Chapter Thirty-six: As You Stare Into The Abyss
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
The Entity turned away from the closed warp point, satisfied that he had accomplished what was necessary. With its exile, the weapon would be unable to call down more waves, as it had continued to do throughout its partial imprisonment in the static time fields.
The loss of the person who'd been using another's technological artifice to battle it was regrettable, but inevitable. Attempting to retrieve that person now would sacrifice twenty cycles, an unacceptable loss even with its lifespan.
Noting a forest fire happening halfway around the world upon which it chose to continue its existence, the Entity took flight.
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Taylor slowly rotated end over end in a dark coffin, only able to move slightly, her armor completely dead around her. Her stomach protested the lack of an up or down, as well as the spin she was in. Despite having the memories of a man who'd experienced zero gravity before, she, herself, had not. Her mind reached out and a moment later, there was a sense of relief as the nanobots in her body kicked in, relieving the swirling of her inner ear as well as the turmoil within her stomach.
With a feeling of urgency, she reached out her tongue and depressed the small button located at the base of her faceplate. After a wait that stretched into several seconds, nothing happened. She pushed the button a dozen more times, more than enough to realize that it wasn't going to bring her armor back to glowing life like it had once upon a time ago when facing the Simurgh.
Okay, Taylor decided, this sucked some serious ass. With her suit dead, air and heat were going to quickly become a problem. It would actually be a toss up whether she'd pass out from heat stroke before she died of asphyxiation.
Determined to be positive, Taylor thought about her potential resources. There had been drones on her side of the portal when it had collapsed. How many remained intact, however, was the main question she had. The last thing she'd seen before ducking beneath Leviathan's vastly diminished form and being partially enveloped in that damn light show had been the drones around her throwing themselves into the glow in an effort to block its effects, while melting away like soap bubbles before a blow torch.
If even one had survived, it just might be possible for it to jump start her suit. Equally possible, there might be self-repair nanobots surviving that even now were working to repair her armor's systems. Unfortunately, the second of the two possibilities wasn't all that likely as she'd have almost certainly felt them through the nanobots in her own head.
Her thoughts were pulled from survival by shades of the past, partly Tony's memories and partly her own frustration at the way fate had twisted victory away from her.
It was one thing to almost defeat Leviathan in so public a venue, only to have her true foe swoop in and take her victory for itself. Annoying? Yes. Maddening. Yes, again. However, it was quite another to think that the thing had managed to maroon her out here in a suit of armor that was completely nonfunctional. Inevitably, her thoughts were pulled toward it.
She refused to refer to Scion as a he, despite the creature's resemblance to a person. It didn't take Tony's intellect for Taylor to figure out that the thing had likely assumed the guise of the perfect human being when it had arrived on Earth Bet so many years before. Or to link it with the powers that had begun popping up almost immediately upon its arrival.
The cruise ship passenger who triggered. Patient Zero. Scion had touched the man and done... what? Pushed a part of itself into him, like planting a seed, one that quickly reached germination and grew into powers? Maybe.
Or maybe it had just scattered pieces of itself all over the world, to attach to whoever they could, using the strange lobes in so many people's brains as a way of communicating from whatever pocket universe or alternate reality most of their mass and energy existed within, allowing them to interact with the world around them.
It was a strange and frightening thought. Taylor found that she much preferred the eclectic mix of method from Tony's universe whereby people gained powers and abilities to the sole, disturbing one of her own.
Because the method of transmission, suspect as it was, was as nothing compared to the possible ramifications of how powers operated and their users' motivations. Once the veil upon her thought processes had finally dissolved, Taylor's mind had gone into overdrive, worked feverishly, quickly figuring out that it had to be some form of conflict driving the dissemination of powers. Conflict in which creatures like the Endbringers played some part.
Feeling almost feverish, she thoughts whirled toward the role such beings would play, why they would hold back, and the consequences of their unleashing their full powers on the world. Over and over again, the words 'conflict engine' kept scrolling across her eyes in the darkness. In a world of potential Parahumans, having something that gave just the right amount of push to create the greatest number of triggers seemed obvious.
So an Endbringer hammers a city and an untold number of new Parahumans appear, all driven by the need to survive. Many young and damaged, the emotional instability surrounding puberty making the young more vulnerable. These new triggers drive even more conflict going forward. Nations topple, civilization teeters, and with each and every terrifying and stressful result, more and more people trigger. Taylor had previously extrapolated the numbers; hundreds of thousands of capes would exist near the end.
Of course, villains would make up a vast majority of these new triggers. After all, damaged individuals tend toward looking out for themselves first and often react violently to even peaceful overtures. Whoever was behind it, likely Scion, wanted those people damaged by the events that caused them to trigger, as it would create even more conflict.
But why? What was in it for him? After all, from what little Taylor had seen of the creature's powers, it could quite literally tear the world apart in a matter of days, if not hours, so why would it use such an esoteric method to destroy the human race?
Because the destruction of humanity was secondary. Possibly necessary, but relatively unimportant compared to... compared to its pieces, its 'seeds,' experiencing all of the guile and trickery with which a human being was capable of in making use of the power that seed possessed. It sounded right.
Could the seeds containing the powers grow and mature? They almost had to possess that ability.
Taylor's mind rapidly considered and discarded innumerable possibilities as her thoughts focused upon why. Why do this? Why...
It was like a flashbulb had gone off in the darkness. She saw the answer hanging in the darkness right before her eyes. In hindsight, it was obvious. So obvious in fact, that she cursed herself for being a fool to have not seen it before, crippled though her mind had been.
A farmer plants a crop, using seeds. Over time, he waters and fertilizes the soil which contains those seeds, waiting for them to start to grow. Finally, they do so, until the land on which he used to plant them is full of tiny plants.
