Alexandria was talking quietly to Miss Militia, a hand on her shoulder. The leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate had none of her trademark calm demeanor. She was shaking, shivering, tears in her eyes. Her power was changing forms so frantically that it was little more than a green blur hovering around her body. Finally it settled on the form of a small hunting knife, which she clutched in her right hand in a white-knuckled grip. Alexandria said something softly and embraced Miss Militia in a hug. After a moment they separated and by then Miss Militia seemed to have pulled herself together. They exchanged a few brief words, and Miss Militia nodded, wiped her eyes, and went to comfort her Wards. She wasn't in much better shape than the rest of Puppetmaster's victims, really - the blind leading the blind.
Which meant I would be dealing with Alexandria. One of the most decorated heroes in the world, who could crush me to a pulp in less than a second and had a Thinker rating of her own. Intimidating as hell, but there was no way I was going to let it show. I managed to paste a grin on my face and approached her with a swagger in my step.
"Alexandria, it's a pleasure to work with you. It's about time Director Calvert brought in the heavy hitters. I'm-"
"Tattletale. Yes, I know. Thinker seven, member of the Undersiders. I have a job for you, in your capacity as a cape who joined the truce against the Nine. An assessment of threat levels."
Alexandria looked to where Brutus and Angelica were using the unconscious Butcher as a chew toy, their attempts to maul him painfully ineffective in the face of his nineteen defensive powers.
"Ah, you want my expertise to know how long Butcher will stay out of it? Bonesaw's implant is keeping him down but he's got at least six unconscious powers for regeneration, plus powers with secondary perks that reject foriegn matter from his body and mess with bioelectric fields. Add in the way Bonesaw treated Butcher, like he was a spoiled child who demanded attention, and her implant's got to need constant maintenance. I've got it pegged at...two or three days, tops, before he wakes up. Plenty of time to find a way to off him permanently."
Alexandria nodded. "That concurs with my own estimate. But you misunderstand, Tattletale. I'm not asking when Butcher will wake. I'm asking whether he will pose a threat when he does."
I blinked. A mass murderer with forty eight powers was pretty much the definition of a threat.
"The original Butcher was a villain," continued Alexandria. "but the present Butcher has a mind with forty eight personalities. Approximately twenty villains and twenty eight heroes. Heroes outnumber the villains. And most of the villains were forced into the collective against their will by Puppetmaster, and will be grateful to us for setting them free from her control. There is a good chance that this Butcher will choose to be more heroic than his predecessors."
> Tone, confidence; actually fucking serious.
"You're nuts." I said. "What there's a good chance of is Butcher going fucking crazy from having forty eight voices in his head and going on a rampage. We can't contain him. He's got at least five powers for teleportation, the only reason he didn't use them against us was that Puppetmaster wanted to keep him in her control radius."
"Regardless, I'd like your professional opinion."
"I was just a wee bit preoccupied with the control freak psycho trying to kill us, I couldn't spare time to scan the hive mind psycho she was using as a tool. But in my professional opinion, we should throw him in a vat of acid and be done with it."
Alexandria looked up at the sky behind me, and I turned to see three of her teammates arrive. Two of them were women I remembered from my forays into the PRT database. Rime, ability to manipulate ice. Arbiter, minor offensive and defensive powers and a social danger sense. They were wearing gas masks, probably as a precaution against biological warfare.
The most striking one was new. A ten foot tall angel made of glass shards in a rainbow of colors, complete with wings and a halo, and carrying a six foot wide ball of melted glass in her hands. The angel landed beside Alexandria and set down the ball of glass, then lowered her teammates to the ground on floating glass platforms. She must have been the one who took the lead in attacking Puppetmaster.
> Posture, pattern of light refraction through body; angel costume is generated by power, normal human body underneath, female.
"Excellent work once again, Glassworker." said Alexandria, putting an arm around the woman in a brief half-hug.
"Thank you, Ma'am." said the woman. Her voice was strange, resonating like vibrating glass. "Are...are we going to have to kill him, too?"
> Uncharacteristic physical contact from Alexandria; Glassworker has need for affiliative contact, lacks affiliative contact from family, lacks supportive family. Voice, posture; anxious, inexperienced, feels unworthy of being thanked. Inexperienced, feels unworthy of thanks for killing a villain; first time killing a villain, first day fighting a villain, first day encountering a villain.
