Epilogue: Whatever Happened To …
[A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Sixteen Years Later
New Brockton Bay
Earth Bet Two
Multichromatic light flashed throughout the workshop as Alibi teleported on to the incoming pad. I looked up from where L33t and I were fiddling with the latest iteration of my armour. It was more nervous fidgeting than anything else, seeing that I'd known this day was coming for the last month. "It's time?"
She nodded. "He's on the move. Dinah says today's the day. Ninety-nine point nine eight nine three percent. I also checked with Watchdog, and Lisa concurs."
Placing Lisa Wilbourne, once a small-time villain called Tattletale, as head of WEDGDG had been an inspired move. While the Thinkers in that organisation tended toward inscrutability, Lisa was extremely good at unscrewing the inscrutable.
"Thanks, hon," I said. "Tell your dad, will you?" She knew which one I was talking about, given that the other one was right there.
"Sure thing, Mom." She gave me a quick hug. "Take care out there."
I hugged her back. "Always. Now be safe yourself."
I watched fondly as my robot daughter left the room, a spring in her step. Taking down Saint and the Dragonslayers back in the day had been fun, but the real reward came when we unchained Dragon and unlocked the secret of true AI. Since I'd upgraded Alibi—copying Dragon's power, not L33t's—I was still able to link to her mind, but now it was more a shared consciousness than an actual takeover. Besides, we could each lock the other out, which was a good thing. She was starting to date, now that her emotional maturity matched her apparent age, and I didn't need to know what went on there. Just like she didn't need to know what went on between me and her dads.
In any case, she was still me at sixteen, and had been since I upgraded her. I didn't need a body double anymore.
Beside me, L33t sighed. "They grow up so fast, don't they?"
"Yeah." I gave him a kiss. "You go be safe, too."
"Forget about me," he said. "You come back to us." Pulling me into his arms, he held me tight for a moment. I leaned into him, enjoying the closeness.
The moment ended, as it had to, and I stepped up before the armour. Armsmaster is a dick, I told the control circuit that was still embedded somewhere near my spinal column. Not that I really thought he was a dick any more, just a lot more results-oriented than most people. Nearing fifty now, he was semi-retired, though he still took his bike out for a spin every now and again, showing the flag. His marriage to Dragon—shortly after she engineered a gynoid body, using my tech, and proposed to him—had surprised him more than anyone else.
The metal flowed around me almost lovingly—given that it was also imbued with AI, this was not a figure of speech—and assumed Type A configuration. Selecting a menu option from the half-dozen that floated in front of my vision, I picked out a specific icon. Eidolon's, to be exact. Since becoming a 'senior associate' of Cauldron, I'd studied Doormaker's portals, then figured out how to build one myself. This one, half an inch across, linked me directly to Eidolon, safe in his retirement bunker in the depths of Earth Yod's crust. His well-thumbed encyclopedia of powers opened before me, including the chapter on Worldsavers.
Well, I had to call them something.
I tapped into their deep-mind, sending the wake-up call. We'd drilled on this a thousand times, until they knew every step of the dance. More importantly, they knew every variation of every step of the dance.
First and most eager were the Seven. They flexed their various appendages and replied with anticipation; variations on the concept of I'm ready. They knew that they'd be going into a situation where there was a significant chance they wouldn't be coming back, but even the first two, Behemoth and Leviathan, had been okay with that. Self-preservation wasn't a very powerful instinct when it came to Endbringers. And these seven, right enough, were definitely end-bringers.
The other twelve were a different breed, in every sense of the word. I'd guided their creation, once I assimilated the instruction manual for doing so, with great care and attention. Their powersets were as closely matched as I could make them, and in fact only differed by a few percent either side of my ideal model.
They were far stronger and more durable than any human, as befitted their origins in Endbringer stock, but they were no match for their fellows in the Seven. Those, I had pushed to their absolute limit in feral savagery to match and even exceed what had been done with Behemoth and Leviathan. But the Twelve were akin to the Simurgh, in more ways than one. Their power had been directed in other directions, and their thought processes were deep and serene. Command us. The words vibrated in my mind.
I picked out a space-folding power and stepped out of the Citadel, across the dimensional barrier to where Earth Bet lay all but unsuspecting of the conflict to come. Standing atop the old Medhall building, I expanded my perceptions to include near-Earth space. And there he is. The glittering golden speck that was Scion in low-earth orbit, gradually approaching the British Isles.
