Epilogue 1: Sunday (Taylor)
On impulse, I went out Sunday and bought a cheap mobile phone. I didn't tell Dad; he would not have approved. But I decided I needed to be able to keep in touch with people.
That night, I sneaked out, into gang territory. I had my bugs keeping track of people all around me, so I managed to avoid notice.
When I found the ABB thugs, and Lung, I was so very glad I had gotten the phone. Lung was talking about killing kids. This was not a good thing.
Pulling out my new phone, I hesitated. If I called 9-1-1, they would just put me through to the PRT switchboard, and I'd have to explain what was going on. They might even argue, and dismiss me as a prank call.
But I already had a number. I called it.
Not how I thought I'd be calling this.
The rich baritone voice answered me. "Hello?"
"Hi," I replied. "Hate to spring this on you like this, but I'm a superhero and I need your help."
A very long pause. " … who is this?"
I had been thinking of a name. "Call me Hive Queen. I know your sister Aisha. She says you're a good guy. I'm looking at Lung, right now. He's telling his men to kill kids. I don't want that to happen, and I'm not sure if I can stop him on my own."
"And so you're asking me to help."
"Villains help heroes against bigger threats, right? Lung's almost Endbringer class, all by himself."
"You have a point. Listen, where are you?"
I told him. "You know where that is?"
"Sure do. Can you delay him, stop him from leaving? We'll be there shortly."
"I can try."
Grue and I stood on the rooftop, watching as Bitch's dogs mauled Lung mercilessly. I stood as close to him as I dared; he didn't seem to mind. Tattletale stood a little way off, a fox-like grin on her face. I didn't know if she was grinning at me or at the way Lung was getting his ass handed to him, and I didn't really care.
"You really did us a solid on this one," Brian/Grue told me.
"Hey," I replied. "I didn't know it was going to be you he was talking about, but this works for me."
"You don't have a problem with working alongside supervillains?"
I shrugged. "I've learned a lot about grey areas over the last couple of days. There are good bad guys, and I guess there are bad good guys. I want to be a good guy, but that doesn't mean we can't help each other out."
"Protectorate incoming," warned Tattletale.
Bitch whistled to her dogs; for the last minute or so, they had been more or less using Lung as a chew-toy anyway. They leaped and clawed their way back up on to the rooftop.
"Want a ride?" asked Brian.
I shook my head. "Nah, I think I'll stick around and see what happens."
He nodded. "Sure. Well, keep in touch."
I grinned inside my mask. "I'll do that."
Armsmaster let his grappling hook pull him to the rooftop. I stood there, swathed in swirling insects.
"Are we going to fight?" he asked.
"Not unless you want to," I replied boldly. "I'm a hero too. You can call me Hive Queen."
"I see," he mused, watching the bugs swarm around me. "That's a dark and edgy look for a hero."
"It's a dark and edgy world," I told him. "Bad things happen. I want the bad guys to realise that I can be one of those bad things."
Unexpectedly, he chuckled. "Ballsy. So, can I ask how old you are?"
"Nearly sixteen," I told him honestly. "Does it matter?"
After a pause, he shook his head. "Not really. Did you see another group around here just now?"
"Yeah," I told him. "The Undersiders."
His head came around. "Did you speak to them?"
"A bit," I admitted off-handedly. "They helped me take down Lung. He was talking about killing kids. Turned out they were the 'kids' he was talking about."
"And you didn't try to arrest them?"
I made a rude noise inside the mask. "Not hardly. For one thing, they were helping me. For another, four against one? That would have been unpleasant."
His voice was hard. "Heroes don't usually associate with villains."
"Except when it comes to greater threats. Or am I wrong about that?"
I couldn't believe I was arguing with Armsmaster. I had underwear with his emblem on it somewhere. This man was one of my heroes, and I was arguing superhero ethics with him!
He changed tack. "Did you get any information about any of them?"
I shook my head. "No, none of them let anything slip. We were concentrating on Lung." I paused. "Tattletale knew you were coming, somehow."
He made a growling noise in his throat. "That girl is very annoying." Turning to the roof edge, he reattached his grappling hook. "I have to deal with Lung. Can we continue this conversation down there?"
I climbed down the ladder at the side of the building, and rejoined him; he had apparently injected Lung with some sort of tranquilliser and was caging him up. "Just remember," I told him, "there's lots and lots of venom in him. Enough to kill an ordinary man several times over."
