we don't have a problem,” Taylor noted. Amy nodded.

“I will. Just one thing...” Taylor cocked her head a little, making Amy shiver. She suddenly saw it as the slightly alien mannerism it really was, coming from a part of the girl that wasn't human in the slightest. “Are you an alien?”

Taylor burst out laughing. “No, Amy, I'm not an alien. I was born in Brockton Bay to completely human parents, trust me. I'm just… a bit different now.” Pulling the door open she peered both ways, then opened it further. “Come on, you need to get that nose looked at and I need to get to Chemistry class. I've missed half of it already.”

She waited for Amy to come out of the closet then pulled the door shut. “Amy? Take a day off now and then. You're way too tightly wound.”

Thinking the words over, the healer followed the other girl to the Nurses office and was soon explaining that she'd nearly broken her nose to a sympathetic yet mildly amused woman who seemed to find the idea of the world's paramount parahuman healer doing that somewhat funny.

Chapter Text

Standing on the steps outside the school, Taylor watched Amy, who was in her normal position of waiting more or less behind Victoria, looking bored and a bit emo, reading a book. The other Dallon sister was back to her normal gregarious self, chatting with Dean and two of her girl friends at the same time, laughing and gesturing, while the boy himself listened with a smile. He turned to say something to Carlos who came up and tapped him on the shoulder, then nodded, going back to waiting for his girlfriend to stop talking so he could get a word in.

He noticed Taylor watching and flinched, so subtly that most people would have missed it, then deliberately looked away.

Taylor caught Amy's eye, the girl having apparently seen and decoded the very small exchange, and nodded slightly to her. Amy nodded back, a brief and small smile crossing her face, then returned to her book.

That girl could be a problem, Brain,” the Varga rumbled with concern in his voice. “Her abilities are extremely powerful, based on what we sensed and what she confessed to, and I am concerned about her mental state.

'So am I,' Taylor sighed in the privacy of her mind. 'If she really can modify any living thing that easily she could cause a plague that would be worse than anything ever. But what can we do? Tell someone at the PRT? Assuming they don't already know, it would be doing exactly what we were worried she was about to in the other direction. And I'm not happy about just up and killing her about something she might do.'

I think all that can be done at present is to try to be a friend to her if she needs one,” the demon said after a moment. “She is isolated and alone even in the middle of her sister's cohort. I don't think she's happy. You are more than familiar with that problem and could possibly help.

'Maybe. I'm not going to force myself on her. Maybe she just likes being alone? I like the friends I'm making here, but I like being on my own as much even so.' Taylor smiled a little. 'Not that I'm ever really alone any more. Which I'm grateful for.'

As am I. I was very bored all those years, locked away with no one to talk to,” the Varga laughed. “It has been a lot of fun these last few weeks.” He fell silent, then slyly added, “Perhaps you could be more than a friend to young Miss Dallon. She did, after all, drag you into a closet. I believe that is part of the courtship display of the teenaged human?

Taylor started giggling, making Mandy who was standing nearby talking to Eric and Lucy look at her with a puzzled smile. 'Sorry, not interested. She's not my type,' she snickered. The demon radiated amusement at her.

Merely a suggestion.

'Not the most sensible one,' she replied. 'But I can be a friend if she wants one, I think. I'll let her make the first move. I'm feeling a little guilty now about coming on so strongly, but she really worried me for a few seconds there. I don't want to push and scare her any more.'

“What's so funny, Taylor?” Mandy asked, coming closer while looking curious.

“I was just thinking about a joke a friend made and it made me laugh,” she replied, grinning. “It was sort of an inside joke, though.” This almost made her laugh again, and did in fact cause the Varga to chuckle due to the backhanded honesty of the comment.

“OK, then,” Mandy said slowly, looking her up and down. “Weird girl. Anyway, don't forget about tomorrow night, OK? I'll see you then, hopefully. Have a good weekend.”

"I think I will,” Taylor smiled. “See you.”

With a wave to the other people she knew she turned and began jogging towards home, in an easy long-legged stride, soon falling into the routine of it.

When she was far enough away and there was no one watching, she veered into an alley, cloaked, changed into Saurial, came out again, and sped up massively, running down the middle of the road at nearly forty MPH, heading home. Smiling to herself at the sensations of running which she loved, especially at this sort of speed, she was soon close to her house.

When she arrived she went in through the back door, still cloaked, dropped her backpack off in the hallway, then went into the kitchen to find something to eat as she was a little hungry. Shortly she was half way through a carton of eggs, reverting to her base form except for her head, which made eating them easier, and lying on the sofa in the living room watching the mid-afternoon news.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Boss, we have a problem,” Mark said as he stuck his head into Danny's office. Danny sighed slightly but looked up from his paperwork to the DWU security man. “A fucking big one.”

“What is it, Mark?”

“Fucking Hookwolf and at least two dozen of his E88 friends are heading this way. They'll be here in about five minutes, they look pissed, and they're loaded for bear.”

Danny paled. “What?! Why?”

“Not a clue, but one of the rail team guards just called it in. Hookwolf is in a shitty mood even for him. We need to evacuate, right now. We could probably take on the normals, but we don't stand a chance against a cape like him. He's fucking insane for a start, and damn near unkillable.”

Thinking frantically, Danny got up and looked out the window of his second-floor office into the inner yard below, which had at least three dozen men working on various projects. “We can't get everyone out and away in that time,” he muttered. “They'd catch up before we got half a mile even if we could, anyway.”

“What do we do?” Mark looked very worried, but also willing to do whatever he was asked to.

“Call for backup,” Danny finally said after a long moment. Rather reluctantly, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed.

“It's me. We have a very big problem headed our way and due to get here in only three or four minutes. We could use some help,” he said.

“I'm on my way,” his daughter immediately replied, not even asking what the problem was. The line went dead. Grateful and worried in equal measures, he put his phone back in his pocket, then turned to Mark.

“Lock the gates, park something big in front of them, then get everyone into cover, right now. Shut everything down. Anyone who is willing to hold them off, make sure they're armed, but no one is required to fight. We'll have help in less than ten minutes, we only need to keep them out for that long.”

“Do we call the police or the PRT?” Mark asked.

“The police couldn't do anything more against him than we can. The PRT… Not yet.”

“You sure, Boss?”

Danny sighed. “I think I am. Anyway, based on last time, it would take them at least twenty to thirty minutes to get around to turning up even if we called them now. It will probably be over by then one way or another.”

“OK. You're the boss, Boss.”

“Stop calling me that, Mark.”

“You got it, Boss,” the man grinned.

Sighing, Danny followed him out of the office. “I'll see if I can find out what Hookwolf wants. Maybe we can negotiate.”

“Be careful, Danny,” Mark warned him, suddenly serious again after the momentary levity. “He's a killer and not stable. Don't get too close.”

“I'll stay away, trust me.”

“Who did you call?” the other man asked as they walked. “Saurial?”

“Yes. She's a good kid, and I think Hookwolf is in for a bit of a surprise.” Danny grinned maliciously. Mark snickered.

“I really hope so. I hate that bastard. He's hurt a lot of people I know one way or another. Fucking E88.”

Danny nodded, then headed for the main entrance, Mark behind him carrying a baseball bat he'd accepted from Zephron, who joined them as they walked past the canteen. The huge man didn't say anything, but was bouncing his own bat in one palm with a calm expression of imminent violence.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taylor, in the combat form, enlarged to about eight feet tall, ran as fast as she could through the darkening streets, leaving claw marks in the road surface behind her when she hurdled a truck that was blocking the way. It was nearly six and the streetlights were coming on as the sun set. She'd been out the back door and halfway down the street less than thirty seconds after her father's phone call, not even thinking about anything else. He'd sounded worried but not panicked, although there was a tone in his voice she knew damn well meant he was very nervous.

“Merchants, maybe?” she muttered as she ran, already nearly half-way there. “Why would they be attacking the DWU facility, though? Dad said they'd come to an arrangement. Painfully.”

There is no way to know except for either calling back and asking, or simply getting there and looking, Brain,” the Varga calmly told her. “Don't worry too much, there are few threats likely that we cannot deal with. Permanently if necessary.

“I know,” she mumbled, “I know. But I've never been in a real fight. It sounded like he was scared, and he wouldn't be scared about normal scum unless it was a hell of a lot of them. Which probably means capes.”

We will meet the threat with whatever level of violence is required,” the Varga commented.

She couldn't help grinning to herself.

“Some people say you can't solve some problems with violence.”

That merely means you didn't use enough, Brain,” the demon laughed. Snickering, she kept running.

Slowing as she neared the DWU facility, she listened, opening her senses widely. There was the stench of the docks as per normal, but on top of that were unfamiliar scents of a significant number of people she hadn't encountered before, scents of what she recognized as gun oil and burned propellant, which meant guns, and various other smells which all together suggested a lot of armed men had just passed through.

This was born out by the noise she could hear from up ahead, at least a couple of dozen people shouting and making nasty comments, many of them pretty horrific racist slurs. A calmer voice was talking back, urging them to calm down and tell him what the problem was.

“Dad,” she said in a low voice. Stopping one street over, she listened, then looked up, before scrambling up the side of the warehouse facing her and sneaking over the roof on her belly, to look down at the main yard. There were some twenty to twenty five men wearing E88 colors milling around a central figure that she recognized instantly, from his bare chest even in the currently quite cold conditions to the metal wolf mask he was wearing. “Hookwolf? What the hell does he want?”

The answer became clear as she listened. “I know the scaly bitch is in there, you kike bastard,” the cape roared. “I want her. Send her out, or we're coming in.”

“You're working from bad information, Hookwolf,” her father called back, his voice amazingly calm under the circumstances. “Saurial isn't here. It's just a lot of dock workers who want to go home to their families. Why don't you let them, then we can talk about whatever your problem is.” He paused, then added mildly, “And I'm not Jewish, thanks.”

“Do I look like I fucking care?” the cape shouted. He turned to some of his men. “Go around the back and wait. Don't let anyone escape,” he added in a quieter voice.

Turning back he yelled, “You've got five minutes to send her out before we come and get her.”

Sighing, and very annoyed indeed at the thought that all of this was somehow down to her, Taylor looked around, deciding on the best approach. She could simply drop on their heads and deal with them, of course. The cannon fodder would last seconds if she got serious, but she didn't really want to hurt anyone too much if she could avoid it. If she attacked in an all out manner, they'd start shooting manically, which could kill either their own people or people in the DWU with stray bullets before she could stop them. Her preferred hit and run techniques wouldn’t work so well in the open with them all packed together like that. Not to mention she still wasn't sure about the cape. From what she'd read about him when researching the E88, the other Changer was close to unstoppable. Although, that did mean she didn't need to hold back too much.

He will tire long before we will, Brain,” the Varga advised. “We can take him. Or simply kill him.

'I'd prefer not to unless he hurts anyone,' she replied softly. 'But if dad gets hurt none of those bastards are going home.'

Deciding on an approach, she slid back down the roof and dropped to the street, then loped around three sides of the compound to reach the rear gate, which had six E88 members, all armed with assault rifles, covering it.

None of them even knew she was there before they were unconscious. Restraining them with manacles set for twenty-four hours, because she wasn't in a generous mood, she quickly and efficiently looted the bodies, taking everything but their wallets, and putting the weapons, spare ammunition, and anything else useful such as a couple of grenades of some sort, into a large bag the Varga produced for her. She stopped and considered her prisoners, then smiled a fanged smile and cut their shoes off with careful strokes of a claw, tossing the remains into the compound over the fence.

Satisfied, she hopped over the fence and slipped in through an open second-floor window, reverting to her Saurial form in the process.

“Jesus!” a man who was in the room yelped, spinning around suddenly, white-faced.

“No, just me,” she said in a low voice. “Sorry about scaring you. I'm here to see Danny Hebert. Those six E88 guys out back aren't a problem any more.”

The man, who she recognized as someone she'd been introduced to when she'd stopped in to get the letter a few days ago, nodded, calming down. He peered out the window and smiled maliciously. “Good work, Saurial. Thanks. Come on, I'll take you to Danny.”

She followed as he led her through the large complex building toward the front, where the shouting was getting louder.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“This idiot doesn't listen very well, does he?” Mark commented from beside Danny, who was looking out the main entrance to the admin building with a bullhorn in one hand.

“Not really, no. And he's convinced I'm Jewish for some reason,” Danny sighed. “He doesn't seem to like Jews. Or Blacks. Or Hispanics. Or… well, anyone, really.” He smiled as Mark chuckled.

