Daria looked over her city. Three gangs ruled her city. Two of them made up of racist bigots, the third managing to make the racist bigots look like fine upstanding citizens. A fourth group was trying to muscle in downtown. Coil employed skilled and well armed mercs, exclusively non-capes. They didn't sell drugs in any appreciable quantity and their protection fees were a token amount. Probably a rich kid using Daddy's money to play supervillain.
It was another day in the shithole known as Brockton Bay. A shithole that Daria had carefully chosen. Too shitty for anyone of authority to care about her and not shitty enough to call in the big guns. Of course with the way the world had been slipping it might be time to look for someplace less shitty. And away from the ocean, nuclear power plants, or people in general.
The world had been sinking into oblivion two years ago. Now it was in free fall. Maybe a bunker in the middle of nowhere wouldn't be so bad?
Of course that would mean leaving behind one of the top nightclubs in the city. The Palanquin was an ideal avenue for her to launder her shadier payments while also providing a home base and a certain status. Running a popular nightclub was much easier when she didn't have to worry about profit. An average of a job every month provided enough currency to keep the club afloat and her and the crew in the lifestyle they were accustomed too.
Leaving all that behind... 'This is my stop, Got to get off, I might-' Her phone interrupted her musings.
"Ma'am, there's another one of those here to see you." Rodriguez. Bouncer and watchdog for the Palanquin. Also responsible for the discreet sale of recreational materials inside of the club.
Daria's expectations dropped from none to negative. "Seat him. I'll be down shortly."
She stretched. Foregoing the rest of her costume Daria remained in her white blouse and pants, slipping on a pair of welding goggles as a concession to the unwritten rules. Faultline walked down the hall banging on the wall. "Newter, Gregor, possible recruitment. Get your asses up."
That the Palanquin was connected to Faultline was an open secret. A lot of new capes came to her because she was comparatively easy to find. On the one hand it made for easy recruitment, on the other hand most were rubbish and a waste of her time.
Introducing himself outside of costume indicated newly triggered. Unless his power was extremely useful there would be little point in taking the effort to train him. Or her, as Faultline looked at the girl who had bullied her way into the night club. Slouched figure, ratty clothes, oversized hoodie, oversized glasses, gawky physique. She sat up straight when she spotted Faultline.
Faultline took a seat across from the girl, "You know who I am?"
"I asked for you by name," she snarked.
Teenagers, Faultline suppressed a scowl, unless she's the second coming of Scion... "Then you should know that I dislike people who waste my time, Miss?"
"Hebert, Taylor Hebert. And you're going to hire me."
"You're a little young to be serving drinks."
"You're going to hire me for your other business."
"And why would I do that, Ms. Hebert?"
"Give me two minutes," Hebert grinned, "If you aren't happy with what I can do then, then throw me out the door."
Faultline simply nodded. There were simpler ways of getting close to Faultline than coming into enemy territory sans costume. Besides, Gregor was keeping watch from a room over with a large caliber rifle and Newter was monitoring from a video feed in the kitchen. Anything untoward and Hebert would soon be missing the top of her skull.
Taylor Hebert closed her eyes. Faultline wasn't impressed. An ability that took minutes to charge up and required intense concentration... no. Faultline would let her down gently and with only a mild threat to keep her trap shut.
She drummed her fingertips on the table, waiting for Hebert to finish so she could kick her out and continue with the day.
Hebert opened her eyes and smiled. "There, done. For the next half hour your cutting ability extends as a three foot plane from your fingertips. It's a rush job so you can't adjust the distance yourself. It'd take me a couple hours of tinkering to get it just right."
Faultline raised an eyebrow. That was new. Fantastical even. If she was telling the truth... temporary modification of powers could be a gold mine. "Rodriguez," she called and a man in a black t-shirt and jeans rushed out of the back. "Bring us refreshments and a chopping block."
"Yes, ma'am." A few minutes later he came back with a pitcher of water, two glasses, and a chopping block on a tray.
"Thank you, hold this out to the side and take three steps back. Now slowly come forward." Faultline pointed a hand at the board. When the board reached three feet from the hand it split into two. Half landing on the ground with a loud thud. "Thank you, Rodriguez. That will be all. An impressive ability, Ms. Hebert. Water?"
Faultline took two glasses off the tray, filled them from the pitcher, handed one to Taylor and drank first. "So why come to me?"