"I'll keep that in mind," he agreed. "Now, as for credit for this."
"That's H-I-V-E Q-U-E-E-N," I recited promptly. "Two words, no hyphenation."
"Are you sure?" he enquired. "The rest of the ABB might decide to take retribution about this."
I held up a finger. "Ah, but would they attack a Ward?"
He paused. "Are you saying you want to join?"
"Well, it would make me a hell of a lot more effective to be working with a team, and somehow I don't think you want me joining the Undersiders," I commented dryly.
"Would you join a villain team?" he asked sharply.
"I want to make a difference. If you and the rest of the heroes turned out to be people I couldn't work with, I'd probably consider it," I told him honestly.
His mouth quirked a smile. "Straightforward and up front. I like it. Contact me when you've got your parents' permission." He handed me a card.
I tossed it into the air; two moths caught it and flew it around to the storage compartment at my back. "I'll do that," I told him.
I sneaked back into the house. Ducking down into the basement, I stored away my costume, then back to the kitchen. I was hungry – fighting supervillains alongside other supervillains was kind of wearing – so I made myself a snack. Still eating it, I wandered upstairs.
I was just about to open my door, when I reconsidered. Crossing the hall, I tapped on Dad's bedroom door.
A mumbled reply came from within, far too quickly for him to have awoken. Ah crap. He heard me come in.
"Dad?" I called. "Can I come in?"
He answered in the affirmative, and I opened the bedroom door. Entering, I sat on the edge of his bed.
"Taylor," he asked, "where have you been?" He sniffed. "And is that smoke I smell? Have you been smoking?"
I grinned. "Nope. But I do have some stuff to tell you about."
Epilogue 2: Monday (Winslow)
Mr Gladly yawned and stretched as he picked up the stack of newsletters from the out-tray of the printer. His office was still reasonably dark, as he hadn't bothered turning on the light. He riffled through the newsletters, checking that none had been misplaced in the printer; the text blocks and the pictures seemed to be all in the right place. He didn't bother actually reading it; he'd been over it a thousand times on the computer.
Sometimes it was hard, coming up with a fun and interesting set of articles each week. He wished people would appreciate his efforts more.
Strolling around the school, he left a stack of Winslow Weekly newsletters on the small table outside each classroom, and next to the main bulletin board. Principal Blackwell didn't even look up as he dropped her copy on her desk.
He went back to his classroom and started working on the day's lesson plan. Today I'm Mr Gladly, not Mr G, he reminded himself. Today, they learn to respect me.
Principal Blackwell ignored the copy of the Weekly that Gladly had dropped on to her desk. The man churned out the same pre-digested pap and cutesy little stories every goddamned week. He must have worn out his thesaurus by now, looking for new and imaginative adjectives to describe the same old things.
Getting up from her desk, she strolled out into the corridors as the first kids came through the main doors. She liked to be there when they came in; 'taking the temperature', as she put it. It let her imagine that she had her finger on the pulse of the school.
She noted that some of them were clustering around the small stacks of newsletters, and that these were being passed from hand to hand. There was suddenly more and more interest, laughter, incredulous expressions. When they saw her, they shut up, and huddled.
She moved closer, curious; they moved off, and there was not a Weekly left behind. That was odd. Normally, most of these found their way into the trash.
She went back to her office; each time she saw a bunch of students huddled around a copy of the newsletter, she moved a little faster. Snatching up her copy, she scanned it quickly.
Her first fear, that he had taken to writing risque jokes, or off-colour articles. But no, it was the same old, same old. Upcoming sports events, popular kids, Winslow fashions, everything that had been through it before.
And then she actually took in what the pictures were portraying.
Under an article about a sports meet coming up soon, there was a picture captioned "Our cheerleader squad, starring Emma Barnes." The picture showed girls in cheerleader outfits … sort of. One of them even looked like the ever-popular Ms Barnes. But the outfits were … more or less non-existent. Pornographic, even. So was the activity they were engaged in.
Another picture was titled, "Emma Barnes congratulates Sophia Hess for winning the one hundred yard sprint."
Again, the faces were right. But … she had been there, and she didn't recall Emma congratulating Sophia in quite that intimate a fashion.
She quickly looked over the rest of the newsletter. The front page was bland, as per normal. No-one would tell the salacious contents from just looking at it. But inside, and on the back …
Oh my god.
The back was a montage of what was supposed to be school activities, portraying the most popular girls in the school. It was a montage, all right. And some of the faces were even familiar. But what they were doing in those pictures …
"Oh. My. God."