“Danny, Saurial just came in the back way,” Zephron said in a low voice, walking up to them. “She took out the E88 guys that were guarding the back and stole all their weapons as well. We could start getting people out the back if we're quick and quiet.”

“Good.” Danny felt relief. “Make sure anyone who wants to go gets out safely.” He thought for a moment, then reluctantly added, “Distribute the weapons to anyone who knows how to use them properly. I don't want a firefight here, but if it comes to that, I want those bastards shot, not our guys.”

“OK, Boss,” the large man nodded, turning and leaving again.

“Keep an eye on these guys, please, Mark,” Danny said, handing his colleague the bullhorn. “I'm going to talk to Saurial.”

“You got it.” The other man pressed himself against the wall, peering out the door, a walky-talky in his hand. Danny had one in his pocket, the volume turned down, intermittent messages crackling over it from dock workers both inside and outside the facility. The rail crews had been warned to stay clear until the matter was resolved.

He found his daughter waiting for him in the canteen, surrounded by half a dozen assault rifles of various types, a significant amount of ammunition, and several pistols, not to mention a few knives. Zephron and John were checking the weapons over along with a few other people he knew had military backgrounds or other experience with firearms.

“Hello, Saurial,” he said, smiling. She smiled back. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”

“It's not a problem, Mr Hebert,” she said politely, a look on her face he recognized under the scales as one of amusement. It shifted slightly, to a more deadly one. “What the hell is going on?”

“I'm not sure, to be honest,” he replied. “Hookwolf and his minions turned up just now, shouting about wanting you. I have no idea why they thought you were here, or what they want with you in the first place.”

“They're probably after me because I've caught so many of their guys committing crimes over the last couple of weeks,” she sighed. “I was almost expecting something like this sooner or later but I don't know why it's involved you all. I'm sorry about it.”

“Don't worry, no one has been hurt yet,” he told her. “But I don't think they're going to wait much longer. He gave us five minutes nearly five minutes ago and he looks furious.”

“OK.” She slid off the table she was half-sitting on. “Let's go and deal with the idiot.”

“I think it might take something a little more excessive than your normal approach,” he said slowly, looking at her. “The man is extremely tough and dangerous and will need convincing. A lot of it.”

“Hmm.” She studied him, then looked around at the half dozen people in the room aside from them, who were listening curiously but politely, staying silent. “Can your men keep a secret? For now, anyway?”

Danny glanced around at the his colleagues, who all nodded. “I believe so.”

“In that case, I have something I've been keeping back for a special occasion,” she grinned, showing her teeth.

She changed.

Despite himself, Danny took a step back at the sight of her combat form, eight feet tall and heavily armored, smirking at him. Zephron swore violently and nearly fell over while one of the other guys actually fainted. “Fuck me,” John whispered in a low voice.

“Would you care to introduce me to your problem,” the enlarged, vastly more dangerous reptilian form said in a totally different voice to Saurial's, one that sent shivers down the back of everyone in the room. Danny smiled to himself. She liked her theatrics.

Annette would have been proud.

Everyone whipped their heads around as a sudden burst of machine gun fire echoed around the building. “Fuck. I think he's lost his patience,” Danny sighed.

Seconds later Mark charged into the room, skidding to a halt so suddenly he nearly fell over when he spotted Taylor grinning at him. “Holy shit on a cracker!” the man yipped, staring.

“She's with us, Mark. What's going on?”

“Hookwolf just changed and ripped the fence down, his men are shooting at anything that's moving,” Mark reported after another nervous glance at the combat form, who listened quietly. “We've pulled everyone back to the main admin building. About half the men got out the back before the shooting started, they're meeting up with the rail crews.”

“Take the weapons, find somewhere to take cover,” Danny ordered, coming to a quick decision. “Shoot if you have to but try for disabling shots not kill shots.”

“That's difficult at the best of times, Boss,” Mark replied.

“Do your best. We're not murderers, we're protecting our property and our people.” Danny shook his head in disgust. “Fuck this city, it's insane. Go, we can fight them inside better than outside, we know the place and they don't. Don't get killed.”

The other men grabbed the weapons and distributed them, one of them kicking his friend who'd fainted until he finally got up and ran with them. Seconds later only Taylor and Danny were in the room. He turned to her, looking up at her reptilian head several feet above his. “I'm sorry that you had to get involved, dear,” he said quietly.

“I think this is probably my fault, Dad, so the apology should go the other way.” She shrugged, lowering her head to look into his eyes. “If anyone hurts you I'm going to kill them.”

“Try not to if you can, dear. I understand, and I don't disagree with the sentiment, but you're too young to be killing people.” After a moment, visibly slightly reluctantly, she nodded.

“I'll try. But Hookwolf is going to regret bothering us.”

“That I'm fine with,” Danny smirked. They looked around at yet another burst of shots, which were now going off all around them. “Come on, I have an idea. We need maximum impact, I think, or they'll never learn.” He lead the towering form of his only daughter through the building, heading away from the shooting, as around them dockworkers fell back slowly. Every now and then there was a scream or a yell as a shot hit home. He hoped desperately that none of his people got seriously hurt or killed.

Reaching his destination, he pushed the door open and gestured. “This should do.”

Taylor looked in, then grinned, before following him inside.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hookwolf, or Brad to his friends, of which he had very few, roared defiance at whoever was shooting at him from the DWU building with considerable accuracy. The bullets bounced off his metallic form, pinging around the area. “Get those fuckers!” he screamed in fury, his men shouting and shooting in equal quantities.

The return fire from the building in front of him was much less in volume and a damn sight more accurate. One, then another, of the E88 members went down with a hole in his leg, rolling around in agony and clutching the wound. Infuriated, not liking being shown up by a bunch of people who would employ the sort of subhuman scum that made Brockton Bay the hellhole it was, he roared again and charged, smashing through the front door of the facility and hearing his remaining men follow.

A few more shots rang out from the defenders, then it went eerily quiet. He looked around quickly, deciding that the main hallway leading back to the rear of this building into what he thought was the inner work area was the best approach. Motioning to his men, he sent small groups of them off in different directions to cover the other approaches, then headed down the corridor.

Thirty seconds later the lights went out.

One of the E88 member behind him whimpered. “Oh, god. She's here.” Without looking Brad slammed him into the wall with a kick.

“Shut the fuck up. Flashlights.” Several beams of white light speared through the dark, letting him and the half dozen people with him see where they were going.

A scream in the distance made them all freeze, exchange glances, then resume walking. Another minute of slow advancement, two more screams, and half a dozen bursts of shooting later and his men were beginning to look like they wanted to be somewhere else. Not deterred, Hookwolf clattered through the corridors of the DWU buildings, not caring who heard and determined to find that scaly lizard girl who had caused so much trouble to the E88 recently.

Hell, she probably wasn't even white under those scales. She was just a big animal that walked around on its hind legs and needed to be put down.

Reaching a large door which seemed to lead into a workshop of some sort, he kicked it open and went in, his men fanning out behind him. Standing in the middle of it under the only light on in the windowless room, a dim emergency lamp, was a tall skinny man with glasses who seemed to be waiting for them.

“Hookwolf,” the man said politely. “What do you want?”

He recognized the voice of the man who had been trying to talk him into going away. The Hebert kike. “Saurial. I want Saurial. She's cost me a lot of money and people. I think I want a nice pair of lizard-skin shoes.”

“I've told you, Saurial isn't here,” Hebert replied mildly.

“I don't believe you. I know she is.”

"Who told you that?”

Hookwolf stepped closer, his blades making a metal on metal skittery sound. “None of your business. Where is she?”

Hebert sighed. “I'm sorry, but Saurial isn't here.” After a moment, he smiled thinly. “But she sent a friend. Would you like to meet her?”

About to reply, Brad stared as a shadow behind the man, which he'd put down as some sort of industrial machinery, stirred and unfolded. Something moved, coming closer, over Hebert's left shoulder. It opened glowing orange-yellow eyes with pupils like a cat's and looked at him, then the mouth formed into a smile that made him twitch.

It was a smile full of gleaming white teeth, several inches long, and with an air of imminent mayhem about it.

Behind him, several of his men swore faintly, one of them starting to pray. He glanced back and noticed that there seemed to be less of his people there than there had been seconds ago.

Looking back to the massive blue-black scaled reptilian head which was hanging in the darkness a foot over Hebert's shoulder he tried to think what to do. This wasn't Saurial, it looked nothing like the cape he'd seen video of, except for the reptilian aspect.

It looked very dangerous, very annoyed, and very hungry. This last aspect was enhanced when it sniffed loudly a couple of times, licked its lips with a long forked tongue, and said in a deep female voice, “I smell meat inside all that metal. Yummy.”

“Fuck this!” a voice from behind him screamed, followed by the sound of running feet. He glanced back again to see he was now without backup.

“You seem to have run out of followers, Hookwolf,” the Hebert man said calmly. “If you walk away now and don't come back, we can forget about it. We don't have any particular ax to grind with the E88 as long as you people stay away. The Merchants seem to have learned that, so I suppose you can.”

“Merchants,” he snarled. “They’re all useless fucking street scum led by a druggie fool. We’re the E88. We rule this town.”

“Lung might have different ideas,” Hebert remarked. “Or the PRT.”

“Fuck them all, we can take them. We’re just waiting for the best moment, then this city will be under the control of the right people. Not undesirables like you.”

The thing behind Hebert growled in a low resonant tone, making the room shiver a little. “That’s very rude,” it said quietly but with menace in its voice.

“Fuck you too you ugly bitch,” he growled back, without the undertones that made her utterance so impressive. Growing larger as he took on his full bladed wolf-like form rather than the half-way version he’d been using, he lowered his head and glared at her. “Come on, then, if you think you can take me.”

“Mr Hebert?” the huge reptile asked, tipping its head to fix the Union leader with one eye.

The man made a motion, stepping to the side out of her way. “Go ahead. If you could avoid causing too much damage in here it would be appreciated.”

“Of course,” she replied, moving into the light from the emergency lamp above them. For the first time Hookwolf could see just how massive the thing was. She was nearly the size of a horse, with forelegs that looked half-way between paws and hands, in addition to the heavy muscular hind legs, and the more slender but still extremely powerful looking arms above. Dropping to all fours, the reptilian creature grinned slowly at him. “Well?” she invited, making a gesture with one hand. “Go for it.”

He did. With a scream of mixed joy at combat and rage at the thing, he charged. She met him head-on, rearing up and grabbing him with all four hands, then pivoting sharply on her long tail and heaving him across the entire length of the workshop to impact the large vehicle doors at the far end, which he smashed through without even slowing down. Rolling across the cracked concrete outside with his blades raising sparks, he managed to dig some in and stop, raising his head in time to see the creature step through the remains of the doors. Its eyes glowed in the twilight as it narrowed them at him.

“That was pathetic,” she commented with a toothful smile. Raising the absolutely immense war hammer that appeared in her hands, the shaft nearly as long as she was tall, she began walking towards him. “Let me show you how it’s done.”

He barely had time to brace himself before one of the most powerful blows he’d ever experienced sent him flying over the perimeter fence, screaming and howling obscenities.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Danny stood in the remains of the rear door to the vehicle workshop, watching as his daughter gave a good impression of someone playing croquet with Hookwolf as the ball. The other cape managed to get in a few hits that made her stagger once or twice, but was clearly on the defensive. Smirking a little he watched as they moved off through the warehouses towards the ones that were completely derelict, Taylor being careful to minimize damage as usual. “Have fun, dear,” he murmured. “Make sure he learns not to come back.”

Hearing a sound behind him he looked over his shoulders to see Mark and Zephron walking towards him, both holding guns. The pair stopped beside him and peered into the dark, just in time to see Hookwolf go flying once more, blades falling like leaves. “That was pretty impressive, Boss,” Zephron rumbled. “You should give her a job. We could use security like that.”

“I think we’ll see her around quite a lot in the future,” Danny smiled.

“Good. I like her.”

Looking around as the lights came back on, Danny grinned. “That was a good idea, turning out the lights.”

“Saurial seems to have all sorts of ideas to terrify people,” Mark snickered. “She got a few then we used the same method to get more. We’ve got twelve E88 guys tied up in storeroom 23, there are six more outside the back gate that she got on the way in, and the rest ran. Half a dozen of the prisoners have holes in which we’re seeing to at the moment. None of our guys were seriously hurt, we have one broken leg, a broken jaw, and three bullet grazes, nothing big. The others are on the way back with the rail crews and I’ve called the cops.”

“Good work, to everyone,” Danny replied, satisfied. “Let’s go and see what the damage is.” The three men headed back inside, feeling fairly pleased under the circumstances.

In the distance there was another metallic crash that echoed faintly across the Docks.