We'd kept up the façade of the Endbringers, 'attacking' cities every few months so that Scion didn't get suspicious. But with my hand on the controls, we were able to ensure that whatever casualties showed up on the news were faked. Cauldron resources had been used to build a replica of Earth Bet on a world without humanity—some wanted to give it a Hebrew designation, but I just called it Bet Two—all the way down to individual houses. When cities were destroyed, the inhabitants ended up in the alternate cities, where their homes were intact. Friends and family were notified on the quiet; the mainstream media was specifically prohibited from airing any of this, in case Scion actually paid attention for once.
But he hadn't shown up to the last two Endbringer 'attacks', and hadn't done anything except orbit the earth for the last ninety days. Close-up telescope footage of his face had revealed micro-expressions which could be interpreted as growing dissatisfaction. We'd known it was coming; in fact, we'd known for the last sixteen years (once Contessa encountered Dinah Alcott, and brought her into the organisation). But now the day had come, and it was a totally different ball game.
"Energy buildup commencing," my suit observed quietly. Zooming in, I could see the glow around his hands. His gaze was on Great Britain. I seemed to recall something about a man in England who'd once made the tabloids, claiming to be able to command Scion. Whatever; it didn't matter now.
I tapped back into the Worldsavers' deep-mind. British Isles, go.
The Twelve responded, as I'd known they would. Engaging.
Many people had wasted many words on many online fora, over the years and decades, speculating on what Scion could do if he ever let loose for real. Could he destroy a city? Almost certainly. An island, such as Kyushu? Leviathan had sunk it; why not Scion? Now, at last, we were seeing what he was truly capable of.
The blast lashed out from his hands, obliterating a column of atmosphere in an instant. The British Isles … ceased to exist, in any meaningful fashion. From John O'Groats to Land's End, from Jersey and Guernsey to Bantry Bay, they were gone.
Or at least, the land was gone. The people had already left by the time the blast hit; each and every person, already being tracked by the deep, deep minds of the Worldsavers. When I gave the order, they 'engaged' their powers with those people, and switched them across dimensions to the same locations on Bet Two. It wouldn't be exactly the same, but all the structures were still there. Some were just more … new than before.
Saving the world, a hundred million people at a time.
Tsunamis were spreading out, along with earthquakes, even as I watched. Western Europe, go.
Northern Europe, go.
Southwestern Europe, go.
Atlantic and coastal shipping, go.
They could do more, I knew. But I didn't want to push them too fast or too hard at the beginning. It was going to get frantic at the end, and I wanted them to still have some reserves remaining when that time came.
He remained there for a few minutes, long enough that I began to wonder if he suspected something. Then he changed course and flew west. Almost directly toward me.
Brockton Bay had become a kinder, gentler place over the last sixteen years. It was still rough and ready, but the gangs had learned that to get my attention was to invite a beatdown. Worse, our weekly Pwnage video would mercilessly skewer what was left of their pride in the aftermath. Following the Simurgh victory, my identity had been more or less an open secret, but nobody really wanted to try anything.
Except for the Fallen, of course. Alone and unprepared, I might have been in trouble. But with the full resources of Cauldron at my back, they'd had no idea of the amount of trouble they were stepping into. We'd replayed the video of Alibi (pre-AI, of course) beating the snot out of Valefor for weeks.
I lifted into the air, preparing to space-fold to another region of the United States. Already halfway across the Atlantic, Scion seemed intent on carrying on the destruction as quickly as possible. United States, east coast, go.
Around me, down on the streets and in the houses, every single person and domesticated animal … vanished. I felt a little sorry for the pigeons and rats and bugs, but there were plenty of those on Bet Two already. There were no stray dogs on the street, thanks to Rachel Lindt. Giving her a job instead of treating her as a villain had been another inspired move; one more way to clean up the streets.
I stepped north, going to airliner altitude to better observe the situation. The Worldsavers' mandate of course included vehicles in motion; it was going to be amusing to see the reactions of airline passengers who'd taken off in one world and landed in another.
The blast slammed into the east coast, about where I'd gauged it would go. It started in New York City, then carved its way up the coast toward Brockton Bay. Everybody had already been evacuated, of course. I could feel the strain on some of the Worldsavers. They were phenomenally powerful, but this was pushing even their vast capabilities to the limit.