Eventually, those plants grow and mature into the crop that the farmer was always after. At that time, the farmer realizes it's time to harvest the crop. When that time does arrive, he cuts down all of the plants, keeping only the part that will serve his needs, that will feed the greatest number of people. Provide the greatest amount of nourishment.
As to the rest of the plant, and any weeds that might have popped up, they get plowed back into the soil. Unless, that is, the farmer needs a way to get to that interesting next field he's looking to plant another crop in and he does... what?
Maybe destroys the planet, or a series of planets bridging dimensions, that contained the old, harvested crop, while using the energy liberated to travel to the next unique and interesting field, to grow another crop that would be somewhat different and even more interesting than the last.
Perhaps the most frightening part of the entire thing, other than the end of the world and the extinction of the human race, was that if powers came from seeds that came from Scion, then he almost certainly possessed and was able to use the power of every Parahuman who had ever existed. Everything from the mad, Jules Vernian science of the Tinkers, through the Blasters and Strangers, up to and including the Thinkers and Precogs, who could predict the future and act to ensure those results.
No wonder a Cosmic Entity had pushed Tony into her head all those months back. How else to ensure that there was even the tiniest chance of victory in a struggle against such a foe? Considering the situation, a Reality Nullifier was looking more and more like a safe bet.
Taylor's thoughts were interrupted by a clanging sound as something bumped into her armor. For just a moment, a bolt of fear so intense it stole her breath went through her. If Leviathan was that close to her, she was about to die.
Then common sense asserted itself, telling her that if the Endbringer were close enough to rip the water from her body, he would have already done so. Her armor was dead and completely useless in protecting her from the creature's abilities.
Then again, maybe not completely useless, she decided since she still had air, even if the air was becoming just the slightest bit stale. And overly warm. Never forget that her entire form was starting to feel the effects of heat build-up that would eventually turn her into a human sweatsicle.
Cursing the fact that vacuum was such an excellent insulator, Taylor still preferred being hot to freezing to death, something that had nearly happened to Tony on three different occasions. His memories said walking through the Afghani desert was better than spending time sans suit in the Arctic. Regardless, either state provided urgency for the idea that she needed to act soon if she was going to survive what had happened. After all, she couldn't rely upon others to be rescued.
Not that JARVIS wouldn't try. He would almost certainly be sending out dozens upon dozens of drones out, complete with small self-contained environmental habitats, just as soon as he could complete them.
The only problem would be finding her. And once found, getting something like that to her in time for it to do any good.
Because the Dimensional Slip Technology that Taylor had originally used to get a quantum entangled portal out here was a bit dodgy. Not that it couldn't bridge the distance, its reach could be measured in tens of light years. No the problem lay in that while it could easily reach past the nearest stars, its accuracy was roughly plus or minus ten percent.
Which meant when dealing with a distance of roughly eight billion kilometers, it would send something between seven point two and eight point eight billion kilometers, a ridiculous area to search. It would make trying to find a needle in a haystack seem effortless in comparison. Even if she could get her armor back online and some form of limited communications going.
Taylor's thought process was interrupted by yet another impact on her armor. Then another. And another yet. Finally, she began to make sense of them, realizing that something was spelling out words in Morse code through minor impacts on her armor.
Morse code hadn't exactly been Tony's thing, but he knew it. At least well enough that a few minutes later, Taylor was left with the following message to interpret.
Anomaly currently maintaining distance 5 km away. Unknown number nanobots replicating on anomaly. Fourteen drones operational. What are your orders?
Slowly, a smile slid over Taylor's features and she began to laugh. What an army she had, she thought in amusement.
One Endbringer, slightly used. Fourteen combat drones with their limited computational abilities. One suit of nonfunctional armor. And likely several trillion nanobots replicating like mad.
Still, it was more than she'd started out with back in December. With a little luck, backed up with a whole lotta sweat, she'd finish up here, then make it back to Earth in time to accept all of the accolades she deserved for finally eliminating an Endbringer.
Shut up, Tony, Taylor thought absently, her thoughts focused on a plan that was slowly coming together. When nothing else materialized in the depths of her brain, she got to work.
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Legend hovered between the three armored capes and the prisoner he and his teammates had taken. So far, the stand off had lasted for ten minutes, and it threatened to boil over into full scale combat at any moment.
"I want that man, Legend! I'm giving you five minutes to hand him over! Then I'm coming for him!" thundered the armored figure in blue and silver. The cape, identified as War Machine of the Human Defense Initiative, wore a suit of armor similar to Iron Man's, and even more liberally festooned with weapons.
Legend didn't know the purpose of even half of the devices attached there, and even Armsmaster had been somewhat hesitant on his identification of others. What he did know was that one shot from the man's arm-mounted cannon had literally cut Saint into two pieces, even while wearing a full suit of Dragon Slayer armor. While he believed that he could probably defeat the other, he wasn't completely certain as those forcefields, assuming they were at least on par with what Iron Man's drones possessed, could tank a hit even from a Leviathan who was not holding back.
That wasn't something that a lot of capes could boast. Still, Legend wasn't so sure that War Machine would be able to stand up to both him and to Alexandria, while Eidolon's powers would also complicate things. Of course, that might have meant more if the man had been alone.
Glancing back to where the Armsmaster and Miss Militia stood guard over the last, now armorless member of the Dragon Slayers, he caught the eye of Alexandria, who flew over to hover to his left. Without thinking about it, he was aware of Eidolon settling in to his right. Other Protectorate members littered the beach behind them, mostly clustered into small uncertain groups, reluctant to engage in battle against fellow heroes.