Chapter Text

Brian stared open-mouthed at the sight of what was happening below them, then after a very long moment, turned to Lisa. She was looking at the scene with an expression that mixed amazement, horror, and a certain amount of pain. Behind her Rachel was watching with mute worry and Alec seemed frozen. “Tattletale?”

There was a pause of several seconds before she glanced at him, one eye twitching in a way he knew meant that her power was giving her a migraine.

He pointed.

“What. The Hell. Is that?

They all kept watching as the huge reptilian creature wielding a sword nearly eight feet long took Hookwolf to pieces. Literally. It was moving so fast it was almost impossible to track or even get a good view of, but every now and then it paused long enough for him to see it properly. He estimated it would probably stand at least eight feet high if erect, with close to that much tail behind it. It looked, more than anything else, like some sort of mutant six-legged velociraptor right out of an Aleph movie, although he could see that the front-most legs were actually arms with hands that were amazingly human-like, albeit with several inches of obviously razor-sharp talons tipping each digit.

Those hands were wrapped around the hilt of the sword it was swinging fast enough to create a distinct whip-crack noise each time whether it hit anything or not. The blade was apparently incredibly sharp, not to mention tough, since anything it hit got cleanly separated into two pieces without obviously slowing it at all.

When it stopped moving for a moment he noticed that it was standing with the rear legs and tail holding it leaning forward, the middle ones which had less hand-like appendages poised ready to strike, and the fore-body above those limbs held upright, giving it a slightly centaur-like appearance. If one took the classical Greek concept of a centaur and replaced all the parts of it with some sort of alien killer lizard, at least.

The upper torso, in those terms, was less solidly built than the rest of it and if you looked at it right might almost be a scaly version of a human female, but the head was right back into dinosaur from hell territory. A reptilian muzzle with a lot of extremely sharp teeth could be seen, two glowing, literally glowing slit-pupilled yellow-orange eyes above it set widely enough that it probably had exceptionally good peripheral vision but still forward enough to allow for binocular vision as well.

While large it was slender and sinewy, giving the impression of something made for speed rather than pure strength. Even so, it didn’t lack that either, the thing was definitely appallingly strong, high Brute level at least from what he could see. Its scales were a dark blue-black color, fading into the night and making it hard to see properly even leaving the sheer velocity of its movements out of it. The armor over the scales was almost exactly the same color and difficult to make out.

He watched in horror as it swung that huge blade again, heedless of the lamp-post that was between it and the target, the sword passing through the thick metal post as if it was made of cotton candy, aimed squarely at the metallic wolf-like form of Hookwolf, who only barely managed to move far enough out of range to avoid bisection. There were chunks of his own blades scattered all over the street as far as they could see, while the cape himself was visibly slowing down and looked very much the worse for wear. Even the normally extremely aggressive Nazi was giving off an air of becoming aware that he was in a losing battle. The top three quarters of the pole tipped over and landed with a clang on the ground.

“I have no idea,” Lisa finally replied in a faint voice. The other three stared at her instead of the somewhat one-sided battle in the street below, surprised. She looked embarrassed under the pain.

“Really?” Alec turned to her. “The know it all doesn’t know it all for once?”

Glaring at him she muttered something under her breath, before going back to watching the creature beat the shit out of one of the most dangerous capes in the city while giving off a distinct impression of enjoying itself. Which was, frankly, kind of worrying.

“No,” she finally admitted more loudly. A particularly loud crash from below as Hookwolf got sideswiped by a heavy tail right through a rusty old abandoned truck made them all jump a little. “All I can tell you right now is that it’s female, very smart, and incredibly quick. Not to mention dangerous. It’s playing with him. It could kill him easily, but it’s holding back for some reason.”

“Is it a construct of some sort? Or a projection?” Grue asked curiously. She shook her head after staring at the thing some more when it briefly paused again.

“No...” She trailed off, then said more firmly, “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a cape. And I think it's what left those footprints in the snow.”

Raising an eyebrow under his helmet, Brian stared at her, then the creature, which was now slowly stalking Hookwolf who was backing away, using other old cars as cover. “A cape? You mean like Saurial?” He thought for a moment. “It's reptilian like her, true, and seems to be using similar weapons, but it's a hell of a lot bigger and looks completely different.”

The thing suddenly moved like lightning, almost flowing over the obstacles in its way, darting at Hookwolf who screamed an obscenity and ran for his life, obviously having decided that he needed to urgently regroup somewhere a long way away. Brian watched with amazement as the sword that had been making such a mess of the other cape abruptly was a club instead, still wildly outsized. The lizard-thing hopped onto a car roof and swung like it was playing golf, with the result that the Nazi bounced down the street, ending up embedded into the wall of a warehouse a hundred feet away. His transformation ebbed away, leaving an unconscious man lying in an untidy heap.

The observers watched as the lizard-creature somehow made its sword turned club disappear, then sauntered over with no real urgency, lifting the Nazi by one ankle and holding him up for inspection, its head cocked curiously to one side. Apparently satisfied it put him down again surprisingly carefully then produced a set of heavy metal restraints with which it happily proceeded to hog-tie him. Grue was almost sorry for the other cape.

Almost.

When it was finished securing its captive, it producing a phone from somewhere, which looked absurdly small in its massive taloned hands, and carefully prodded the device for a few seconds, apparently sending a text. Putting it away again, it then slowly and deliberately turned its head on its long flexible neck to stare straight at them in a casual manner that made it pretty clear it had known they were watching from the beginning.

“Oh, shit...” Brian froze for a long couple of seconds.

The creature started walking in their direction.

“Um… I think we should go,” Tattletale said in a small voice. The others didn't argue, all of them hastily climbing aboard two of Bitch's outsize mutant dogs, the woman herself whistling a quiet command that had all three of the creatures turning and leaving the area rapidly. Grue looked over his shoulder, his eyes widening when he spotted the reptilian cape now standing on the roof right where they'd been, watching them flee. It had made it six stories from the ground to the roof in seconds.

A moment passed then it started following them, leaping as easily over the rooftops as the dogs were, if not more so. “Oh, crap,” he yelled. “It's chasing us!”

Regent and Tattletale quickly looked back, the blonde's face paling visibly. Bitch urged her dogs to a higher speed, which they seemed more than happy about, all three of them apparently well aware of what was following them and not liking it. The animals bounded over the roofs of the warehouses and tenement buildings, sending shingles and slates flying, while Brian kept looking back whenever they were in a position to allow it, frantically flooding their path with his darkness.

Half a mile further on, he turned around again, then sighed in relief. “I can't see it any more. I think we lost it.”

Turning back to look forwards he was just in time to see the damn thing appear a hundred feet in front of them, popping up out of an alley having apparently scaled the wall of the building. “FUCK!” Bitch screamed in shocked anger, leaning over and prodding the dog she was riding at the head of the little pack to violently turn. Grue nearly lost his seat as the one he was on followed the lead instantly, grabbing for Lisa as she hung on frantically and helped him keep his place.

As they flashed past the thing he saw it was merely watching them, making no attempt to attack. Once they were clear he looked back to see it following again. A few seconds passed then it vanished, dropping into another alley. This time he didn't sigh in relief, having the distinct impression it was toying with them for some reason.

Sweating, he exchanged a look with Tattletale, then both of them went back to scanning the area. “Any idea where it is?” he asked her, leaning forward. She looked around, wincing in pain again.

“It's… somewhere over to the right. I think.” Both of them looked in that direction but couldn't spot anything.

“Why the hell is it chasing us?” Regent called. She turned to stare at him.

Eventually she shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe it doesn't want witnesses?”

“Oh, thank you very fucking much for that thought,” the dark-haired young man snapped after a horrified second or two following her words. “I have no wish to get killed and eaten by a mutant dinosaur, thanks.”

“I still can't see it,” Grue stated, scanning around for any trace of the thing. Tattletale followed his gaze then shook her head.

“Neither can I.”

“Maybe we really did lose it this time?”

“I… I think if anything it got bored,” she finally replied after considering the question, rubbing her forehead with a shaking hand. He looked at her closely, concerned, seeing she was clearly about at the end of her endurance. Her power was obviously causing her more pain than usual. “From what I could make out it would easily be able to track us if it wanted to. I'm pretty sure its senses are wildly better than ours are. The damn thing can probably hear us half a mile away.”

“Oh, great,” he muttered.

“Do we go back to base, then?” Regent asked as they slowed down, the dogs also close to exhaustion. “Or run around for a while longer so we don't lead it there?”

It was a good point. Grue had no wish to allow whatever it was to work out where they lived. After a moment or two he signaled a stop. Bitch issued the command to the dogs, which slowed to a walk, then finally halted on a flat roof nearly three miles from where the lizard creature had so comprehensively stomped Hookwolf flat.

Relieved, as riding the dogs wasn't exactly the most comfortable thing in the world at the best of times, never mind when they were running for their lives, Brian slid off his mount, dropping to the roof and rubbing his ass. The others did pretty much the same thing.

Eventually they gathered in a group, the dogs to one side, in the shadow of the machine house on the top of the building they were on. Grue looked carefully around, both checking for the thing and trying to work out where they were. Spotting the lights of the Medhall building in the distance he realized they'd ended up half-way between the Docks and the Boardwalk, technically on the edge of Merchants territory but a safe distance from their main haunts.

“What the hell, Lisa?” he finally said, turning to the blonde, who was standing with her eyes shut and one hand pressed to her forehead. “What just happened? Who or what was that?”

“I told you, Brian, I don't know,” she sighed, not opening her eyes. “When I looked directly at it, my power just… gave me static.” She shrugged. “I could get bits and pieces but not much useful information. It's really strange. And hellishly painful.”

Regent, looking even in his costume rather nervous, leaned against the side of the machine house and stared at her. Beside her, Bitch was checking one of her dogs, while Grue was thinking. “How often does that happen, Tats?” the smaller man asked, sounding worried.

She sighed, opening her eyes to look at him and wincing at the same time. Reluctantly, she admitted, “That's only the second time it's ever happened...” The blonde suddenly got a faraway look on her face, apparently realizing something.

“Oh, wonderful,” he groaned. “Right at the point it would be really fucking useful to know what the hell was chasing us!”

“It's not like I'm doing it on purpose, you know,” she snapped back in an aggrieved manner, coming back from wherever she'd been moments before.

“Did you see what it did to Hookwolf?” he asked, leaning forward and resting the end of his scepter on his shoulder. “It fucking destroyed him! And you think it was just playing with him? That's not someone I want to tangle with, or lead home. So pardon me if I'm a little annoyed that our all-knowing fountain of information picks that exact moment to run dry.”

His voice was heavy with sarcasm, but Brian couldn't exactly fault his reasoning. Neither could Lisa, judging by her expression, although she wasn't happy about it even so.

“I mean, you were actually watching the same thing I was, right?” he went on. “It was nine or ten feet tall and swinging the biggest fucking sword I've ever seen around like it weighed nothing! It cut a car in half with one swing, one-handed. That's just bullshit. Never mind it was so fast I could barely follow it. I don't know what beef it had with Hookwolf but I do not want to meet anything that could do that to him. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen outside an Endbringer. Please tell me you know if it's going to follow us home? I don't want to wake up tomorrow to see a killer alien dinosaur grinning at me while holding the sword of plus ten destruction to my throat!”

Regent finished his rant, then stared at his three companions, who were all staring back from fifteen feet away, completely silent and not moving a muscle. The eyes of the two girls, the only ones visible, were so wide he could see the whites all around even in the dark.

He swallowed hard, closing his own eyes for a moment in terrified realization.

“It's behind me, isn't it?” he asked faintly.

All three of them nodded dumbly.

“Oh hell.”

Very slowly, he lifted his head to look directly upwards.

A couple of feet above him, an unpleasantly familiar pair of glowing yellowish eyes set in a massive reptilian head were peering down at them all from the roof of the machine house. The rest of the creature was out of sight on the roof. It looked at them, totally motionless, while they all stared back, so frozen that no-one even considered using their powers to escape.

The tableau held for a few seconds, no one saying anything, then it slowly moved, the head staying almost still in a very disturbing manner while the rest of it eased over the roof and descended the side of the building, its claws easily holding it against the wall. Regent didn't move, worried that doing so would instantly precipitate an attack. Which, based on what he'd seen, would be something that none of them would survive. He was under no misconceptions about the mismatch in abilities present.