Alexandria brought a rookie cape across the country to fight monsters like the Nine? Her power was strong, sure, but pitting a rookie against the Nine was asking for disaster. Imp was proof enough of that.
Alexandria shook her head. "No, we won't kill him. I'll take Butcher to a secure detention facility and schedule a full psychological evaluation."
> Confident she can contain him; access to better facilities than listed in PRT records, access to facilities kept secret from the government, holding parahumans prisoner against orders of the government.
There was some of the dirt I was looking for. This was big. Time to push harder.
"You can't hold him, I've seen the specs, the only facility that will do the job is the Birdcage." I said. "He'll escape and the last thing he'll remember is chasing us down. Odds are he'll come after us. You're violating the truce here, putting our lives at risk to spare a villain who has a kill order."
"You underestimate our facilities, and our therapists." said Alexandria. "Regardless, the Butcher never received a kill order. Kill-on-sight was only authorized because he was under Puppetmaster's control. We will take him into custody." She returned my gaze levelly. "If Butcher escapes then you may rest assured that we heroes will defend you with our lives, as we do for all high-class threats."
That smug, pretentious bitch.
> Glassworker reacted to 'therapists'; currently under therapy, mandatory therapy as condition for joining team. Mandatory therapy; psychologically unstable, risk of harm to self and others.
Correction: that smug, pretentious bitch who brought an overpowered, psychologically unstable rookie to fight the Nine. If Jack or Bonesaw got their hands on her...
"If your concerns have been addressed, Tattletale," continued Alexandria, "I have another job for you. Regarding the threat from the remaining members of the Nine."
I folded my arms. I didn't like her, but I didn't have much choice. She was our best bet for getting rid of the Nine.
"Ah, so you need my expertise to know who to go after next. That's easy enough. Bonesaw and Panacea. If Bonesaw finds out that you're in town with your team, she's liable to spread a contagious disease as punishment for your interference. Panacea is our best bet for a cure."
Alexandria tapped the large ball of melted glass that Glassworker had brought with her. "Neutralizing Bonesaw is not a concern. Neutralizing her biowarfare agents is. Do you have any indication that Bonesaw has already released a plague in this city, particularly one that other members can activate after her death?"
I couldn't suppress my smile. They took out Bonesaw, too? For once we had heroes who lived up to their name.
"No, no plagues. I'm maybe...ninety percent sure on this. I used my power to check when the Nine visited us to explain the rules of their 'game'. She definitely has agents in her body she can release whenever she wants, but I don't think she set up anything that elaborate in advance."
Regent came up behind me, a lighthearted tone in his voice. "So you guys caught the enfante terrible? Awesome. Leave it to our heroes to save the day. The kid's still alive in there, you know."
Alexandria nodded. "Yes, capturing her alive was intentional. If she already released a disease, we would have the option to force her cooperation in finding a cure." Regent scoffed at that, but Alexandria ignored him. "Now that we have confirmation from a third Thinker on the lack of a biowarfare threat, we are free to dispose of the criminal. Excuse me for a moment."
Alexandria picked up the Butcher in one hand and the ball of melted glass in the other. Then she flew straight upward at high speed, shrinking to a speck and disappearing among the clouds.
Regent laughed. "What's she doing, throwing them into space?"
Rime gave him an odd look. "No. She's taking them to a secure facility for containment and disposal of A-class biological hazards. Space disposal is a last resort for A-class threats, to minimize the risk of interference by the Simurgh."
"Right, right. Good point." I said. "Glassworker, is it? That's an impressive power you have. Really saved our skins."
"Thank you." said the woman. Actually, underneath the odd vibrations, her voice sounded more like a teenage girl than an adult. A Ward? I hadn't seen her in my database searches, so she must have joined after the Shattering. Bringing a rookie Ward to fight the Nine...there was a story I was missing. Why was she here?
"I'm surprised you guys made the trip to Brockton Bay. I would have expected Legend's team to come from New York. Shorter trip, you know." I said.
"Um..." the girl started.
> Knows reason, wants to hide it.