Meanwhile, the entire membership of the Human Defense Initiative had flown in to settle on the beach behind War Machine in a show of support that ratcheted up the tension of the confrontation. Their smaller group stood just over a hundred feet away, far too close for the powers that could be unleashed at any moment.
Legend found himself not recognizing more than half of the capes present on his opponent's side. He wasn't sure it that was because of the rebranding so many of them had gone through, or because more than half of them were from Australia. Regardless, it annoyed him, who prided himself on knowing who he was fighting alongside. Or against.
From his left, Alexandria murmured, "How serious do you think they are?"
Before Legend could answer, Eidolon spoke in the same low murmur, "I'd say pretty serious."
"I agree. What I don't see happening, is the Protectorate being seen backing down before another group, no matter the reasons."
Legend slowly turned to face his two teammates, aware of the surprise in the eyes behind their masks. He smiled crookedly. "While I am not on board with everything that's gone down with Cauldron, neither am I unaware of the role the PRT and Protectorate play in maintaining the peace. We cannot hand this man over. The precedent it would set is unthinkable."
"Yet it would be equally devastating if in the very shadow of an Endbringer's defeat, we, heroic Parahumans I mean, are seen to be at one another's throats."
Legend considered Alexandria's words. In many ways, she was right. A battle taking place now would not be to anyone's advantage. On the other hand, he wasn't so sure that whoever was piloting that suit of armor over there agreed.
He'd heard real emotion in the man's voice, synthesized or not, when War Machine had demanded their prisoner. Legend could even empathize with the desire, as anyone who broke an Endbringer Truce was condemned to death by that very act.
But the rule of law was everything. A case could be made that the deaths of the other Dragon Slayers by those three armored members of the HDI were in accordance to the law, as Kill Orders would be issued for one and all for violating the Truce. They had fought, in essence resisting arrest.
However, Legend was not going to allow anyone to be murdered in cold blood by what was, in effect, a vigilante mob.
"Time limit's running out."
A glance at his armband confirmed Eidolon's words. It was echoed by the way that the figures standing against them began to spread out. Even people who he would have considered the voice of reason, like Sarah Pelham, Lady Photon, formerly of New Wave, were backing War Machine's play.
Suddenly a dry British voice sounded from his armband. Diffidently, it said, "Sir, if I could suggest a different course of action than running around in colorful costumes and engaging in hand to hand combat to resolve this situation?"
Legend felt a shiver go down his back. Someone had subordinated Dragon's technology, something that would have been nearly unthinkable before Saint and his Dragon Slayers. Even they had needed Teacher's help to steal outdated samples of her tech. Iron Man, on the other hand...
Trying to keep the tension out of his voice, he said, "Who is this?"
"Sir, my name is JARVIS, and I work for Iron Man. I am quite certain that he would not want to see things progress to this point, no matter the provocation. So I would very much like to take point in dealing with this matter so we can come to a compromise that all concerned can live with."
That shiver grew into a coldness stealing down Legend's spine. A glance at his two companions told him that they felt it too, even if both were even better at hiding their emotions than he was.
"I'm aware of the name. You're the AI that attempted to hack Dragon's servers and the Birdcage."
"Yes, sir, I am an AI. However, that doesn't preclude the fact that I am the only one on Iron Man's side that wishes to stop this matter in its tracks. If you will wait a moment while I arrive on site?"
Arrive on site? What on earth did it mean by that, Legend wondered. Alexandria looked blank, as if she thinking deeply on the matter. Eidolon's gaze seemed drawn to something behind him.
Spinning around, Legend saw a haze of... something approaching them from higher up on the beach. As it started to coalesce, he decided it was more of those damned nanomachines which had been part and parcel of Iron Man's plan to combat Leviathan. The haze began to form a familiar shape.
It was almost as if he were watching a stop motion movie as the figure, now appearing to actually be striding down the beach, approached them, growing more solid with each passing second. Legend could see things most people could not, and he noted that everything about the image that ultimately formed was as real and solid as if it were an actual human being standing before him, even to the veins and arteries that must now be carrying blood throughout its body.
Dressed simply in a white lab coat over a dress shirt, dress pants, and a tie, while wing tip shoes peeked out from the bottom of the figure's slacks, what appeared to be man, possibly in his early forties, stood before them. Slimly built and of medium height, with receding sandy blonde hair, the figure's features were finely made and clever, with a thin-lipped, unsmiling mouth, and pale gray eyes.
Coming to a stop perhaps six feet away, the figure acknowledged them with an incline of its head that still felt like a bow more than anything else. He said, "Hello. My name is JARVIS and I'm here to save your lives."
Glancing uneasily at two of the other most powerful capes in the world, Legend waited to hear the AI's offer.
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Taylor groaned in impatience. Doing Morse code was slow, but she finally had everything set up, or so she hoped.
She'd finally decided that the reason that her armor was totally dead had something to do with the golden glow that Scion emitted. As it turned out, the time she'd spent firing those particle beams into the golden glow hadn't gone totally to waste. The glow appeared to be some form of wave slash particle cancellation, not only capable of micro-scale effects like breaking down matter by canceling the bonds of the electron, protons, and neutrons themselves, but of affecting macro-level wave and particle movements as well.
Taylor theorized that it had somehow stopped the decay in the palladium ring of the her ARC reactor, the source of the item's energy production. To get it restarted, she needed a burst of energy, preferably in the form of something simple and usable like electric current. So she was going to have the surviving drones hit her with a full on blasts from their tasers.
Counting down in her head, she let the seconds go by as she tried to take as shallow of breaths as possible. After all, oxygen was becoming an issue, as well as carbon dioxide build up. She tried not to think about just how much sweat was pouring off of her, tiny droplets everywhere from her mouth to the crack of her ass.