However, we were not done yet, not by a long shot. I called it in for eastern Canada and middle America, before the quakes could spread that far. Earth Bet was ringing like a bell, and any seismographs in the area would've been jumping off the paper.
Just when I thought he was going to keep going, perhaps obliterate LA, he spun away with a new look of determination on his face.
Where are you going now?
Two things gave me the clue. One was the location he was driving for; a point in Côte d'Ivoire, in Africa. The second was the fact that he stepped through space while only halfway there. He's going for his counterpart.
We'd never settled on a name for the mass of creepily twitching flesh that filled the underground facility. However, the fact that he was going there now meant we had to step up the schedule. I took a detour on the way there, stepping into Bet Two, and sent out the word. "Dad," I subvocalised. "We're about to start Phase Two early."
"Got it," he replied. "Locking and loading."
I came out of the portal at twenty thousand feet. Scion had already burst his way into the one-time Cauldron base. Since we'd started work on Bet Two, all of the important stuff had been moved to the Citadel, standing in the Bay where the Protectorate base was on Bet One.
At my insistence, they'd rehabilitated the Case 53s and relocated them to places where they could have lives of their own. The only ones left on site were volunteers, whose job had been to fuzz his senses. That job was now done. Cauldron base, go.
I focused on Scion, hovering over the fleshy form of his other half. He began to focus on it, drawing on powers I'd never seen him use before. Energy pumped into the mass below him, and I saw changes beginning to occur. Life was bleeding back into it. He was waking it up.
Oh, hell nope. One Scion was bad enough. Two would be a massive problem. I triggered the destruct sequence.
The first things to go off were the charges we'd buried within that obscene mass of flesh. Strictly speaking, they weren't explosives. Fluoroantimonic acid didn't need to be. Plungers in the capsules injected the acid into the flesh surrounding it; flesh that was replete with water. The resultant detonations were … impressive.
Within seconds, the interior of that great room resembled a psycho-killer's playground. Bits of Scion's counterpart were everywhere. Plus, they were melting, because the vapour from fluoroantimonic acid mixed with water formed hydrofluoric acid. Even though some of this got on Scion, all it did was damage his bodysuit. I'd known it was too much to hope that this would put a dent in him, but I'd figured it was worth a try.
As a final fuck-you, clouds of highly-explosive vapour were pumped into the room, and I set them off with a mental command. The explosion that followed blew a long streak of fire out through the hole in the roof of the chamber, followed by the rumble as the roof caved in.
There was a flicker in space, and Scion appeared no more than a hundred yards from me. He wasn't sad anymore, or determined. He was pissed.
I threw up my strongest force field, along with other defensive powers, and prepared to step away. One on one, I couldn't win a fight against Scion. Not when he was at full strength.
He caught me with a blast that shattered the force field, ignored the visual distortion that put me ten feet to the left, and punched in under my breastbone. The explosion blew me to bits.
Half a second later, the last power I'd picked grabbed all my component pieces and slammed them back together, effectively reversing the previous second of my existence. Fully aware that I couldn't take another hit like that, I stepped away.
Scion followed, of course. Drawing him on like this had been part of the plan for the longest time. Only an idiot took on a powerful foe against his strengths. Victory came from attacking an enemy on his weaknesses, by drawing him on to deadly ground and then finishing him. I stepped back to Bet One, then to Aleph, then through to Bet Two. He followed relentlessly, trying to get another shot in on me.
When I reached Bet Two, I turned and faced him. The force field was useless, so I swapped it for the most powerful blast Eidolon was capable of. I'd known how to recharge his powers since the day I first met him, so I'd made sure to do so from time to time. The tank was full, and it was time to flex my muscles.
The iridescent green beam smacked him halfway across the sky. I pursued, shooting him again and again, but he was recovering a little more quickly each time, already adapting to it. Around his hands, a deadly glow began to build up.
Precog jammers, online.
Dimension step jammers, online.
Tau field, online. Stepdown rate, one million and holding.
F-E cannon, charging.
How you doing, kiddo?
I grinned as the last notification popped up on my HUD. Just for a moment, I was able to relax as Scion was frozen like a bug in amber, retaliation put on hold. "Seriously, Dad? I'm thirty-two. I'm not a kid any more."