When it was standing on the roof, looking at them, it slowly turned its head to inspect each one of them in turn. It audibly sniffed, scenting them. A whine from one of the dogs, which were pressed against the roof in a submissive posture making it abundantly clear they knew damn well a much more dangerous predator was present caused it to snap its head around so fast it blurred to stare at the animal. Half a second later it looked back at them, equally quickly. The contrast between the horrifyingly slow and deliberate movements as it climbed down the wall and the practically instantaneous reflexes was deeply disturbing.

Grue watched as the creature studied them, glancing at Lisa without moving his head, seeing that she was looking terrified and at a complete loss. Briefly considering flooding the area with his darkness then trying to escape, he dismissed the plan when he realized that the thing could probably react much too fast to give that idea much hope of success.

Suddenly, the thing spoke, in a fairly deep female voice that sounded remarkably normal although with weird undertones, making them all twitch violently.

“You dropped this,” it said, tossing Tattletale a phone. The device bounced off her chest as she entirely failed to even attempt to catch it. After a long incredulous moment, all of them looked down at the phone.

When they looked up, it was gone.

“What… the… absolute... fuck...”

Regent's disbelieving voice broke the silence nearly a minute later. Bending down very slowly, Tattletale picked up the phone and stared at it, before sagging a little and putting it back into the pouch in her utility belt it had apparently fallen out of at some point.

She turned to them, her mouth working silently. Eventually, she managed to speak.

“I...” Her voice was unnaturally high. She tried again after swallowing. “I have no idea what the hell just happened.”

Shaking his head in defeated tiredness, Grue sighed. “Fuck it all, let's just go home.”

It took Bitch nearly five minutes to get the dogs to stop shivering and let them get on. The ride home was slow, quiet, and thoughtful.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

We are being watched, Brain,” the Varga said, as Taylor swung her sword with both hands, wincing a little internally as the lamp post that had jumped in front of her blade toppled over, but still concentrating on not actually dicing the idiot Nazi in front of her. She carefully missed hitting him square on, only removing yet another piece of his outer layers which clattered to the road and burst into fragments. The cape yelped in shock and dived out of the way, while she followed.

'I know, I heard them,' she replied absently. 'Tattletale? She's with the Undersiders, right?' She remembered what their research had shown up.

Yes, with her teammates Grue, Regent, and Hellhound or Bitch. There wasn't much information available on them so far. Villainous alignment although they have been surprisingly inactive recently.” The Varga sounded intrigued. “I believe that she is probably a Thinker of some sort.”

'OK. Well, they're not a problem right now, so they can watch if they want.' She ducked a return strike by Hookwolf then pivoted on one foot, her tail smacking into him and flinging him into and through a rusty box truck at the side of the road. 'Oops. Dad is going to be very sarcastic about all the damage.' Taylor cast a quick glance back at the trail of destruction their running fight had left behind, embarrassed. While a good deal of it was due to her opponent a considerable amount was, if she was honest, her fault.

Shifting her grip on the sword, she swung it one-handed at the other cape, who let out an unmanly screech as it barely missed him, cutting an old junker of a car neatly into two halves with a crunch. She bared her teeth at him in a savage grin. 'This is fun, though. He's not as tough as he made himself out to be.'

Please restrain yourself from killing him, although I agree that is what would be the rational approach. Your father was very clear that lethal force should be reserved for extreme situations, which this isn't.” Her head partner sounded mildly annoyed about that little fact. He'd made it quite clear that leaving dangerous enemies alive was in the long term a bad idea. She had a sneaking suspicion he was right, but couldn't find it in herself to go against her father's wishes or her own ethical sense.

'Don't worry, I'll just wear him out and knock him around a little,' she assured the Varga. 'Teach him what it's like to be on the other end of a smackdown for once.'

Hookwolf feinted right, then dived left, apparently trying to get to cover behind some more cars, all of which looked like they should have been junked years ago. This area was very run down, not surprising in the current economic climate and considering that it was mainly Merchants who wandered around the place. Anyone with a brain had cleared out as soon as they heard the fight coming, though, meaning the area was almost empty. She could hear a few heartbeats, very rapid ones, in the surrounding buildings, so a few people had braved it out even so.

Quickly looking around Taylor could also see the heat signatures of half a dozen people, not including the four on the roof to one side, which also had three much larger blobs behind them. Idly wondering what they were she returned her attention to her opponent, who was watching her carefully in between glances about him for an escape route.

Smiling to herself, which in her current form probably looked a little worrying, she raised the sword again then dropped to all fours, skittering over the ground and the cars fast enough to make him yell out wildly, swear a lot, then make a break for it. Jumping ahead and to one side she swapped the sword for a club like a giant baseball bat with a quick mental flick, then aimed carefully and swung, pulling the blow enough at the last instant that Hookwolf only bounced, rather than splashed. Watching him hit the warehouse wall at the end of the street she grinned.

'Fore!'

Ah. A golf metaphor,” the Varga replied drily, making her giggle.

Wandering over having dismissed the bat she reached down and picked Hookwolf up now that he had reverted to human form, checking him for damage. He was out like a light but his heartbeat was strong and she couldn't see any real damage to him other than sheer exhaustion. Satisfied, she put him down again then applied the restraints her partner produced on request. 'Let's set them for a few days, just to make a point' she smirked. After another look at the unconscious cape, she had the Varga add a neck collar and attach the restraints to the back of it, ensuring that Hookwolf was going nowhere until the bonds evaporated.

Having finished, she plucked her phone from the belt around her waist above her forelegs, flipping it open with one talon. Quickly tapping out a message to her father, she put it away again.

'OK, that's that done,' she said with an internal smile. 'Hopefully it should stop those Nazi bastards from messing with us for a while.' Turning her head she looked up curiously to where the Undersiders were still watching. 'Think I should go and say Hi? I mean, I know they're villains, but they're still neighbors.'

They don't present much threat as far as I can sense.”

With a small shrug she headed towards the building she could see four faces peering over the edge of from the roof. These immediately vanished and she could hear a certain amount of worried whispering. 'Oops,' she muttered again. 'I think they might have the wrong idea.' Quickly climbing up the front of the building Taylor hopped lightly onto the roof, in time to see the three huge thermal sources, which turned out to be enormous lizard-dog creatures, bound away into the distance, two of them carrying a pair of people each on their backs.

'Wow. That looks… uncomfortable,' she commented. Glancing down she noticed that there was an expensive looking smart phone lying on the roof. Picking it up she sniffed it. The scent of a female and a distinctive perfume, which she could also smell in the air around her, led her to believe that it belonged to one of the Undersiders. After a brief internal debate she sighed softly, looking up at the disappearing quartet, before beginning to follow them. 'This looks expensive. She'll probably miss it, so I should give it back, I guess,' she remarked. There was no immediate reply.

Strangely enough, the Undersiders sped up when they noticed she was behind them. She heard one of them yell about being chased, briefly wondering if she should shout back, but decided just to follow. Eventually they'd stop and she could return the phone. A cloud of oddly opaque darkness billowed behind them, which blocked normal vision completely and even the thermal vision as well, not to mention muffling the sounds in a weird way. It had no effect on their scents, which was useful, so it barely slowed her.

It took some time for them to come to a halt, though. At one point she hopped down to the street and ran ahead of the direction she thought they were going in, to get in front of them, which actually worked. But as soon as she climbed up to the rooftops again the girl on the front dog-thing screamed in shock, then wheeled her mount around, almost dislodging the large young man on the second animal as it did the same thing, and pelted off in a different direction. Sighing, she watched them go once more, before muttering to herself and following, this time keeping out of sight off to one side. Perhaps if they didn't see her they'd stop?

A few more minutes passed while she tracked them by ear and scent. Eventually they halted, dismounting their animals and arguing with each other for a while. She gleaned quite a lot of information listening as she carefully approached, clambering up the side of the building away from them and lurking on the other side of the machine room on top of it. Tattletales real name appeared to be Lisa, and the larger of the two boys was Brian. Taylor thought he was probably the cape known as Grue. That made the dog handler Hellhound, which made sense, leaving Regent as the remaining boy. Wondering what their powers were she carefully and quietly slipped up to the top of the machine house, peeping over the edge to see what they looked like.

Tattletale was a blonde, very attractive, in a skin-tight body suit in black and purple. Grue was tall, well built, and wearing a modified motorcycle helmet and leathers. Bitch or Hellhound, whichever it was, looked pretty normal by comparison, just a solidly built young woman in normal clothes with a cheap dog mask sitting pretty much on top of her head. Wondering whether she should ask what name the girl wanted people to use, she pondered the matter for a second or two, before deciding it wasn't the time right at that moment.

Regent, the last of them, was directly below her, ranting wildly about something and seeming pretty wound up. His costume was interesting, looking like he was trying to pull off the effect of being a flamenco dancer but missed. She cocked her head, wondering what the idea behind it was.

When he stopped talking he stared at his companions, who were all oddly silent. She glanced at them and realized that they were all staring fixedly at her! It was embarrassing. She knew her current form was a bit unusual but the intensity of the stares was somewhat off-putting.

Not wanting to upset them any more she carefully and slowly descended their side of the machine house, trying not to make any sudden moves. Sniffing she cataloged the various scents, localizing the smell on the phone to Tattletale. It must be hers.

Staring at them and wondering why they all looked so scared, she snapped her head around at a sound from one of the huge dog-like things, almost jumping in shock, then looked back when it was obvious the animal was only tired. All three of them were lying on their sides panting. Briefly thinking that Bitch should take more care of her pets, she retrieved Tattletales phone from her belt pouch and gently tossed it to her, saying at the same time, “You dropped this.”

The girl didn't move to catch it, not even when it bounced off her chest and clattered to the roof. Taylor managed to avoid sighing, even though she felt like it. Assuming they were a little embarrassed themselves about losing what was probably an expensive phone, although you wouldn't guess it from the way she'd dropped it again, she waved to them and jumped over the side of the building, grabbing the stonework on the way down then lowering herself to the ground to avoid her weight, which at this size was significant, damaging the street.

She wasn't even sure they'd noticed her wave, since by then they were all looking at the phone with peculiar expressions, at least in the case of the two girls. Speeding up she ran back towards the Docks and her captive, satisfied about her good deed. It had only taken an extra twenty minutes or so anyway.

'They seemed a bit confused,' she said to the Varga, which for some reason seemed to be sniggering to itself. 'I'm not sure they really know what they're doing.'

The great creature laughed inside her head and refused to explain why for quite a long time.

Chapter Text

As she reached the area where she'd left the form of Hookwolf lying in the street, Taylor slowed, a familiar scent reaching her nose from somewhere up ahead. Stopping in the shadows, she sniffed carefully, looking around intently, then slipped into a side alley and climbed quickly up the side of the building to the roof, cloaking as she went. Reverting to her normal size to allow her smaller form to be more stealthy she very quietly crept over the next two roofs, until she made it to her target area, a building overlooking the point where the fight had stopped but some distance downwind of where the Undersiders had watched from.

Checking again she could make out a dim glowing blob beneath her in the top floor room, near the window. It seemed to be pointing something out the window and lying on the floor.

The scent was definitely the same as the one she'd detected in the room in the other warehouse during the sniping incident, the one she'd followed half-way across the city. Her mysterious observer was back. 'Now isn't that interesting,' she commented silently to the Varga, who was also watching intently.

Yes, it is, Brain. I think we might have found the reason Hookwolf and his friends decided to visit the DWU.

'I think it's time we had a talk. Going after me is one thing, but setting that lunatic on Dad and his people is too much.' Taylor was feeling very irritated. Creeping soundlessly across the roof she eased headfirst over the edge, seeing there was indeed a man lying on the floor with a camera, pointing it at Hookwolf a couple of hundred yards away up the road. Presumably waiting for her to return. He must have been following discreetly all the way from the DWU facility, which spoke volumes about his own training.

Smiling in a vicious way, she slipped further down the wall, then flipped through the window above him, decloaking when she was standing behind him again and back up to the larger size.

“Good view?” she asked casually.

“Holy fucking cunt!” the man screamed in shock, nearly jumping out the window as he spun around on the floor, rising into a crouch with a knife in his hand in an impressive display of reflexes.

She laughed gently, which made him pale even further than the impressive shade he reached when he saw who it was.

“Oh, Christ,” he moaned.

“Still only me.” She stepped closer. “I'm very curious as to who you are, and why you paid that Merchant to snipe at Saurial.”

He went completely white.

“Oh, yes,” she purred softly, “I know it was you. I know where you went afterwards. And I know it was you who set a crazy homicidal cape on friends of mine. What I don't know is why, and who you work for, so I think we need to talk.”

“You… You can't make me talk,” he stuttered, obviously attempting to convince himself more than her.

