Based on the web serial "Worm" by wildbow.


A&B


The cape jumped up to the top of the roof in a single bound, setting my heart racing. Lung had done almost the same thing not long ago. Which was a stupid thing to be afraid about. The Undersiders had said this was a superhero. And he was, although not one of the big names.

"Well. You're terrifying." Assault flashed a toothy grin. It seemed all the wider with the upper half of his face covered. "Ten out of ten in the bejeezus scaring category, and thumbs up on the consistent theme. Not a lot of villains nail that in their costumes when they're starting out."

"I'm a good guy."

"Ah. Gotta re-score you at a two out of ten there, missy. Because you are terrifying."

There was a blur and all of sudden another cape stood beside Assault.

"Lung's secured. Van's four minutes out. Who's this?"

Battery folded her arms across her ample chest as she studied me. If there was one downside to being a cape, I'd figured, it was seeing so many better-looking people in skintight clothes. I'd guessed right. Battery wasn't a knockout, but if I'd tried to pull off her look people would mistake me for a long-haired boy.

"This, puppy, is... actually I have no idea, but she has a fantastic costume for a villain, doesn't she?"

"I'm not a villain!" I snapped, and winced at the shrillness in my voice.

"Ignore him." Battery uncrossed her arms. "You have a name?"

"I haven't even come up one yet. Bug-themed names either sound dorky or evil—and I'm not a villain." Assault held up his palms. "It took a long time to make my costume, and I didn't realize how edgy it was going to turn out to be until after I'd sunk a lot of effort into it."

Assault perched on his tip-toes, wobbling back and forth. Which was slightly disconcerting given how he was standing on the edge of the roof. "Oh, we know what you mean. I was a fresh recruit when they paired us up in New York, and some genius had the idea of giving me a gimmicky name for our partnership."

"That sucks."

"I know, right?"

Battery asked, tone softening, "Do you need medical attention?"

"N-no. Lung didn't hurt me." Nobody said anything. I suddenly felt intensely awkward. I can't say why, but a compulsion drove me to admit, quietly, "He almost killed me."

Assault said, "Well, you kicked the ever-loving shit out of him, so there's that."

I shook my head. "That wasn't all me."

I started telling them about the Undersiders, but Battery steered me back to the start of the fight and made me go through everything step by step. Assault pulled out a pad of paper and jotted down notes, occasionally adding commentary.

"Undersiders, huh? They're escape artists. Nice to see the Bay getting some classy villains for once."

Battery, clearly annoyed, started to say something, but was cut off by the flashing green-and-white lights of a PRT van. I guess Lung's ride was here.

"Go be useful," she ordered, pushing him off the roof. Assault saluted as he fell away.

It was just the two of us now. A rush of self-awareness pushed me to stand on shaky legs. It was a surprise to learn that I was actually a full head taller than Battery.

"We need to talk fallout," she told me, undeterred by my stature. "Lung has lieutenants who're going to want to punish you. You know who Oni Lee and Bakuda are, yes?"

I didn't know Bakuda. She gave me a quick, horrifying rundown.

"It's going to be some serious heat," Battery emphasized. "You're probably feeling a lot of pride for catching a big fish your first night out. You should. Just don't let it go to your head. Overconfidence gets more capes killed than anything else. Take a week or two off for safety's sake. If you still want to patrol, stay far away from the Docks, okay?"

"Okay."

"Vary your patrol route every night. Don't cross the same intersections, even if you're doing it at different times. Don't let the ABB find a pattern to your movements. Keep one eye open for set-ups and traps, especially with a bomb Tinker like Bakuda. You have a cell phone?"

I shook my head.

"Buy one tomorrow, first thing. Carry it everywhere." She gave me a card. "If you get into trouble, call."

"Thank you," I said, adding the card to my back compartment.

"One last thing. The Wards."

I nodded, if only to move the conversation along. I'd inwardly bandied around the idea of applying to the Wards program but finally decided against. I didn't want to deal with more high school drama. I also didn't want to have The Talk with my dad anytime soon.

"I never would have captured my old arch-nemesis without their resources and training to develop my powers," Battery said. "If you're thinking about soloing while going to college or trade school, holding down a job, patrolling, and attending classes all at the same time is hell. Never mind if you add a relationship to the mix. You seem like you've really got your act together for a rookie, but joining the Protectorate doesn't have to be a forever thing. You can quit when you're eighteen and the trust fund you'd have is a godsend."

They weren't bad points, I had to admit, but I wasn't up to digging in deep on the issue right then. It was maybe one or two in the morning, I had nearly died, and had just learned two superpowered sociopaths were gunning for me. It was too much.

Assault bounded back onto the roof. "Our boy Lung is gift-wrapped and packed away Santa's sleigh."

Battery's mask concealed any raised eyebrow, but I'm sure it was there by her tone of voice. "Santa's sleigh?"

"I may need coffee to lubricate my wit, puppy, yes. You want to grab some coffee, kid?"

Before I could process that amazing prospect, let alone reply, Battery cut him off. "Job's not done, and we're wasting time now that Lung's loaded up."

"Poop. I owe you a drink, kid. Nice work tonight."

I might have choked on my own tongue as I tried to thank him for the compliment.

"Think about what I said," Battery said, and then was gone in a flash.

Assault shook his head. "Ah, speedsters. Always having to get the last word in."

He did a backflip off the roof.

The PRT van soon drove away, and I started making my way home.