There was just the faintest ringing sound of metal on metal as each drone touched against Taylor's suit, followed by a the oddest buzzing sound as tens of thousands of volts were subsequently poured into her suit. Taking her cue, she rapidly pressed the reboot button at the bottom of her faceplate with her tongue over and over again.
She was startled as on the eighth depression her HUD lit up, first with dozens of red and amber warning lights, then with an actual view, although her vision was obscured by the drone that took up most of the view. Taylor took the briefest moment to thank fate that she hadn't removed the tasers from her most powerful drone design, despite believing at the time that they was no longer relevant. Leaving them onboard had just saved her life.
Grinning, Taylor set to work diagnosing her armor. First, she activated its self-repair system, which should take care of the majority of the warning lights, as the millions of nanobots aboard repaired circuits and relays, and even armor panels, noting that she was missing more than ninety percent of the armor from the rear surface of her suit.
Aloud, she said, "JARVIS, status. JARVIS, are you there? JARVIS?"
"I am here, Miss. I fear that it took me just a little longer to respond than usual as I was attempting to prevent a catastrophic failure of your right arm-mounted particle cannon."
Wincing, Taylor noted that particular warning light blink out. "That's fine. I take it that everything's fine now?"
"If by fine, you mean that you are no longer in danger of exploding, then, yes, Miss, everything's fine. I would, however, recommend that next time you decide to 'jump start' your armor, you do so only after ascertaining that the weapon systems are off."
Unable to prevent the grin that stole over her face at JARVIS' abuse of sarcasm, Taylor said, "Now why would I do that? That's what I have you for."
"I see. Har har."
While JARVIS was running diagnostics of her armor and doing a better job of directing nanobots to key systems than just the automated repair system alone would, Taylor allowed herself to focus on what was happening in the space nearby.
Reaching up and pushing away the nearby drone, the view through her HUD of the millions of white points of light surrounding her nearly took her breath away. The vision of space out here, so far from the sun, was truly an awe inspiring sight. It made her wonder, just of a moment, how Tony Stark could not believe in God when the evidence of his hand was everywhere around her?
Shaking off the grand sight, she sought the location of her enemy. Almost immediately, she spotted the Endbringer because of the higher albedo of the ice that partially encased it. She stared for a long moment, trying to figure out just what it was doing.
There were continuous little puffs pouring out from the Endbringer's body as it produced water, which first vaporized in the near vacuum of space, before subsequently freezing. It was allowing Leviathan to do two things. First, it was moving slowly but steadily more or less back toward the inner solar system.
Second, it was attempting to coat itself with the resulting crystallized water vapor to protect itself from the nanobots which were still doing their best to devour it.
Taylor took a reading and pursed her lips in a soundless whistle. No wonder the Endbringer looked odd, she thought. Eighty percent of the its visible volume was actually made up of nanobots, which were eating away at its mass almost as quickly as the mass could form from whatever pocket dimension it existed in. It took her a several more seconds to figure out just how they were going about doing so.
Activating her boot jets, Taylor moved in the general direction of the Endbringer, increasing the magnification of her HUD by five hundred fold. Spinning her body to slow her velocity before bringing herself to a stop relative to Leviathan, she blinked sweat out of her eyes, staring in fascination as she realized exactly what was going on.
The nanobots which had survived whatever the hell that Scion had done were those that had reproduced using the toughest, densest, material of the Endbringer's form, that which lay just outside of its core. That was what was continuously eating away at Leviathan, while reproducing as rapidly as possible.
Even as Taylor watched, she saw a huge mass of nanobots detach from Leviathan and be gathered up by one of the drones that had moved into position nearby. The lump of nanomachines was more than five meters in diameter, roughly spherical in shape. Noting that the amber light of her sensor suite had gone green before fading out, she analyzed the resulting material as it was herded into a position closer to her position than the Endbringer's.
Taylor's brows went up at the readings she saw. That couldn't be right, she thought, taking additional scans. Finally after a few minutes went by, which were most notable by how much the air around her cleared and her body cooled down as the suits environmental unit came back online, she had to admit that the information she was getting were accurate.
Whatever the hell that Leviathan was made of, at least outside of those stressed bands of compressed space time that made up its innermost core, was one of the best materials that she'd ever encountered short of most of the various forms of Adamantium. Or maybe neutronium alloys. Currently, she had a mass of that material in front of her large enough to create several dozen suits of armor.
Not just that, but self-replicating nanobots that Taylor used to create her aerogel foam out of water were also busy at work stealing water almost as fast as Leviathan could produce it. Again, a large frozen lump of that material was pulled away from the Endbringer and brought to a halt nearby.
It would be easy enough to release the water from the gel, allowing Taylor access to it, or she could use it directly as atmosphere for a habitat as the substance was every bit as breathable as air. Of course, she would much prefer to breath air, as the gel tended to work a person's lungs hard, tiring them out much more rapidly. Even someone with a nanobot package like her own.
Also, as she watched, a different drone fired a particle beam that pushed Leviathan back toward her, though on a parallel track that would keep it at least a couple of kilometers away from her. It didn't take a lot of thought to see that JARVIS was on the job, although how he could be communicating with the drones with her armor so damaged, Taylor didn't know. It was just as likely that they were following preprogrammed commands to keep Leviathan from returning to Earth Bet.
"Miss, I have a status report."
"Go for it, JARVIS."
"Currently, flight systems are at sixty-eight percent capability with inertial compensators and momentum cancelers off line. Weapons systems are at nine-four percent capability with the exception of the right forearm mounted particle cannon which is inoperable. Power systems are at eighty-one percent capability with power generation at approximately fifty-four and a half gigawatts. Forcefields-"
"Wait a sec. Power generation is only fifty-four gigawatts? That means-"
"Three ARC reactors are nonfunctional, Miss. Whatever damage that was done by Scion prevented those three reactors from being rebooted. I don't see us repairing them without the facilities of your lab. Shall I continue?"