“I think you may be mistaken,” she corrected him politely, smiling widely. This time his color ebbed to pale green. “And trust me, there are so many things I can do that won't actually kill you. Some of them might even allow you to walk again one day.”

He screamed loudly and in a remarkably unmanly way as she reached for him.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Brad groaned, shaking his head a little and finding it difficult. There was something heavy around his neck and his arms and legs were bent oddly. It took him several seconds to remember what had happened. Struggling, he tried to escape his bonds, whatever they were, but found it impossible. Whatever was tying his legs and arms behind his back didn't even flex.

An attempt to shift forms and escape like that caused instant pain, as once again the bonds didn't cooperate and slide off his blades, instead tangling with them and interfering with the process. He'd never encountered anything like it.

A sudden scream from behind him made him try to look, then swear violently and wriggle around on his belly on the cold concrete until he could see the source. The huge reptilian horror that had been chasing him was holding a man at arm's length by the ankle on the roof of a building a hundred yards away, dangling him over a sixty foot drop, while apparently talking calmly to him. Brad stared, wondering what the hell she was doing. It was a remarkably brutal bit of intimidation, one he actually found rather impressive, even under the circumstances

Her captive shrieked again as she jiggled him up and down encouragingly, then started talking. Very very quickly. She listened carefully, looking like she was asking questions, but it was too far away for Brad to make out what was being said. When the man swiveled in his direction, though, he recognized him. It was the informant who had approached him with information on Saurial and where she might turn up.

Feeling suddenly like he was the butt of a joke he was going to kill someone over, Hookwolf watched, unable to do anything else. Eventually she reeled her prisoner in, apparently satisfied, slung him over her shoulder, and dropped off the building, accompanied by a descending wail of terror. Braking by grabbing the wall in a few places she landed lightly, then put the man down.

The lizard thing reached out and put her hand around his neck, before talking seriously to him for a moment. He nodded frantically, then rabbited as soon as she let go, disappearing into the darkness in seconds. She watched for a moment, then turned to Brad, walking over and squatting next to him.

“Hello, Hookwolf,” she said politely. “You're awake. I was wondering when you'd manage that.” She reached out and poked him with the end of her tail. “Looking a little rough around the edges there. Now, what am I going to do with you?”

“Let me go, you bitch, or Kaiser will have your head on his wall,” he snarled.

“Oh, I don't think it will come to that,” she smiled. “I doubt he could do it anyway.”

“The E88 is going to crush you, bitch,” he blustered, knowing damn well she had him at her mercy.

She got down on all four legs and put her head very close to his, close enough that he could see her teeth very clearly indeed. He swallowed a little drily.

“No, they aren't. And if they try, they will all die.” There was a note of total certainty in her voice that despite himself he tended to believe. “You have no idea at all what I'm capable of if you push hard enough. I would strongly advise you don't try to find out.” Her voice was a silky hiss, making a shiver go down his back. “I have a message for Kaiser and you are going to deliver it when you see him next. Leave the DWU alone. If I have to go through the entire E88 to keep them safe I'm perfectly happy to do it and believe me, I can. What I did you was fun, but not actually very hard. Don't make me do it again and put some effort in.”

“You're bluffing,” he said, not entirely certain she was. The reptilian female studied him for a few seconds.

“OK. If that's the way you want to play it.” Standing up she grabbed whatever it was that she had tied him up with and lifted him off the ground with no effort, carrying him like a suitcase. He yelled and struggled, totally pointlessly. “You should be quiet,” she advised, “you're going to need your breath. How long can you hold it, anyway?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he asked, suddenly worried. There was something about the calm and almost serene manner she was talking in that was very disconcerting.

“This,” she replied, stopping. He looked around to find to his horror they'd reached the waterfront and she was standing on the remains of one of the old wharves that had collapsed years ago, right at the edge, dark frigid water lapping at the timbers ten feet below them. “See you.”

She held him out, then let go.

His scream didn't last long, nor did the echoes of the splash.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

David looked around the scene, lit brightly by floodlights on the walls of the DWU buildings, and more on poles in the yard. Bullet casings were everywhere, there were a hell of a lot of holes in some of the walls, and a huge part of the fence was shredded, but overall the damage was minimal. Strobing blue and red illumination cast odd shadows about the place, the half dozen police cruisers, three large prisoner vans, and two ambulances all with their roof lights running scattered about the yard. They'd had to wait for some of the men to tow the huge trailer that had blocked the main gate out of the way with a massive forklift when they'd arrived, before they could get in.

“My God, Danny, what the hell? It looks like a war zone.” He turned back to the DWU representative who was standing with several of his men, all armed with various guns, the latter looking around alertly for the most part. They were clearly guarding the Hebert man.

Danny sighed, looking around himself. “It's a mess, yes. But it won't take long to fix. The fence is the biggest nuisance, I'm not sure we have enough chain-link material in stock.”

“Why the hell did Hookwolf of all people attack here?” David asked, glancing over at the surprisingly large number of prisoners the DWU people seemed to have acquired, mostly without any injuries. Or at least, to them. Several of the E88 members were looking somewhat tattered.

Shrugging, Danny replied, “Apparently someone told him Saurial was here, which was wrong. He seems to have a bone to pick with her. I called her and told her and she sent someone else over to lend a hand, she was unable to attend.”

“Who did she send?” David asked curiously.

“Me,” a deep female voice said from behind him, making him yelp and spin around, then nearly faint. He stared, as did the other cops, at the enormous and much more reptilian creature than Saurial that was standing fifteen feet away holding a dripping wet and deliriously mumbling Hookwolf under her arm like a handbag.

“Fuck me,” he breathed. “Who the hell are you?

“A friend,” she replied, the corners of her mouth going up in what he realized was a smile. Her face was nowhere near as human-like as Saurial's was, not really allowing for a real smile. The effect was more than a little chilling, as were her eyes, as she looked around with rapid motions of her head, displaying incredibly quick reactions.

“That's nice,” he managed to say. “I wouldn't want you as an enemy.”

She laughed, then poked Hookwolf, who coughed a little, rather weakly. “He decided to cooperate in the end,” she announced, “although he took some… convincing. Do you want him or do I return him to sender? I don't really need a pet.”

The police officer could see that the cape was securely and slightly ridiculously restrained by the same sort of weird unbreakable metal manacles that Saurial produced, except much thicker and on both legs and arms. Not to mention his neck. It was blatantly obvious that he wasn't going anywhere.

“I think… I think it would probably be best to let the PRT take him off your hands,” he managed to say after a few seconds. The other cops were still staring in shock, while the union guys seemed very amused. Danny was shaking his head, a look of mild disapproval colored with hilarity on it.

“They haven't turned up yet, have they?” she asked.

“No. We passed the message on when these guys called us and said Hookwolf was involved, but they don't seem in much of a hurry.” David sighed slightly. “Not entirely surprising. If it was the Boardwalk or Downtown areas, they'd be all over the place in minutes.”

“If I go and give him to them do you think they can manage to hold onto the bastard this time?” she asked curiously. “Based on past results he and his friends seem to walk out of the place in days, if not hours. I'm sure he's been arrested by the PRT at least twice in the last three years.”

David shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I know we can't hold him, as much as I'd like to take him off your hands. But we'll take these other idiots.”

A siren in the distance made them all turn and look, to see a PRT van following Armsmaster's motorcycle come around the corner of the road that led directly to the facility, heading rapidly in their direction. “Hah. Speak of the devil. About time.”

Everyone waited as the Tinker and his escort entered the yard, both vehicles stopping a few yards away, then Armsmaster dismounted, staring at the scene. What they could see of his face under his helmet looked somewhat surprised. Eventually, as he was joined by three PRT troopers carrying containment foam sprayers and Miss Militia, who climbed out of the van with them, the five people cautiously walking closer. David noticed that the female hero was staring fixedly at the large reptilian cape with a look of shock in her eyes.

Armsmaster seemed more interested in the captive under her arm, or more specifically the manacles he was bound with. “That amount of restraint seems excessive,” he said, “bearing in mind the impossible strength of that material.”

“I needed the weight,” the reptilian woman replied evenly. “So he'd sink quickly.”

Everyone stared at her. “Sink quickly?” Miss Militia echoed, a look of mild horror in her eyes.

“We practiced some breath control exercises while I was explaining that the DWU was off limits to him and his friends,” the other cape replied, sounding amused. “Deep water helps a lot in that case. He agreed with me after a while.”

“You… you dropped him in the bay?” Miss Militia managed to say, her voice faint.

The huge creature nodded, doing its smile thing again, which made the PRT troopers flinch. “Repeatedly. I pulled him out again, though. After a while.” Holding Hookwolf out at arm's length she shook him gently, watching water drip from him. “He's surprisingly stubborn.”

“That's torture,” the heroine snapped.

The lizard-like cape shook her head. “No, it's an enhanced interrogation, perfectly legal according to our own government, as stated more than once over the last twenty years or so. You're a government agent, surely you know about that?” Her glowing eyes fixed on Miss Militia's own, making the latter visibly swallow. “Admittedly my version is a little more enhanced but it's also a lot faster. He's fine. Just a bit damp and a lot cleaner. Now, do you want him, or do I go and throw him back through Kaiser's window? I don't much care one way or the other.”

She held the cape up to her face, staring into his eyes. He seemed unable to blink. “Although if I ever see him again around here, no one else ever will. Got me, Hookwolf?”

The cape nodded so fast his mask nearly fell off.

“Good. Remember my message when you see your boss.” She put him down, the manacles around his legs vanishing in the process. Giving him a gentle push she urged him towards the PRT troopers who were, like everyone else, staring in horrified awe. “Run along, Hooky. Don't come back.”

Staggering towards the PRT people, the broken cape looked almost grateful when they grabbed him and loaded him into the van.

“I think that's that problem solved, Mr Hebert,” the lizard-like female said with satisfaction, turning to the DWU representative. “I'm glad I could help. It was fun. Thanks for letting me give a hand.”

“You're welcome, and thank you as well,” Danny said calmly, walking over and holding out his hand, which was engulfed in the one the thing put out. He showed no signs at all of fear or worry which deeply impressed David, and he suspected, pretty much everyone else watching in silence. “Give my best wishes to Saurial. Can we call you again if we need help?”

“Any time.” She nodded politely to him, waved to the other union men who waved back, seeming relaxed and pleased, then turned and sprinted at a horrifying speed across the yard towards the bay.

“Hey!” Miss Militia, apparently taken by surprise, shouted after her. “Come back! I want to talk to you.”

The cape disappeared into the darkness without a reply then a second later there was a faint splash.

“Did she just jump into the bay?” Armsmaster asked the assembled multitude, more or less rhetorically. His voice sounded odd.

“I think so, yes,” Danny replied, turning back from watching her go with a smile. “Now, was there anything else I can do for the PRT tonight? Or can we get on with making the area secure and going home. Some of us have families to get back to.”

Neither of the capes seemed to be able to come up with an instant answer, merely exchanging bemused glances, so he turned to David. “Hopefully you have everything you need. If you want to interview any of the men, let me know and I can arrange to have them come down town.”

“OK, Danny. Thanks.” David shook his head, looking around as the other cops and EMTs got back to work now the drama was over. “Amazing. Well done, though. I'm impressed you had no real injuries.”

“We knew the area a lot better than those idiots did,” Danny sighed. “Plus we have some very good shots in the Union. Ex military guys, you know the type.”

“I do.”

“Hey, can we keep the guns?” one of the union men, the excessively large black guy, put in, stroking the expensive looking AR-15 he was holding. “I like this one.”

“We should probably hand them over, Zephron,” Danny sighed. “The DWU doesn't really need an armory.”

“Are you sure, Boss?” the man asked, grinning. “Never know when it might come in handy.”

“Give the police the guns, guys,” the DWU man laughed. “All of them. Including that pistol I saw you hide in your desk, Mark.”

Another man looked disappointed, making David grin.

He noticed that a couple of minutes later, the PRT people and the two capes quietly left, not seeming to know quite what to do. That made him snicker for some time.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Swimming underwater for a couple of miles, Taylor exited the bay, shook the water off, and retook her Saurial form, cloaking and running towards the Downtown area. She wanted to be seen wandering around for a while, to give plausible deniability to her combat form. It was inevitable that sooner or later someone would put it all together but the longer she could put it off, most likely the safer they'd be.

Not to mention she thought it was really funny.

Reaching the brightly lit area full of restaurants and bars she looked over the roof edge of the building she was on, then around. In the distance she could make out Kid Win gliding along the sidewalk with Clockblocker beside him, the two Wards patrolling the area. Deciding she'd go and say hello, she decloaked and ran along the rooftops until she was above them, then descended to the ground, smiling as they stopped, then came over.