"We...we're heroes, so we want to protect people, wherever they are." said Glassworker. "That's our responsibility for having this power. And...and..." she searched for words "...and so all of you villains, I don't understand you at all. You're helping us today but you're hurting people the rest of the time. Why can't you be heroes? You got these amazing powers and you got to have a choice to use them for good or evil, so why are you choosing to be the bad guys? I would never choose that, I'd rather die. You saw how that Puppetmaster villain ended up, do you really want to be like that-"
> Tone, 'Evil', 'Choice'; traumatic experience with powers, traumatic experience with villain, rationalization through black and white morality. 'Evil', 'I'd rather die'; traumatic experience with villain, contemplated suicide.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." I said. "There's villains and there's villains. We're not monsters like the Nine. We don't kill, we don't go after anyone unless they mess with us. We're in it for the fun and the money, a harmless game of cops and robbers. You saw us today. When push comes to shove, we pitch in for S-class threats just like the heroes do."
"Um...um...well, if you help against scary guys like the Nine, why don't you help against the small threats when it's easier? I don't understand. Maybe you're not a bad person, or you don't think you're a bad person, but you shouldn't use powers to hurt people, not even if they hurt you first. That would...um, that doesn't end well. If you're worried about fun and money then, um, I bet there are lots of legal ways you could use your power to have fun and make money."
Glassworker's face reshaped into an approximation of a smile. "You know what, you should go to the PRT and talk to Director Calvert." she continued. "I met him today. He's very smart and he cares a lot for his team. Maybe you did some things in the past that were, um, pretty bad, but...I'm sure if you had a change of heart, if you talked it out with him, he would give you a second chance."
Good god. It took a superhuman effort of will to hold back my laughter. Such a naive, idealistic misconception of how the system worked. I mentally sorted through a dozen ways to tear apart her youthful enthusiasm for maximum effect - cutting quips, harsh lectures, Socratic inquisitions.
As I readied my verbal demolition, though, I realized that switching sides to become a hero...might not be half bad. I considered the idea, getting a yelp from Regent as I stomped his foot to forestall his inevitable smart-alec commentary.
It was actually a valid option for us to walk into the PRT Director's office and ask him to make us heroes. Calvert was already our boss in his secret identity as Coil, so it was just a matter of whether we were more useful to him as heroes or villains. And now, after the turmoil of the Shattering forced him to rearrange his plans, he might actually be open to the idea.
I knew the broad outlines of Coil's plan to seize control of the local parahumans. He would take over the PRT directorship to control the heroes, while using his contacts in the underworld to destroy the villains. The Shattering advanced his plans months ahead of schedule, giving him the PRT directorship on a silver platter.
According to his original schedule our next job was to take a dive. We would pretend to be defeated by the PRT and flee the city. This would boost his reputation as a PRT director and would let him relocate us to other cities to spread his influence throughout the state.
But now that I pondered it...it would be an even bigger boost to his reputation as a PRT director if he managed a miracle by 'converting' our team of minor villains into major heroes, courageously protecting the city in the face of the twin crises of the Shattering and the Nine. And frankly, while most of us liked the villain lifestyle, we weren't so attached to it that we would be eager to relocate to another city. Grue and Imp wanted a stable family life, Bitch wanted to be left alone with her dogs, Regent wanted an easy life of leisure. And I would much rather serve as Mission Control in the PRT headquarters than risk my life as a villain in an unfamiliar city...
"Glassworker, you don't have to engage with them." said Arbiter. "And please remember that you don't have the authority to make promises on behalf of the PRT."
"R, right. Yes, Ma'am."
Arbiter turned to Regent. "You're the one with a bodyjacking power like Puppetmaster's. Regent, Master seven."
"That's me. Don't worry, I don't do performances like her. My Renassance Faire outfit is just a coincidence."
Arbiter sniffed. "I suggest you consider a career change. People in this city won't forget that monster's atrocities. They'll be wary of your power. When they catch you they won't treat you lightly."
Regent took on a thoughtful pose, tapping his scepter against his chin. "Hmm, you're right. A change of location would do me a world of good. I hear LA is nice and sunny this time of year."
"Tsk, tsk, Regent. No baiting the heroes." I said.
Arbiter turned to Rime. "It's nearly sunset. I think we're done here."
Rime nodded. "Right. I see Alexandria coming now."