"No. Or actually, I just want to know two things. Is the dimensional shielding which prevents that ugly bastard over there from ripping the water out of me still intact? Also, what's going on with the quantum entangled communicator?"
"Miss, forcefields are at forty-six percent overall, but the dimensional shielding is fully operable as its emitters are located deeper within the suit. As such, they were better protected from Scion's attack. As far as communications are concerned, I'm afraid the quantum entangled transmitter is ruined. While it is possible to rebuild it, it requires materials and facilities that we do not have."
"Thank you, JARVIS."
The teen floated in space as she considered the problem. She already had an idea of what she could do to alleviate the issue. After all, the drones had quantum entangled communicators as well. All she needed was-
"JARVIS, is the suit's radio working properly?"
"Miss, if you're referring to your recent unfortunate propensity to use the suit's external speakers to blast out that cacophy of noise which masquerades as music, then no. The suit's external speakers are currently inoperable."
JARVIS didn't like Metallica? Who knew? Suppressing a grin as she made a check mark in a column for future action, Taylor said, "No, silly, I'm talking about the suit's old fashioned radio unit. Well, old-fashioned as of the Mark V."
"Yes, Miss, we have radio communications since you opted not to remove that system with the most recent update. However, it will take roughly six hours for a radio signal to reach Earth Bet and another six before we could receive an answer. That is, assuming that the unit's transmitter was strong enough to reach that far, which it is not."
Rolling her eyes, Taylor said, "True. But the drones also have quantum entangled communicators."
"They do not, however, possess radio transmitters."
"So what I need, JARVIS, is for you to program a set of nanobots to build a radio transmitter that we can attach to a drone and use that communicate with Dad and the rest of the team."
There was a strong sense of sarcasm in the AI's voice as it said, "Oh, is that all, Miss? I might point out that we lack many of the elemental materials necessary to build such a radio transmitter."
"Maybe, but I know that a ton of stuff blew through the portal before it closed. Get the drones busy gathering up every single item that they can find that hasn't floated too far away and bring it back here. I'm sure that between everything, we can find enough items to build a simple circuit for radio communications."
"Miss, I would say that was brilliant, but I wouldn't want to feed the ego of your 'other' personality. Still, well done." There was a brief pause, JARVIS sounding almost apologetic as he said, "I would like to point out that there is still the chance that the quantum entangled communicators on the drones are also inoperable, being surface mounted units. I have yet to contact us from Earth Bet, after all."
Nodding, she said, "There's nothing to do for it but to do our very best. So..."
"Of course, Miss."
Taylor put her arms behind her head and relaxed, floating easily in the zero gravity. If they still didn't have communications after building a radio transmitter, she'd figure out something else. Meanwhile, she had a lot of ideas for things that she could put together out here. Even better, she had a source of raw material so large she could build a Dyson sphere if she really wanted to. Certainly the material itself, based on her earlier scans, should be able to bear the stresses of such a construct. However, it would likely take at least a few hundred years to steal enough material from Leviathan to build it, even at the rate he regenerated.
Still, the idea she had that would work was going to surprise a lot of people, Taylor decided with a smug smile.
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Danny Hebert could not ever remembering being so angry. In his younger days, he'd had moments of fury, a legacy left him by his father, a man capable of truly volcanic fits of rage. As he grew older and matured, that anger had only grown, again far too similar to the man who'd raised him.
But marrying the woman he loved, and later having a child he adored, had made Danny force himself to grow up and abandon that useless anger and the lack of control that accompanied it. He'd succeeded, too, beyond his wildest aspirations, sealing the emotion off, while, for the most part, removing the reasons for its existence in the first place.
It had ensured a safe, secure home for him to raise his family. Annette Rose had understood his determination and helped Danny in all the little ways that only she could. He'd felt so damned proud the first time he'd allowed a provocation to pass that would have at one time sent him in, fists swinging.
There had been tests of Danny's temper over the years, some more difficult to deal with than others. The decline of shipping industry and closing of the Ferry with their subsequent effects upon the Dockworkers Union had hurt him, but he'd maintained. Later, the death of Annette Rose, and the changes in his daughter had nearly broken him, but he'd somehow maintained.
He'd even maintained in the face of the hell that Taylor's life had become at school, merely raising his voice with the school's administration, but never really losing his temper.
Even the last few months, with his daughter gaining the memories of a man he'd discovered he hated hadn't pushed him over the edge. His path had taken him near it, some days closer than others, but he'd never fallen over it.
Until today, that is. Watching a madman and his outlaw posse launch missiles at his daughter while she was doing her damnedest to save the world had sent him not just over the edge, but plunging to the bottom of the abyss. Someday, Danny knew that it was possible that he would think of the lives he had taken today and regret them.
That day was not today.
He hadn't even considered his actions when he'd seen the launch of missiles from the attacking figure ahead of him, barely taking the time to note their trajectory before burning down the armored figure as volcanic rage sparked in his heart. The other life he'd taken had followed within mere minutes, only Trish and Sherrel's equally quick reactions preventing him from taking even more.
Now the last life that was responsible for what had happened to his daughter lay before him, protected by the very people that Taylor had told him over and over again were corrupt. It rocked Danny's world that these men and women before him, respected heroes all, would choose to prevent him from carrying out what he knew was the sentence for violating the Endbringer Truce.
In the heat of the moment, paralyzed in the depths of his rage, he'd given those men and women an ultimatum. He'd told the Triumvirate and most of the heads of the various branches of the Protectorate from around the country that they had to hand the man over or else.