“Hi, guys. How's it going?” she asked brightly. “I've been wandering around for a while and haven't seen anything interesting yet.”

“Hi, Saurial. Nothing much going on, the E88 seems quiet tonight and no one else is around,” Kid Win smiled. “But I'm sure something will kick off sooner or later. It normally does.”

“Then you can go and season the criminals while we watch and laugh,” Clockblocker snickered. “Hey, I had an idea about how you could get Assault. What you do is, you get some salad, some dressing, a big knife and fork, a pepper grinder, one of those huge ones they use in restaurants, and some salt, then...”

They walked off, laughing about his idea. It seemed plausible, so she put it on the list of things to look into.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hearing the back door open then close, Danny got up from the sofa to meet his daughter in the hallway. She smiled at him and hugged him. “I'm so glad you're safe, Dad,” she whispered. “I was so angry when I saw what was happening. I wanted to drop on his head and rip him to pieces, but I didn't want to risk other people getting hurt. Sorry about your guys getting injured.”

“It's fine, dear, no one was badly injured, not even the E88 idiots. All our people are fine, the worst injury was a broken leg and it's not a bad break. But if you hadn't been there it would have been very bad. Thanks for saving us all.”

“Any time, Dad, you know that. I'm happy to help. And it was kind of fun, actually. You should have seen Hookwolf's face when I let go and dropped him in the water the first time. He couldn't believe what I was going to do.”

She giggled, as Danny laughed, picturing the scene. “Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bastard. Hopefully he won't be back.”

“I doubt it,” she replied with a grin. “He seemed sincere when he promised to keep out of the Docks. If he does come back, well, I know some very deep water not that far away.”

“That's only marginally better than threatening to eat him, dear,” Danny protested mildly, both of them going back into the living room. “Your friend is a bad influence in some ways.”

“No, he isn't,” she smiled, “and you don't really think so.”

“Not really, no,” he agreed. “So, tell me about it. What happened?”

She went over the whole thing, making him grin for most of it and laugh out loud during parts. When she came to the mysterious observer, though, she frowned.

“I'm not sure yet what to do about it. That guy won't be back. I told him to run and keep running, and if I ever saw, heard, or smelled him anywhere near Brockton Bay I'd do something to him that would make Jack Slash throw up. I think he believed me, his heart nearly stopped. But the man he worked for is still out there.”

“I'm surprised about who it is,” Danny mused. “Not quite the name I expected.”

“No. I think I can probably drop him in it with a little work, but I'm going to have to think about it,” she commented. “One way or the other, though, I'm going to make sure he stops poking around.” Taylor held up a memory card. “I took this out of that guys camera, then destroyed the thing and threw it in the bay. I got his phone as well and pulled out the battery and sim card. It might come in handy.”

“You're becoming very devious, dear,” he smiled. “I wonder how much is you and how much is your large friend?”

“Fifty fifty, I think.” Taylor grinned. “We take turns.”

“Fair enough. OK, I need a late dinner then bed. Do you want something as well?”

“Sure. We have some frozen pizzas in the fridge, that should do it.”

Nodding, he got up and went with her into the kitchen, both of them soon eating and talking. Overall, he was pretty pleased with the day.

“A hell of a dramatic intro for your combat form,” he said as they finished. “So are you going to use it in public more now?”

“Probably, yes,” she replied with a nod. “There's only one problem with that.”

“Which is?”

“I still can't think of a good name, damn it!”

He was still laughing as he went up to bed.

Chapter Text

 ■


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♦ Topic: New Cape in BB
In: Boards ► Places ► America ► Brockton Bay
Bagrat
(Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Posted On Jan 25th 2011:

Last night, a new cape debuted here in Brockton Bay. Nothing new there, I hear you shout, it happens way more often here than you'd think was likely, although admittedly it's normally a villain.

This time, though, it's a hero, and she's a lizard.

You read that right.

A lizard.

Six and a half feet tall, bipedal, long tail, sharp teeth, scales...

She sounds like a Case 53, but according to people who have talked to her, claims not to be. BBPD officers were the first to meet her, she intervened in a firefight between four of the city's finest and six E88 who were robbing a warehouse. Apparently, she shut it down in seconds.

Just walked in, turned the lights out, and did... something. Cue lots of shooting and screaming, then ominous silence. Only about two minutes later she was coming out carrying an unconscious gang member.

She brought all of them out more or less undamaged, as well as a huge bag of guns and even a grenade launcher of all things, then stayed to talk to the cops for a while, gave her report, and wandered off.

We're told by eye witnesses that she completely tanked both hand gun and AK-47 rounds, without even apparently noticing! High level Brute for sure, at the least. She also somehow produced, or had with her, handcuffs or manacles which she used on all the suspects. Sources at the BBPD lockup say that they were totally unable to remove these, even Armsmaster couldn't do it, but an hour later they disappeared! After the fact, the cops who talked to her reported she'd told them that would happen but apparently no one at the station got the memo.

So, what does everyone think?

I'm looking for video and photos of the new Cape, and a name. Anyone?

Edit: I've just heard that she gave her name as Saurial. Apparently she was seen shortly afterwards talking to Vista and Gallant on the roof of the Atlantic Street Bank of America branch for a while, then left, running across the rooftops faster than most people can drive around the city. Jumping over the streets as well, not to mention climbing walls like she was out for a stroll.

Looks like a decent Mover rating as well.

Any Wards want to chime in?

Edit 2: In the last few days, Saurial has been seen just walking around in the Downtown area, mainly, although she's also been spotted in a few other places, with no apparent set route. She likes eggs.

Raw.

Several people have seen her go into various shops, buy eggs by the carton, then wander off eating them shells and all. She's polite if anyone talks to her, apparently not at all self conscious, and very helpful. One report I heard was that she helped an old woman change a car tire, by unscrewing the lug nuts with her fingers!

That takes a lot of strength. Glory Girl or better at least.

Still hoping for input from other people who have had interactions with her.

Edit 3:

Some pictures and video of Saurial in action here, here, and here.

More here.

 

 

(Showing page 12 of 48)


►MZenny
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

She's been in my shop three times in the last four days. She bought eggs each time, sometimes beef jerky as well, and paid in cash, told me to keep the change! Last time she got a bottle of Tabasco sauce as well.

It was a surprise the first time but she seems nice. I don't mind selling her all the eggs she wants :)

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

I've heard she's a shapeshifting alien lizard who got kicked out of the world government on Aleph and somehow came here! There's this British guy over there, David Icke, who's been warning about that sort of thing for years.

Maybe he's right?

We need to keep watching her.

►Mojiizen
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

That's crazy talk, Cowboy. Like usual. Go away.

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

No, seriously, that's what I was told. This guy has all sorts of information about the aliens, he's written books and everything. He knows things. I think he predicted Leviathan, even, when he attacked Newfoundland.

►Jormungandr
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

The demons are coming. The one known as Saurial is only the beginning.

It's the End Times.

Wake UP, People! Before it's too late! Mark my words, there will be more signs in days to come.

►Mojiizen
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Not very helpful, Jormungandr. Are you drinking whatever Void_Cowboy is or are you just trolling again?

►Loki_Thorson
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

I saw her jump off the roof of a building on Atlantic Drive on Saturday, the one that has Wilson's Department store on the first floor. It's about six stories for god's sake! Nearly seventy feet to the roof. Some E88 had driven a big truck through the front window and gone in to clean the place out. She dropped onto the truck, crushed the roof like someone had dropped a car on it, then just jumped off and went inside.

There were a hell of a lot of screams and lots of gunfire from inside, it sounded like the sound track to a horror movie. BBPD and two Wards, Clockblocker and Kid Win, turned up while this was going on, but they just stood outside and waited.

Finally, about five minutes later, one completely terrified E88 member ran out the door, looking like he'd just escaped from Hell, and actually asked to be arrested!

I've never seen anything like it. I've seen that guy before, he's a hard core Nazi, he's hurt a lot of people, but he looked like a ten year old who's had the nightmare of his life.

Saurial came out and was standing next to Kid Win, just talking to him, when the Nazi turned around and spotted her. He nearly had a heart attack :)

I wonder what she did to them?

The cops went in and dragged out eleven more gang idiots, at least three of which needed to be carried they were shaking so much.

Scary girl, but effective. I got some video, here it is.

►Kid Win (Verified Cape) (Wards ENE)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Saurial was very effective and very professional in her takedown of the E88 thugs robbing Wilson's on Saturday. Clockblocker and I had permission to help but we weren't needed, she easily did the whole thing herself in minutes. It was pretty impressive to watch.

Earlier we met her on the roof of the same building, she was up there having a rest, apparently, and she… Well, you need to see it, I can't do it justice in words :)

So, for your viewing pleasure, please watch what I call… Saurial invites Clockblocker to Dinner.

:lol::rofl:

I'm still laughing every time I think about it.

►Clockblocker (Verified Cape) (Wards ENE)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Oh, thanks, KW. Thanks a lot.

All joking aside, not only did she scare the crap out of me, it was a fantastic prank. I know when I've met my match.

For now.

Muah ha ha…

I will have my revenge!

(Please don't eat me, Saurial, you're too nice for that and I taste terrible.)

►Dingbat779 (Cape Groupie)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

OMG! Thats horrifying and funny at the same time. Poor Clockblocker.

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(Showing page 13 of 48)


►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Ha ha ha ha ha ha…

LMFAO!

►Jormungandr
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

The demon is making herself known! They eat people! You think it's a big joke, you'll be sorry when she bites someones head off!

►MZenny
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

I sold her that Tabasco sauce!

:lol::rofl::lol:

►Mojiizen
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Hey, Jormungandr, can I have some of whatever you're smoking? It's pretty good shit, I suspect :D

►Vista (Verified Cape) (Wards ENE)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

I've met Saurial and while I'll admit she's a little unusual she struck me as a decent person. I don't think she's some alien here to take over the world. She's so far captured over two dozen gang members single-handed, mostly E88 but with some Merchants and ABB as well, confiscated enough weapons for a small war, and so far hasn't hurt anyone. She's really careful about that.

The BBPD seem to like and respect her, she always calls them when she's stopped some criminals.

She records all her interactions and some of the videos I've seen are… pretty impressive. In a way that would make Uber and Leet go green with envy ;)

►Bagrat (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Thanks, Vista, Clockblocker, and Kid Win. It's nice to hear from other Capes about the new ones.

I wonder if Saurial will join the thread and possibly post some of her videos? We'd all like that.

►Clockblocker (Verified Cape) (Wards ENE)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

No, you wouldn't. Trust me.

Dark places are… not something I look forward to these days…

:(

►Kingbob (Verified BBPD Officer)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Saurial is a decent person. She's accounted for nearly half the gang arrests this week, and you wouldn't believe the number of guns she's taken off the street so far. Down here at the station she's getting quite a reputation.

We like polite capes, and it's a pity there aren't as many as you'd hope for…

Nice girl.

Sort of cute in a horrifying way, and effective in a terrifying one :)

But the video she sent us after the first operation made me…

Well, let's say I agree with Clockblocker and leave it at that.

►FCVanillaIce
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Something I'm wondering, maybe a PRT person can answer?

Has Saurial considered Joining the Wards? Assuming she's under eighteen, of course, which from what I've heard sounds likely. And do we have a real idea of her abilities yet? Other than a high level Brute and I guess a Mover of some sort as well. She seems to be very tough, very strong, and very fast.

►Reave (Verified PRT Agent)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Word around here is that she's under eighteen although no one knows an exact age and she's not saying. She's been asked if she'd like to join the wards and the answer was no. She's also not interested in power testing either, apparently.

Saurial was asked whether she'd be registering with the PRT as an independent hero, which is what we unofficially have her classified as for obvious reasons, but so far hasn't decided, I'm told.

I can't give out much more information without permission from the higher-ups, but it's safe to assume a high Brute rating, yes, and also a decent Mover rating.

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(Showing page 14 of 48)


►FCVanillaIce
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Thanks, Reave, useful info although I'd love to know more!

►Bagrat (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

She sounds very versatile, I have to say. I'll continue to collate information on our lizard girl, keep the videos and pics coming people!

►AllSeeingEye
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

From the information available so far I'd peg her at about Brute 7, Mover 3 at least, Thinker 2 or better (for what looks like enhanced senses, she seems to like turning out the lights and works fine even so), and either a Breaker or Shaker for what sounds like an ability to produce tools from nowhere.

She's very versatile, definitely.

I'd be interested to know what she makes the restraints she uses out of. If Armsmaster can't damage them, they're pretty impressive!