She took in a deep breath.
Principal Blackwell's phone rang. Blackwell looked up; she had just finished haranguing Gladly over the content of the newsletter, and was in the process of composing an email to the school governors. Gladly will be lucky to keep his job over this.
She picked up the receiver. "Blackwell."
"I have Madison Clements here," replied her secretary. "She says she needs to speak to you about a case of ongoing bullying."
Blackwell paused. "Send her in."
Madison entered; she still bore the marks of the fight on Friday.
"Take a seat, Ms Clements," Blackwell told her. "So tell me; who is bullying you?"
Madison shook her head. "I'm not being bullied. I want to tell you about bullying that I've been helping other people do."
Blackwell blinked. "Please repeat that."
"I've been helping Emma Barnes and Sophia Hess bully Taylor Hebert ever since September of the year before last," Madison told her steadily. "I was there when they locked her in her locker."
As if in a dream, Blackwell opened a word file on her computer. "I suppose you'd better start from the beginning."
Madison nodded, and began to speak. But she didn't get very far, as Blackwell's phone rang again.
"What is it?" snapped the principal. "I'm busy here."
"Sorry to bother you, but we have a situation. One of the students is assaulting other students in the hallways."
Blackwell had a sinking feeling. I don't believe this. "Who is it?"
Emma strolled through the school, Sophia at her side.
"I wonder if Madison will even show her face in school today?" she asked idly.
"Don't give a shit," Sophia answered. "She got her ass kicked. She's gotta work hard to get back to my standard."
"Aren't you being just a little hard on her?" chided Emma gently. "Taylor took her by surprise, after all."
"Doesn't matter," Sophia insisted. She paused. "What's going on there?"
'There' was a group of girls and boys clustered around something, laughing and commenting.
"I have no idea," Emma admitted with a frown. She walked up to the group. "What's going on here?" she asked.
Two of the girls looked at her, and burst out laughing. One of them handed her something, then they moved off a little way.
She looked at it.
"It's just the Weakly," Sophia observed. "What's so great about that?"
Emma opened it and looked at the articles – nothing new – and then the picures.
Her face drained of colour.
"Oh fuck. Oh fuck."
All around her, people were looking at this very newsletter, and laughing.
Laughing at her.
Everyone was laughing at her.
Sophia stormed over to the nearest group. "Give me those!"
One or two handed them over; the others moved off, clutching their copies. Sophia grabbed one, spun her around, wrenched the newsletter out of her hand. The other fended her off. Sophia punched her, then kneed her in the stomach. She prised the crumpled paper from the girl's hands as she lay curled on the floor.
But there were others, also pointing, also laughing.
She moved in on her next target.
Epilogue 3: Monday (PRT)
Emily Piggot was just reading Armsmaster's report on the new cape calling herself 'Hive Queen' when her phone rang.
"I have a call from a Principal Blackwell. She says it's urgent."
"Put her through."
A few clicks later, and she heard the Winslow Principal's voice. "Hello?"
"Ms Blackwell. What can I do for you?"
"You can take Sophia Hess out of Winslow, is what you can do!"
The Director recoiled. "What? What's happened?"
"She has assaulted twenty-seven students and three teachers, is what's happened. Several of the students are quite badly injured, and she beat Mr Gladly half to death."
Piggot put her hand over her eyes. "Where is she now?"
"We don't know. She left. And good riddance." A pause. "Oh, and just so you know, I have evidence that she was involved in an incident earlier this year, when another student was locked into her locker. So if and when you catch her, you can put that on her as well."
Director Piggot shook her head. "Right. Thank you. I'll get right on it."
She ended the call, then dialled a number.
"Major, I have a job for you. One of our Wards has gone off the rails. You are to find her and bring her in, any means necessary. She has already shown a willingness to injure civilians. Take no chances."
"Which Ward is this, Director?"
"Will we be getting Protectorate assistance as well?"
"I'll be alerting them next. You have your orders."
"Thank you, Director."
Piggot hung up, and massaged her temples. And it's not even nine o'clock yet.
End of Alternate Beginnings
[Author's Note: This story was always intended to just be a Worm version of The Breakfast Club. From the feedback, I think I succeeded. As in the movie, this leaves several potential threads to be followed afterward. I leave that up to your imagination.
There may be a sequel, if I get the inspiration for one. Currently, I have no plans to do so. Thank you for reading.]