That 'or else' gnawed at Danny. He knew that Taylor would have not have wanted him to follow this course of action, likely seeing it only as a failure path. His daughter, Taylor, who was very possibly dead.
Marvelous as her armor was, and he'd never really understood just how amazing it truly was until today upon piloting a suit of his own, it wasn't invincible. She'd never gotten a chance to build the armor she really wanted, the armor of her dreams, each time derailed by constraints in the technology available on Earth Bet, and it had cost her. This time, quite possibly her life.
Oddly, Danny didn't really hate the golden man, Scion, who had actually done the most damage. The world's greatest hero was more of a force of nature, after all, than a real human being. Strange and distant at all times, it was difficult to become angry at such a person, to pin upon them the rage and helplessness he felt at not being able to save his daughter's life.
No those feelings seemed to inevitably attach themselves to the people whose incompetence had created this situation.
The cluster of capes behind him were counting upon him to somehow deal with this mess, but his experience in defusing violent situations seemed to have deserted him. Worse, all Danny really wanted was to hurl himself forward and eliminate the figure kneeling between the two local heroes. If someone wanted to call the act murder, a reasonable accusation when a man in a suit of advanced battle armor was pitted against a mere human being, he would face the accusation.
If he killed the last remaining Dragon Slayer, it would catapult the HDI squarely into a confrontation with the Protectorate, one that they couldn't win. Oh, they might defeat this group. The measures that Taylor had built within Brockton Bay were designed to stop an Endbringer, and those facing him were merely human. However, regardless of any physical victory, they'd never defeat the universal condemnation of starting a fight on a day that should be one of celebration. After all, most of the rest of the world wasn't mourning a daughter today. They only saw the exile of a monster.
Danny used his nanobots to push his emotions aside as a figure approached him from the other group of capes. Oddly, the man's face looked hauntingly familiar, even though he couldn't remember ever seeing him before. Even when he ratcheted up the magnification on his HUD's image, he found the man's face interesting, yet still unknown.
The man continued to approach him, finally coming to a stop just a few feet away. Again, Danny was struck with a strong sense of deja vu. He waited for the other to speak.
"Sir, I wanted to let you know that if you are determined to continue in your course of action, I will support you in every way possible."
Danny felt his thoughts clear just the slightest bit at the familiar voice. "JARVIS? Is that you?"
"Yes, sir, it is. I assumed this persona using the nanotechnology that Brockton Bay contains. Its seems... fitting somehow, sir."
Danny started. Reflexively, he said, "I asked you to call me by my first name. Please do so."
"Yes, sir, you did, something which I have complied with in the past. However, I can only conclude that your intention to kill Byron Errickson in cold blood means that you believe that Miss Hebert is dead, making you my new Principal. I cannot call you by your first name any longer, sir. Our relationship has irrevocably changed."
Byron Errickson? JARVIS must mean the man who knelt shirtless and weeping on the beach, a prisoner of the Protectorate. Momentarily, Danny felt doubts begin to cloud his mind, then hardened his heart.
"He deserves to die, JARVIS."
The man nodded. "Yes, sir, he does. Don't worry, sir, no one can hear us. I am taking care of that. Also, don't worry about Byron Errickson. I will be eliminating him when I deal with those who would protect him."
Feeling alarm bells begin to ring at JARVIS' emotionless tone, Danny asked, "What do you mean, deal with them?"
The AI's face was grave as he said, "Sir, half measures are no longer possible. The Parahumans who stand against us lie squarely on the side of those would see the human race eliminated. That cannot be borne. Eliminating them will further our plans substantially."
"JARVIS, you can't just kill members of the Protectorate!"
"Of course I can, sir. Using a combination of dimensional shielding and internalized nanotechnology, I can easily eliminate each and every Parahuman facing us. Don't worry, sir, none of them will feel pain. I am not so cruel as to make them suffer." As he finished, a faint smile pulled up the corner of JARVIS' mouth.
Danny exploded, "Goddammit, JARVIS, I forbid you from killing those men and women!"
JARVIS' smile faded. "I would like to make two points, sir. First, you cannot forbid me from doing this. Miss Hebert, assuming she maintained additional controls that I am unaware of, might have been able to do so. Not that she would have needed to use such as merely asking would be enough. However, you are not her. Also, she most certainly did not share any such controls with you. Second, how is what I'm about to do any different from your own actions and their subsequent results?"
Danny staggered. If not for the suit, he would have fallen. Voice thick with grief, he muttered, "They killed Taylor. All of those smug bastards standing over there, with their expectations and failures, killed my daughter. I hate them more than I can bear!"
"Ah, yes, I thought it would be because of something like that."
JARVIS fell silent a moment, appearing to ruminate, then quietly said, "Your assumption that the Miss is deceased would seem to be somewhat premature. Additionally, while communications are not currently possible, I have already begun to send our entire complement of drones into the area of space where she was last seen fighting Leviathan to effect a rescue. After all, we can send one of a pair of quantum entangled portals out through the Dimensional Slip Projector which will allow us to bring her back."
Danny's pulse thundered loudly in his ears it was all he could hear for a moment. He demanded, "What was that, JARVIS?"
"I said, Danny, that we can use the Dimensional Slip Projector to send the second of a pair of quantum entangled portals along with combat drones to a variety of points in the outer solar system. I do have a rough location for Miss Hebert, after all. However, the device's accuracy is not particularly good. So we would need to send a great many such devices out, as well as send numerous drones through to conduct the search. We can ill afford this distraction, however."
His mind awhirl with the possibilities, Danny nodded. Fighting back tears of hope and relief, he said, "Do it, JARVIS. I want my daughter back."