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Maybe she makes things out of some sort of alien metal! That could explain why no one knows where she goes, she's teleporting back to the spaceship or something.

I wonder if she's interested in Newter?

Hey, maybe he's another one… Think about it.

►Jormungandr
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

The demons are everywhere. You are beginning to see. Wait, there will be more. Hopefully they can be stopped before it's too late...

►Mojiizen
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Both of you are crazy. Go away, please.

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

I'm not crazy!! You people always say that, but I'm not!!

►Mojiizen
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Did your mother have you tested?

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

?

What are you talking about, Mojizen?

►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

:):lol::rofl:

Don't worry, Cowboy, it's a big boy joke. Go back to your computer games.

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(Showing page 15 of 48)


►WhyteOne
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

That scaly bitch is going to get hers. Hookwolf is on the warpath, she's interfered with us too many times.

►MZenny
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Why do I think that you're going to regret saying that, you Nazi? :eek::D

►WhyteOne
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

[Post deleted]

[User temp banned – 48 hours]

Threatening violence against people is not permitted here. Have a 48 hour ban to cool off. That's your second offence in a week, WhyteOne. Do it again and you're banned for a month. - BrocktonBayMod

►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Stoopid racist ;)

►Laser Augment
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Brockton Bay is a very strange place. Lizard girls and Nazis. Remind me never to visit :eek:

►FCVanillaIce
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Hey, it has some good points!

Like…

Hold on, I'll think of something…

Ah! We have one of the largest collections of rusty old ships you've ever seen!

:)

►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Don't forget all the junkies you can beat with a stick.

And Lung.

You have to admit, we have Lung.

►Laser Augment
Replied On Jan 29th 2011:

Not making me change my mind, guys… Nice try, though.

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♦ Topic: There's another one!!
In: Boards ► Places ► America ► Brockton Bay
Bladeworksfan
(Original Poster) (Kyushu Survivor)
Posted On Feb 4th 2011:

Oh. My. God!

You thought Saurial, our new lizard girl hero, was a little scary?

Watch this.

What the fuck??

I mean… WHAT THE FUCK?

I saw this thing come down the street chasing HOOKWOLF of all people, and man he looked SCARED! I mean, he was running for his life. He got it a few times but it didn't do anything but make it laugh at him.

Look at the size of that fucking hammer! It was at least eight feet long, the head must have been about two feet across. God knows how much it weighed. But look what happens when that thing hit him with it! He went about a hundred feet!

She, and I'm pretty sure it's female, was at least eight feet tall, and on four legs was probably nearly twelve to fifteen feet long to the end of her tail. A reptile, like Saurial, but Saurial is sort of cool looking in a slightly weird way.

This thing is just fucking terrifying…

I can't believe how fast it is either, nothing that big should be that quick. And strong?

Watch at 1:05 in the video, she slapped him completely through that old truck with her tail like it was made of cardboard.

I was hiding in a building holding my phone above the windowsill so she didn't see me, so sorry for the quality of the video, but I didn't want to draw her attention.

What's going on around here? Two reptilian capes in two weeks? What next? Where did this one come from, what did it want (aside from Hookwolf's nads on a stick) and where did it go?

Hero?

Villain?

Something else?

 

 

(Showing page 2 of 30)


►Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Holy shit.

That's… deeply impressive.

And absolutely terrifying.

I haven't heard anything about this, I'll see what I can find out. Thanks for posting it, Bladeworksfan. I'm glad you're safe.

►Clockblocker (Verified Cape) (Wards ENE)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Jesus.

I'm never going to go to sleep again.

Although I'm still laughing at what she did to Hookwolf. Couldn't happen to a more deserving Nazi :)

►White Fairy (Veteran Member)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

That's… I have no idea what that is.

None.

What the hell is happening in Brockton Bay these days?

►Jormungandr
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I told you, but you wouldn't listen.

The demons are coming.

They will come from the dark, and the sea. We have little time left.

Prepare yourselves

►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Oh, wow!! That's so cool!

Do we know what her name is? She looks like some sort of lizard centaur or something.

►FCVanillaIce
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Cool??

That's the most fucking horrifying thing I've ever seen in my life!

Did you SEE what it did with that huge-ass sword? One handed, and a car was in two pieces!

What's the sound that was going with the sword strikes, anyone know?

►Loki_Thorson
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I think it's a sonic boom, like the sound a whip makes when you crack it. Which means she must be swinging it fast enough to make the tip break the sound barrier. That's incredible. Even if it weighed only a few pounds it would take unbelievable strength to do that.

Looking at what it did to the car and that lamp post, though, it's both really sharp and very heavy. She must be much stronger than either Saurial or Glory Girl.

►Mojiizen
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Where are all these lizard people coming from?

Did anyone consider that this new one has the same Breaker or Shaker power as Saurial, as well? That sword, the hammer, and that bat, not to mention what looks like the same sort of manacles she uses. I can't make it out properly, the video is too shaky, but it looks similar. Much heavier though.

►Bladeworksfan (Original Poster) (Kyushu Survivor)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Sorry about the shakycam, like I said, I was hiding.

And shaking :)

►MZenny
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I wonder if this new one likes eggs ;)

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(Showing page 3 of 30)


►XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I'm telling you people, it's shape shifting lizard people from Aleph!

Why doesn't anyone believe me?

►Mojiizen
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Because you're an idiot…

► XxVoid_CowboyxX
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

[Post deleted]

[User temp banned – 24 hours]

You've been warned four times in the last five days about personal threats, XxVoid_CowboyxX. Have a 24 hour ban to cool off. Mojizen, please try not to be provocative. - BrocktonBayMod

►Mojiizen
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Sorry.

Couldn't stop myself… :)

►Laser Augment
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Right.

That does it.

I'm NEVER coming anywhere near the East Coast at all, never mind Brockton Bay.

For that matter, I wonder if I can get to Hawaii?

►GstringGirl
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Lung's little sister, maybe?

►Sothoth
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

No fire. Isn't that one of the main things that sort of stands out about Lung?

►Dingbat779 (Cape Groupie)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Pretty much, yes. I have no idea about this one.

Where did she come from?

►Reave (Verified PRT Agent)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

The information I have is that this new reptilian cape is a friend of Saurial, who was contacted by the DWU when Hookwolf attacked their facility on the docks for some reason late this afternoon. I'm still waiting for more information, but we have a very subdued Hookwolf in custody right now.

►FCVanillaIce
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

That's good. I think?

Is she, you know, a hero? Or something that will make Hookwolf look nice by comparison.

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(Showing page 4 of 30)


►White Fairy (Veteran Member)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

She took out Hookwolf, that makes her all right in my book. Is there any more information on her?

►SittingByTheDockofBrocktonBay
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

So, Hookwolf and a bunch E88 goons showed up at the DWU a couple hours ago, loaded to tear up the joint, looking for that new Saurial cape. Our boss told us all to hunker down, said he was gonna call for help. PRT I figured, maybe they've got a hotline to Armsmaster or something. Anyway a couple minutes later this new one comes in through the back window with a bunch of guns and asks to talk to the boss.

Bit after that I'm with most of the other guys slipping out the back, past a half dozen Nazis all trussed up when we start hearing gunfire up front. Theres a couple of shouts and yells and then theres this loud crash like someone dumped out a crate of pots and pans and I SHIT YOU NOT I see Hookwolf go flying off over one of the warehouses.

I got some video of the start of the fight that other video was of the end of.

The cops turned up later and took the Nazis, then the PRT showed up after that. SHE came back with Hookwolf under her arm like a shopping bag. He was soaking wet for some reason.

►Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Thanks for the video and the info. I've added it to the collection here. I'll edit it all together into one when I've looked over some more that just came in. Looks like we got about half the total fight. I have no idea where this new cape went between knocking Hookwolf out and turning up at the DWU place yet, no one seems to have seen her between those two times.

Any name yet for her?

►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I vote for Raptaur. You know, a Raptor Centaur? It sort of fits.

►Sothoth
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

That's… actually not bad.

You have my vote.

►Mojiizen
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I like it.

►SenorEel
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with Brockton Bay?

Reptiles running around all over the place?

What's next? Where are they coming from? What do they want?

Glad I'm on the other side of the Atlantic.

Oh.

I wonder if they can swim…

►Kingbob (Verified BBPD Officer)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

She did jump into the bay after she handed Hookwolf over…

Seriously.

She just shook Danny Hebert's hand, he's the guy in charge who called Saurial in the first place, then ran into the dark faster than you'd believe and vanished. There was a splash right after.

Does she live in the bay, maybe? Some reptiles live in water but are at home on land, as far as I know.

I have to admit, she scared the crap out of me when I turned around and saw her there grinning at us, but she seemed polite and all the DWU people seemed to like her. So I guess appearances aside, we can probably put her down as a Hero.

Raptaur is a good name unless she wants to be called something else. Believe me, if she says she wants to be called something else… we call her something else.

Anything she wants…

:) ← nervous smile

►Loki_Thorson
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Hang on. Hey, SittingByTheDockofBrocktonBay? Did you seriously say that she not only knocked out those E88 idiots, (Six of them in one go? Really??) but actually looted the bodies?

I think I'm in love. That's… amazing :eek::D

Why don't more capes do that?

►ExArmyMan
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

She did indeed steal all their weapons and ammo. It was hysterical. We ended up doing the same thing, by the end of the fight those E88 idiots had nothing much but the clothes they were standing in!

Unfortunately the Boss made us give them all back to the police.

:(

Pity, they may be Nazis but they had some nice kit…

Oh well, next time maybe :)

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(Showing page 5 of 30)


►GloryGirl (Verified Cape) (New Wave)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Oh my god. I thought Saurial was terrifying, now there's another one?

And she lives in the Bay?

I'm never going swimming again!

►Iguanagirl
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Raptaur is cool, I think. So is Saurial though.

I wonder if they're related?

►Electric_Techpriest
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Actually…

Now that it's been mentioned, that reminds me of something.

A few days ago, I was in a bar I go to sometimes near the old fishing docks, it's a dive but it's safe, more or less, and has character. And really good beer.

Anyway, there's this old fisherman guy who's been hanging around there since before I was born, and he was drinking brandy like it was going out of style. He kept muttering about monsters in the Bay, big enough to make Leviathan look like a sardine…

Get this, he said he saw something literally grab hold of that old supertanker and move it! He was telling everyone that something with a hand the size of a truck, all scaly and clawed, went under his boat then moved the tanker.

Then moved it back.

Maybe…

Maybe, Saurial is just a little one? And Raptaur is her big sister? There could be a whole family of them living in the bay and these two are the small ones that walk among us for some reason? :eek:

Shit, I'm starting to sound like Void_Cowboy now, and I'm scaring myself.

I'll shut up now.

►GloryGirl (Verified Cape) (New Wave)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

DEFINITELY never going swimming again!

►White Fairy (Veteran Member)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Oh, thanks a whole hell of a lot for that thought, Electric_Techpriest! I'm going to have trouble going to sleep tonight…

►Jormungandr
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

They come…

►Mojiizen
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

You seriously need to get a life, man.

►MZenny
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

I have eggs. Lots of eggs.

I'm safe as long as I can sell them eggs.

:)

I bet the Nazis are shitting themselves.

Brown pants for the new uniform? I know it's meant to be brown shirts, but…

►Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Replied On Feb 4th 2011:

Final video is up here. It shows as much of the fight as I can find out about, from the moment Hookwolf gets punted clear over the fence to the point he's tied up and unconscious. There are gaps, but it's not bad, I think.

Some pics as well. Keep them coming.

I'm OK with Raptaur as a name, but I agree with Kingbob, if she wants to change it… we agree.

Politely… And quickly. ;)

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=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Lisa turned her laptop off and lay back in bed, shivering.

It took her a long time to manage to get to sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Twitching a little at the cry of “Bullshit!”, Amy sighed and raised her head from her pillow where she’d been happily reading a pretty good Niven SF book, idly wondering if her sister had been taking lessons from Dennis. Moments later Vicky charged in, holding the expensive tablet she’d talked Dean into buying her a couple of months ago, waving it around with a pale face. “There are two of them now!” her sister moaned.

“Two of who?” Amy, quite reasonably, asked calmly but with a certain amount of irritation in her voice. “Or two of what?”

“Two of… I don’t know. Two fucking terrifying scaly things,” Vicky gibbered, thrusting the tablet under her sister’s nose. Amy took it from her, looking curiously at it, while Vicky sat on the end of her bed and stared out the window into the night, appearing worried and shivering slightly.