"I'm not a Nazi, or Asian, and I need money not drugs. I sent an e-mail to New Wave and they sent me a reply about how they were above petty monetary concerns. There isn't anybody else to go to."
Not true, but why enlighten her? "What about the PRT?"
"I can't go to them," she took a sip, "Look, I figure that we shop around out of town for somebody who has a lot of cash and isn't too much of a headcase. We modify their powers for a lot of money. I pay off some medical bills and you keep most of the money."
"I don't think someone would pay that much money for thirty minutes with a different power," Faultline said.
"No, no, I can change them permanently. I just put a time limit on yours because it's a demonstration."
Faultline's mouth silently opened and shut a few times. Reevaluating priories, the nature of the universe, and whether that new wine vendor might be screwing her over. Of course the vendor was screwing her over, she made a mental note to drop him. "I'd have some favors that I'd need done."
"You know what?" Taylor started gesticulating, loosely waving her hand in a circle, "I'm fine with that. As long, as long as I get to say no to some of the things I'll do stuff."
"Does anyone know about your abilities?"
"No, 'cuz I've been smart, see. I don't have to touch or talk or anything to people. I can just, just think about it. And poof, new powers."
"What about New Wave?"
"Those bastards. 'Money is petty, now I'm just going to sit in my mansion drinking my champagne out of a shoe.' Bastards-"
Faultline cut her off, "Did you tell New Wave about your powers?"
"Nah. Just said that I had useful powers but couldn't use them in combat. Asked about pay 'cause I need money and then they started talking about how petty-"
"Why do you need money?"
"Merchants. Dad was visiting me at the hospital when they... so it's my fault isn't it. Stupid union can't keep stupid insurance so stupid hospital is taking all our money."
Faultline winced. Tension between the Azn Bad Boys and the Merchants had flared into a small gang war. A Merchant dealer had trespassed into ABB territory. The ABB had beaten and robbed him and the Merchants responded with a drive-by shooting. The ABB escalated to capes when Oni Lee had detonated a dozen clones in a Merchant gathering. The Merchants had then raided the hospital where the victims were being treated. While no one was quite sure why they would do something so moronic, the best theory was that the Merchants were trying to recover their own capes before they risked identification.
"Does anyone know that you came here?"
"Who's I gonna tell? Not like I'd tell those bitches." Taylor half rose from her seat and started pounding the table with her index finger. "Let me, let me tell you about those bit-"
"How did you find me?"
"Well," she slumped back, "I looked you up on the internet and it said that you cut things so I just looked around for people who cut things and then I found a person who cut things here and I asked the doorman to let me talk with you and he said he never heard of you but he's a really bad liar so I told him that he was a really bad liar and then he called for you and you came down and that's how I knew where you were. Am I talking too much because if I'm talking too much I can totally stop it. Stop talking too much I mean, because I totally-"
"Why not the Protectorate? They would love to have someone with your abilities."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can't. So I was at school and this one girl was all mean and I looked at her and I saw a spirit and I asked the spirit what it was doing and the spirit was all, 'Roar. Death. Doom. Destruction.' and I was all, 'No, that's wrong. Do it like that one purple unicorn and be all "Friendship is awesome,"' and it was all like, 'Doooooom,' and then I whacked it on the nose and told it happy thoughts. And then Armsomething, Armsie was all like 'Did you assault a Ward? Because that's very, very bad.' and I was all, 'No, I'd never do that.' but it turns out that I did because do you know what? Do you? Sophia is a Ward. So I can't go to the Protec-, the Protec-, them because they might think I was bad. You don't think I'm bad do you? Cause I'm not baaa-" Hebert's head drooped down, her forehead resting on the table, drool leaking out of the corner of her mouth.
Faultline looked across at the teen. She changed the personality of a Ward? Possible Master? Faultline didn't feel any different, but then the victims never did. "Gregor, get her up to the spare room. Newter, wash that glass." She pulled out her phone, "Sierra? I want you to stay the night at a hotel.. No, don't tell me which one... Yes, keep Lima with you... Possible Master... No, new recruit. I think she's harmless but then... Yeah, you'll give the second opinion. See you then. Bye."
She looked at the cutting board, down at her hand, raised her hand and cut the board a second time. She leaned back and started to weigh the risks and rewards of working with one Taylor Hebert.