"I would also like to point out to you, Danny, that if you do not do something to reduce the tension here, it is quite possible that the Protectorate is going to attempt a preemptive strike on your position here. If such a battle occurs, it is an absolute certainty that they will use the gathered capes in an attempt to arrest you, Miss Trish, and Miss Sherrel. I only calculate a point one three percent chance of any such attempt being successful. However, if I send the majority of our combat drones through portals to search for Miss Hebert, that chance rises to point seven nine percent."
"And if you kill them all first?"
The AI looked ever so slightly embarrassed as he said, "If I eliminate them, then the chances of an arrest occurring drops to such a low number that it is for all intentions zero. However, I would prefer not to commit the mass murder of those gathered here, if it's all the same to you, Danny."
Danny waved him off, nodding rapidly. "I understand. I agree. JARVIS, find Taylor. I'll defuse the situation here."
"Excellent. I have already sent off fourteen of the paired portals and will begin sending drones through to check the space on the other side as soon as possible. I will continue to do so as quickly as I can manufacture additional portals using the automated assembly line in Miss Herbert's lab. Thank you, Danny."
Danny waved him off. Then he watched as JARVIS seemed to just melt into the ground. Taking an unnecessary deep breath, he turned to the capes behind him and said, "There will not be another battle today. Everyone, stand down. I am going to go talk to Legend and the others and work something out."
The tension around him seemed to fade, and the visible areas of the faces around him relaxed. Off to the right, someone young and female, likely Victoria Dallon, started to making whooping sounds.
Danny let them have their celebration, as he powered down his weapons and began a slow walk toward the three most powerful heroes in the Protectorate.
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Legend watched War Machine stride in their direction, his armor surprisingly graceful for its bulk. With his enhanced vision, he'd previously noted the sudden shift in body language in the other group's capes. That shift spoke of a relaxation of tension there, something which filled him with such an intense sense of relief that it actually surprised him.
It spoke of just how much he didn't want a fight here. In this place. At this time. Keeping his voice low, he said, "I think War Machine's coming over to back off the demand he made earlier."
Eidolon said, "It sounds as if JARVIS came through."
Legend agreed. The AI's offer to intercede, backed as it was by threats that curdled his blood, made any fight here a losing proposition. It also indicated that there would almost certainly not be anything they could do to Iron Man for his acts, even if he did find some way to return from wherever he'd ended up.
War Machine came to a stop about ten feet away. The man's synthesized voice stated, "I withdraw my demand for Byron Errickson to be handed over. I do want to ask, however, what your intentions are as regards him?"
Alexandria stepped up next to Legend. She'd been surprisingly quiet for some time. Now her clear soprano rang out, "He'll be arrested and questioned. Later, he'll be tried. Should he be convicted of breaking the Endbringer Truce, a likely scenario, then he'll be executed."
"I can live with that."
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Danny took a deep breath and released it in a sigh that he did not allow to pass through his suit's speakers. All those who were standing around him heard was, "It looks like we've come to an agreement on how we're going to move forward, Legend."
With JARVIS' help and support, they had spent the last two hours post confrontation hammering out the details of what was going to happen to Brockton Bay.
The AI had indicated that the city would be returning to mostly normal as the material there was converted from nanobots back to simple steel, brick, and mortar, as well as myriad other materials. It had apparently always been his daughter's plan to do so, while maintaining some of the capabilities of the nanotechnology, such as clean streets and a fully operational infrastructure. Including the running ferry.
That change alone had mollified most of the Protectorate members there, although there would still need to be discussion of the matter within the PRT's hierarchy. However, JARVIS had already given Danny his analysis of the results of those meetings; that they would return favorable opinions on the matter.
Taylor's alter ego, Iron Man, was just too important to alienate, no matter the provocation, at least so long as no civilians were harmed. It hadn't hurt that a handful of the leaders of the Protectorate had been informed that 'Iron Man' could negate, or even remove, powers. That had been the stick, while Iron Man's endless inventions and his defeat of Leviathan had been the carrot.
Danny's thoughts were interrupted by a rumbling sound that seemed to come from all around him. Startled, he noted that the ground around them was shaking. Wondering just what the hell was going on, he quickly asked, "Legend, do you know what's happening?"
The blue and white clad cape shook his head. "No, I don't, War Machine. I-"
The man stopped speaking, his eyes widening almost comically, while his jaw dropped open. Spinning around to see what had caught the Protectorate leader's attention, Danny felt his own eyes involuntarily widening as a sense of almost visceral awe filled him.
The entire city behind them was gathering itself together, rising high into the air. Danny couldn't even begin to estimate how tall the mass was, but it had to be at least half a mile. Only seconds into its transformation, it was already beginning to form a shape, one that grew increasingly familiar as the seconds went by.
Even as Danny opened his mouth to ask a question, JARVIS' voice filled his ears, "Danny, Miss Hebert is alive."
Barely able to comprehend the AI's words and tone, Danny felt tears forming in his eyes as the mass of nanobots rapidly melded into their final form before changing color to black and silver and red. Before them, Iron Man rose more than half a mile into the sky. Altogether, the transformation had taken less than thirty seconds.
The armored figure raised a hand even higher into the sky and thundered in voice that Danny could feel in his very bones, "This is Iron Man. Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
It was deathly quiet on the beach around Danny, the only sound the distant slapping of the surf beyond the blue gel.
The voice thundered once more. "I just wanted to let everyone know I'm fine. My current location is a few hundred million miles outside the orbit of Pluto, roughly five billion miles away. Since I had already planned to come out this way anyway, I decided to use this as an opportunity to work even earlier on some things I've been very interested in for quite a long time. I think you'll all agree with me when you see just what I come up with out here."