Finding the beginning of the PHO thread the brunette girl read it with growing interest and a certain amount of black humor. She had a pretty good idea of the actual truth behind this ‘Raptaur’, which she had to admit was a good name. Seeing the new reptilian cape deal with Hookwolf like he was a fairly minor irritant was eye-opening, and made it abundantly clear how unwise her impulsive confronting of Taylor Hebert at school really had been.

She was pretty sure this was Taylor, and she knew Saurial was. It opened the question of what else that girl could actually do. What she’d seen of her, and there was no way around the description, alien biology left her none the wiser, her power had no clue about it beyond telling her with a whimper that she was compatible with human biology, then going off and lying down in a dark room with a damp cloth over its eyes for a while to recover.

I need to get to know her better,’ she mused, not saying anything as she flicked through the various photos on PHO of Raptaur, a couple of which were startlingly clear. ‘She’s not boring, that’s for sure.’

Although, that said, she was going to have to be a little more careful about how she approached the girl. It was apparent from the last video that she’d been very, very lucky not to have had something horrible happen to her. ‘Be extremely careful not to threaten her family or friends,’ Amy thought with a slight shudder as she watched Raptaur manifest a sword big enough to double as a street sign then cut several things in half with it with no visible effort or trouble. It was clear to her that the girl was being very cautious in her actions to avoid killing Hookwolf, which she could clearly manage without too much effort.

She wondered if the other cape realized how close he’d come to dying?

“What the hell is going on around here, Ames?” Vicky asked in a tone of helpless confusion. “Saurial was bad enough. This… this… Raptaur thing… it’s a hell of a lot worse.”

“I think you should refer to her as her, not a thing,” Amy replied, still reading. “That’s what got you in trouble last time.”

“Sorry, yes, I know, but it’s sort of a shock,” Vicky replied after a moment. “But look at her! Saurial is terrifying. This one… I can’t even think of a suitable word. And she might live in the Bay? I’ll never be able to get on a boat again, without thinking about what might be coming up from underneath.”

Snickering, Amy began humming the ‘Jaws’ theme to herself, making Vicky growl at her, scowling.

“Your sense of humor makes Dennis’ look normal, Ames,” she muttered darkly.

Amy just laughed. “Hey, did you see this bit about some old fisherman claiming there’s bigger ones out there in the water?” she asked mischievously. “Much, much bigger, if his description of the Hand of Doom is accurate.” She slowly lifted her right hand towards her sister, making a claw with it then moving it in little grabby motions. “Sooo big. Big enough to pick up a bus and crush it in its grip. So large it could...”

“Stop that, you idiot,” Vicky snapped, paling a little. Amy giggled and retracted her hand, flipping through the pages and pages of thread on the new cape. “I’m serious, I’m not going near the water again. I’m not sure I’ll even get into a swimming pool from now on.”

“I doubt she’s going to come up through the pipes, Vicky,” Amy chuckled. Handing the tablet back to her sister, she added, “If you meet her, you should probably be more polite than last time. And if you want to pick a fight for stress relief, for god's sake find someone safer. I’d suggest Hookwolf, but he seems to have had a bad day.”

“Why I came to you for sympathy I have no idea, sis,” the blonde snapped, retrieving her tablet and flouncing out, making Amy laugh again. Shaking her head she lay back, folding her hands on her stomach and thinking about what she’d read with a sense of wonder and mild shock.

You, Taylor Hebert, are sort of impressive,’ she thought to herself, smiling slightly. ‘I wonder what more you can do? Are you really swimming around in the bay the size of a blue whale?

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“As Vicky says, fuck me sideways,” Dean whispered, watching the video with the rest of the Wards currently on duty, which were Dennis, Carlos, and Sophia. The latter was gaping in total shock, while Dennis was making little choking sounds deep in his chest. Carlos simply stared.

“That's… unbelievably horrifying,” their leader finally said when the first video ended. Dean reached out with a shaking hand and moved the mouse, clicking on the next one.

“I think I prefer Saurial,” Dennis quavered. “She's terrifying in a way but friendly and sort of cute when you get used to her. This one… I don't think cute is a word I'd ever use.”

Sophia made a strange sound, causing them all to look at her curiously, but said nothing, her eyes wide and fixed on the large screen of the rec room TV which was playing the PHO videos.

“Not really, no,” Carlos agreed after a moment, going back to the screen. “I hope to god this one is friendly too, because if not we've got some serious problems.”

“Where are they all coming from?” Dennis asked in a low voice, before wincing despite himself at the impact the enormous metal warhammer made with Hookwolf, lifting him into the air with no effort at all.

Dean had a very good idea, but was damn sure not going to drop himself into it. Getting between Taylor Hebert/Saurial/Whatever the fuck this was and the PRT was something he desperately wanted to stay well away from. He wished to god his power had never let him work out the connection, he'd have slept a lot better.

Shaking his head, Dennis picked up his laptop and began reading the thread on the new cape, writing a couple of responses. “Piggot is going to go purple when she sees this,” he snickered after a while, his shock fading a little. They all looked at him, then at each other. Even Sophia seemed amused by the thought.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Max Anders, known to the world as Kaiser, watched the video, then looked up at the man who had brought this to his attention. “What the FUCK did Brad think he was doing?” he exploded. “Why was he attacking the DWU?”

Victor shrugged. “I have no idea. I only just found out about it. I know he's been going around shouting about Saurial, she's jumped a couple of dozen of his people, but they're mainly idiots he's had running low level robberies and that type of thing. No one who we can't easily replace. Why he suddenly took over two dozen foot soldiers and attacked the DWU I haven't got a clue.”

Max, furious, got up from his desk and paced back and forth in his office. “Stupid bastard! I ordered him to wait, we need more information on this Saurial cape before we do anything. She's much too dangerous, obviously, to just grab. We need to be careful. And now the fucker has apparently attacked people she has some sort of relationship with? Idiot.”

“I wonder what that relationship is?” Victor asked curiously.

“No idea, but the DWU aren't people to mess around with. If we need to hit them, we go in hard, not pussy around with only two dozen street fighters and one cape, even if that cape is Hookwolf. There are over three hundred of them even now and they fight dirty. There's a good reason Allfather warned about taking them lightly. Marquis was wary of them as well. Back in their day there were over a thousand men and women in the DWU, true, but even now they have enough people to be… a difficult challenge. One I am not ready to take on. My plans don't include fighting on that front as well right now.”

Max clenched his fists, breathing hard, as he ran out of steam.

“Brad has made things difficult for us. Get him out of the PRTs hands and bring him to me. We need to talk. A lot.”

“Yes, Kaiser,” Victor replied, picking the laptop off the E88 leader's desk and closing it. “It will probably be best to wait until they transfer him, I'd expect that security is very tight at the moment in the PRT building.”

“Do what you need to, but I want to see that bastard standing where you are as soon as possible,” Max growled, returning to his seat. “And find out who gave him his information that Saurial was at the DWU in the first place. It seems a little too much of a stretch that he came up with that idea himself.”

His subordinate merely nodded, before leaving the office. Pouring himself a stiff drink, Max fumed. Some people needed the stupid beaten out of them more often, he thought, sipping the whiskey and scowling.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hannah turned the tablet off and put it down on Emily's coffee table, both women staring at each other. The latter was a funny pale green color and looked sufficiently unhealthy that the former was somewhat worried even under the circumstances. Eventually she said, “That was posted to PHO about two hours ago. One of the DWU people videoed the start of the fight… no, the beating… that this new one handed out to Hookwolf, at least two other people caught parts of it, and another DWU member recorded the end when she turned up and handed him over to us. Someone else edited them all together into what you just saw.”

Emily didn't respond for some seconds.

“They're calling her Raptaur on PHO at the moment. Sort of a play on words, combining Raptor and Centaur. It fits to a degree. She didn't give a name, but seemed to be on very good terms with Danny Hebert and the DWU, polite and friendly, and they reciprocated. Apparently Saurial sent her in her place when they called for help.”

“There really are two of them?” Emily whispered in horror.

“It would appear so, yes. Admittedly we haven't seen both the new one and Saurial at the same time in the same place, but the Wards reported contact with Saurial only minutes later several miles away. We know she's fast, but it seems unlikely, especially since Raptaur seems to have exited the scene via the water. In a straight line between the two locations, she'd have had to swim at least two miles in under four minutes then run another three in even less time to make the time lines match, which is considerably outside the abilities we know she has. Not to mention there are no reports of any sightings of her outside the Downtown area. So if she was a sufficiently versatile Changer to be both Saurial and Raptaur, it would also require a huge update to her ratings. The simpler but much more worrying explanation is that there are two of them.”

Hannah sighed slightly. “They might even play on the concept of making sure they never get seen together, just to mess with us. Saurial is known to have a somewhat… puckish… sense of humor, and it might strike her as funny to ensure that we can't be completely certain one way or the other. I'm sure Clockblocker would do the same thing under the circumstances and she reminds me a lot of a far more dangerous version of him in some ways.”

“This… Raptaur… beat Hookwolf? That easily?”

“She absolutely destroyed him, and looking at the video it wasn't difficult. She was obviously holding back. I have no doubt having met her that she could have killed him without any real trouble. Just by drowning him if nothing else. It's highly likely that she can either breathe underwater, or hold her breath for a very long time, like many reptiles can. She also exhibited a considerably more ruthless outlook on life than Saurial, not showing any remorse at all at how she 'persuaded' Hookwolf to stay away in future. And believe me, she persuaded him. He was still shaking an hour later. I'm almost sorry for the bastard.”

“What message did she give him to give to Kaiser?” Emily asked after absorbing all this, her color coming back slightly closer to normal. “You said she said something about that.”

“I don't know, he refuses to say. I would imagine it was probably something along the lines of keep the E88 away from the DWU, though, based on what I heard. She seemed fairly serious about it. The last thing she told Hookwolf was that if she ever saw him there again, basically that would be the last time anyone saw him anywhere. I don't think she was joking.” Hannah sighed. “She essentially told him that she'd kill him the next time, and he believed her. So did I.”

The PRT director sighed heavily, leaning back in her chair with a wince. “It looks like your wild theory isn't quite as wild as either of us would like.”

“That would seem to be the case, Director. Unfortunately.”

“And she has the same Shaker ability as Saurial?”

“As far as I could see, yes. The restraints that Hookwolf still has on his wrists and neck are definitely the same material, this Saurialsteel that Armsmaster is so fascinated by. He's been studying the manacles ever since we got Hookwolf back, trying everything he can think of to determine what they are, so far without any luck.”

“They haven't disappeared like they normally do?”

“Not so far. Saurial's restraints seem to generally have a lifetime of an hour or so, these have been present for more than three at the moment. Hopefully they're not permanent.” Hannah shrugged. “We don't know, and without finding Raptaur, we probably can't find out. Or perhaps Saurial could tell us, I've left instructions for anyone who meets her to ask.”

Blowing out a long breath, Emily sagged in her chair, looking tired and in pain. “Jesus. This could turn into an absolute nightmare.” Lifting her eyes she looked at her guest. “What would you put this Raptaur's ratings at? Just to humor me.”

Hannah sighed slightly. “Difficult. Basically the same as Saurial, but higher except in the possible Shaker rating and perhaps the Thinker rating as well. Brute 7 or 8, at least. That hammer she was waving around at the beginning, the one she knocked Hookwolf about two hundred yards with in one hit, based on the density of the material and the estimated size, it weighed a minimum of a couple of tons. She didn't show any signs of effort lifting it or wielding it. The sword she was shown using later would have weighed nearly a ton based on the same estimates and she was swinging it fast enough to create shock waves judging by the audio track of the recording. Even with the length increasing the effective velocity of the tip, that would take absolutely unbelievable strength. The lamp post and car she cut accidentally with it showed completely clean edges, like an energy weapon of some sort had been used, but with no melting. Colin has both of them back at the Rig as well now.”

Emily had paled again although she didn't look quite so ill.

“The speed and acceleration she demonstrated when she left were also significantly higher than we've seen so far from Saurial. Probably Mover 5 plus. I'd estimate from that very brief showing that she accelerated from a standing start to close to eighty miles an hour in under a second then kept going. She probably made it a good hundred yards out into the bay in a dive. Other than that, we don't have any idea, only estimates and guesses.”

“God. This could be bad.” Emily rubbed her forehead between her eyes. “Can you think of anything else that could explain it?”

“Yes, but they rapidly get unlikely if not absurd.” Hannah shrugged. “Something like the Butcher would possibly explain the two different but similar emotional patterns Gallant reported. But on the one hand we don't know yet if Raptaur has the same thing going on, and on the other it leaves the question of their origin open. I think it still probably requires a Biotinker. The original idea that Saurial is among other things a versatile, or based o