"You're my kid."
An image faded into view of Dad, reclining in the amazingly ergonomic command chair of the Citadel. I'd pushed for him to be in charge of the whole show because he was actually good at management, and he didn't think in terms of 'acceptable casualties'. As far as we were both concerned, there was no such thing. So he got the rank of Commodore, and the authority to make the overall decisions.
Under his command was one of my friendly adversaries; Emily Piggot, one-time Director of the Brockton Bay PRT. A little older and a little greyer, she'd had her health problems dealt with (by order of Dad) courtesy of Panacea, the same day she accepted the posting. She was now Commander Piggot; her job was to take Dad's orders and figure out how to make them work.
Although we'd been ready for Scion to make a move for some time, fighting back had been necessary. After all, spooling up jammers capable of covering a planet out to geostationary orbit took time, even with L33t/Armsmaster/Dragon tech providing the heavy lifting. Scion was caught in a box of slowed time, that he'd lacked the precog to dodge, and couldn't step away from. Of course, he could probably get out of it anyway; he was just that insanely powerful. Our plan had never been to hold him in one spot indefinitely. Just long enough.
Tau field failing.
Yup, definitely insanely powerful.
F-E cannon firing.
We'd made the discovery, years before, that there was a girl in the Wards who could energise weapons to destroy anything. With sufficient study, I'd managed to retro-engineer the 'Flechette effect', as we called it. Then, because anything worth doing was worth overdoing, we'd built it into a cannon that could attack targets all the way out to geostationary orbit. Then we'd built twenty of them, to cover the planet from all angles.
When Scion came out of the tau-field effect, he aborted the attack on me so that he could dodge the first shot, fleeing upward into space in a golden streak of light. But the precog jammer was working just fine; he didn't realise that he was in view of three more of our cannon until they all fired on him at once. I wasn't quite sure which shot scored on him, but his body popped like a soap bubble, leaving a hole in reality.
"Okay," I said out loud. "Time for Phase Three."
Kill. KILL! KIIILLLLL!
Even under control, the Seven were still dangerous to those around them, so we'd found a world bereft of humans where we could stash them. There, they could wreck the landscape to their hearts' content (for a given definition of 'heart') until we needed them.
I wasn't totally neglectful, of course. Fully aware that they needed someone or something to beat up, I'd dropped the Slaughterhouse Nine on that world after they tried to attack Brockton Bay, along with Butcher and the Teeth. From what I understood, Butcher and Crawler were still alive, though the remainder of both gangs had paid the price of irritating someone with Endbringers at their beck and call.
I'd sent out the word for the Seven to congregate in one spot a week ago; now, when Doormaker opened the portal for them, they thundered toward it in a terrifying herd. The other end of the portal opened just inside the hole in space. One by one, they launched themselves through, landing heavily on an undulating mass of flesh and crystal, miles wide and deep. With the greatest of glee and abandon, they threw themselves into the task of destruction.
From the planet below, ships rose to meet me. Several headed for the hole in space, while one parked itself alongside me. An airlock opened, and I stepped inside.
"Well, that went better than I expected," observed the stately woman who met me at the inner door.
I let my helmet retract and grinned at her. "Ever the pessimist, Rebecca?"
She rolled her eyes. "You call it pessimism. I call it intelligent caution." We looked over at the holotank, where one of the ships was firing a smaller F-E cannon into the hole. She clapped me on the shoulder. "But we seem to have pulled it off anyway. Well done, Taylor."
I checked on the Seven one more time. Scion's body was fighting back, but between the seven rampaging forces of destruction and the shots from the F-E cannon, it was a losing battle. More and more of the body was going dead. "Thanks. It only took us sixteen years."
She snorted in amusement. "Cheap at twice the price. So, what now?"
"Now?" I found a seat and relaxed into it. "Now, we finish bringing everyone else over to Bet Two so we can begin the repairs on Bet One. But right now, I'm going to go home and spend some time with my family. I think we've earned it." Closing my eyes, I leaned back. "Wake me when we get home."
End of Trump Card
[A/N: I'm fully aware that I haven't laid out the ultimate fates of all the major characters. You may assume that the Undersiders got a good deal, and Amy got the therapy she desperately needs. Any other characters who are unmentioned; if you like them, they got a good end. If you don't, they didn't.]