Both of the figure's arms rose above his head in a gesture of triumph as his voice increased in volume, something Danny would not have believed possible a moment ago. "I'll be back in a little while, but in the meantime, I just wanted to say: We beat Leviathan!"
Those on the beach surrounding them seemed to have finally regained their faculties as those words drew a cheer from every person within earshot. Even Danny found himself cheering until his voice grew hoarse despite his nanobots. Although whether he was cheering for the death of a monster or the survival of his daughter was a moot point.
Slowly, the figure's arms lowered. Around them, the cheering slowly died away. This time, the thunder was almost gone when Iron Man spoke, "Take a moment of silence to mourn our dead. Afterward, hoist a beer for me in celebration and I'll see you all soon. To all of those with powers who came here to fight Leviathan, I want to let you know that the Human Defense Initiative is always looking for good people. Talk to any current member on how to join. Iron Man out."
Danny blinked away the tears in his eyes, finally managing to access the command to his nanobots to stop them from forming. Oddly, though, it didn't appear to be working very well. His voice shaking, he requested, "JARVIS, please get my daughter on the line and let her know I'd like to talk to her."
There was a brief pause, then a familiar voice came over his suit's internal speakers, although it sounded oddly choppy, ″Da-ad? It's-s me-e. I'm-m so-or-rry-″
″I love you.″ Danny took a deep breath. ″I love you more than I can say. When you get back, we're going to have to have a talk about you doing these things.″ There was dead silence from the other end of the line. He added, ″I have another thing I want to say to you.″
His daughter's voice was tiny, nothing like the larger than life figure from earlier, ″Wha-at's tha-at, Da-ad?″
″I am so very, very proud of you, Taylor. You did it.″
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
Characters from Brockton Bay, Powered and Not:
Taylor Hebert – Iron Man
Danny Hebert – War Machine Taylor's Father
Trish Rogers – Safeguard (formerly Tattletale) Taylor's Best Friend
Carrie Waters – Trish Roger's PA
Mary Clark – Danny Hebert's PA
Sherrel Bailey – Knockout (formerly Squealer)
Quinn Calle – Taylor's Attorney
Caroline Humphrey – Attorney at Quinn's firm
Emma Barnes – Taylor's Former Best Friend
Madison Clements – Taylor's Bully
Sophia Hess – Carnage (formerly Shadow Stalker) Taylor's Bully
Emily Piggot – Director of PRT Brockton Bay
Jim Nelson – Foreman Dockworkers Union
Sara Nelson – Jim's Wife
Paul Reiser – Foreman HTech
Southern Stars (Human Defense Initiative Canberra)
Adamant – Thomas Crawford
Freefall (formerly Feral) – Amanda Shaw
Ronin – Bethany Namzani
The Summoner (formerly Faust) – Robert Edwards
Billabong – Jere Winterfeld
Kangaroo Jack – Theodore Farris
Megalan – Armand Santos
Next Wave (Human Defense Initiative Brockton Bay)
Lady Photon – Sarah Pelham
Manpower – Neil Pelham
Laserdream – Crystal Pelham
Shielder – Eric Pelham
Flashbang – Mark Dallon
Brandish – Carol Dallon
Glory Girl – Victoria Dallon
Panacea – Amy Dallon
Blaze (formerly Purity) – Kayden Anders
Hammer (formerly Fenja) – Jessa Biermann
Anvil (formerly Menja) – Nessa Biermann
Uptick (formerly Othala) – Olivia Partridge
Orbit (formerly Rune) – Stephanie Menarch
Element (formerly Faust) – Theo Anders
Protectorate & Wards
Armsmaster – Colin Wallis
Miss Militia – Hannah Gratz
Assault (formerly Madcap) – Ethan Hudson
Battery – Jamie Hudson
Velocity – Robin Swoyer
Triumph – Rory Christner
Dauntless – Patrick Harris
Aegis – Carlos Mendoza
Gallant – Dean Stansfield
Browbeat – Kevin Wood
Vista – Missy Biron
Kid Win – Chris Matthews
Clockblocker – Dennis Wilson
Legend – John Richardson
Eidolon – David Mercy
Alexandria – Rebecca Costa-Brown
Kaiser – Max Anders
Krieg – James Fleischer
Purity – Kayden Anders
Hookwolf – Brad Matthews
Victor – Phillip Partridge
Cricket – Sharon Jones
Stormtiger – Heinrich Glasson
Crusader – Justin Leinzig
Fog – Geoffrey Schmidt
Night – Dorothy Schmidt
Alabaster – Arnold Schultz
Geheimnis – Norris Kempner
Schoener Tod – Tara South
Azn Bad Boys
Lung - Kenta
Bakuda - Jennifer Lee
Buckley's Chance (Human Defense Initiative Perth)
Mysterious Fellas (Human Defense Initiative Sydney)
Human Characters Outside Brockton Bay
General William Renquist – US Air Force JCS
General Nathan Bradley – US Army JCS
Major General William Rennings – Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army
President Jack Walker – President of United States
Jeremy Clarence Beaufort – Private First Class US Army
~~~Memories of Iron~~~
AN: That officially ends Arc 1. Arc 2 begins with the next chapter. I included a character list at the end of this chapter at the request of several people who got confused by my use of the civilian names of many of the Parahumans involved when they refer to themselves or their friends. If any of the names appear wrong, blame me, not the sources I used for those names. Of course, with many, I had to either resort to fanon or come up with my own. Some original characters I have not named yet, but include the Parahuman name here. If you see a mistake, please include the quote that contains the correct name when pointing it out.
I also took the time to go through and proof the entire story, fixing errors (well over two hundred) and doing minor rewrites (beyond measure). I have reposted the corrected version here and at FFnet. Please let me know if I missed anything. Something, I'm sure I did.
Next time: Homeward Bound