> Non sequitur from Arbiter, 'It's nearly sunset'; coded signal, a code for reporting her danger sense. Doesn't want us to know her report; sensed danger from us. Danger sense works through social ties, Arbiter directed conversation to get Regent talking; she's using Regent's responses to sense danger from me. Considers me a threat; vulnerability is a secret they want to hide. Considers me a threat, cut off conversation with Glassworker; afraid Glassworker would give away secrets, secrets a rookie has clearance to know, secrets about the rookie's personal information, secrets about-
Alexandria returned, a dark blur diving from the sky to land next to her team. "Two down, six to go. I estimate we have less than twenty minutes before the Nine notice their missing members and group together for protection. That gives us time to catch one more target alone and unaware. We'll use the same maneuver as before, split into two teams in the air. Rime, Arbiter, Glassworker, you're together scouting the East side of the city. Glassworker, gather as much ammunition as you can carry from the scrapheap and fly with your teammates in defensive formation. I'm scouting the West side. If you find one of the Nine, do not engage until the other team arrives as backup."
Alexandria paused and regarded Puppetmaster's victims. The Empire capes had already left, Stormtiger and Alabaster picking up whatever personal effects they could find on Cricket's corpse and slinking back into the city. Miss Milita and the other government heroes stood clustered together, trying to present a brave face to their superior.
"Miss Milita, you and your people have suffered a great deal in your twelve hours of captivity. I won't ask any of you to accompany us on this mission, not until you have time to recover."
"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you." said Miss Militia. It looked like Triumph was going to raise an objection, but Miss Militia stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Good. Sending you back to headquarters on foot would be asking for trouble. There's an abandoned boat near the entrance to the scrapheap. Get on board and I'll fly you to headquarters before I start my search."
Alexandria turned to me. "Tattletale, will you join me? Given that the Nine have selected one of your members for testing, I'm sure you can appreciate the opportunity to gather information on their movements. If we find one of the Nine, I'll drop you off a safe distance away before I join the fight."
I folded my arms. "My priority is my team, not beating the Nine. I'm not going anywhere without them."
"I can arrange for your team to be accommodated at the Protectorate headquarters during the operation, safer than anywhere else in the city."
I called out to the team. "Hey, Undersiders. Are you guys okay with this? Staying at Hotel Protectorate while I get chauffeured through the sky to find the Nine?"
"Taking it easy for a while? I don't see anyone objecting." said Regent.
He was right. They were a shadow of their normal selves. Grue and Imp were sitting next to each other, silently sharing each others company. Bitch was with her two remaining dogs, a lost look in her eyes. Regent, the target of the Nine's attentions, was the only one who looked halfway normal.
"Looks like we have a deal." I said.
"Good. Undersiders, join the heroes in the boat near the scrapyard entrance. I'll fly you to headquarters momentarily." Alexandria turned to her team. "Lets go."
"Yes, Ma'am." said Rime.
The glass shards of the scrapheap came to life, condensing into hundreds of spears, then stacking the spears on top of each other to add more and more mass to the 'wings' of her costume. A smaller set of glass swirled at our feet and formed into two floating platforms for Rime and Arbiter.
"You know the way?" said Rime.
"Yes, Ma'am. I'll start us off on the coastline going from the market to south ferry station, okay?" said Glassworker.
Rime nodded, and the three prepared for take off.
> Glassworker's tone; familiar with local landmarks. Familiar with local landmarks, feels need to protect the city; was resident of Brockton Bay. Accent, age; spent most of life in city, raised in the city. Rookie cape, recruited in last two weeks; triggered since Shattering. Power over glass, mental trauma, loss of family; triggered during Shattering.
My eyes widened. I let go of my filters, let my power go full blast.
> Triggered during Shattering. Wants to protect city but recruited to LA team; has reasons to stay away from the city. Mental trauma from a villainous use of parahuman powers, absence of reported villain attacks before Shattering; mental trauma is from her own trigger event, from villainous use of her own powers during Shattering. Long range manipulation of glass matches Shattering. Power disrupted by Cricket; 'Cricket' suggests chirping, sound vibrations, vibrations like resonance of Glassworker's voice; power is transmitted by sound, matches Coil's report of ultrasonic signal detected by PRT monitors just prior to the Shattering. Non-standard finish on Arbiter's PRT issue smartphone indicates protection against ultrasonic signals; Glassworker's power affects silicon in electronics, matches Shattering. Glassworker caused the Shattering.
Holy fuck. The stuttering schoolgirl 'hero' less than twenty feet away from me was a mass murderer who rivaled the Nine. My bad hand twitched, a phantom pain from the fingers that weren't there. The fingers this girl had taken from me.
> Glassworker caused the Shattering. Accidental use of power during trigger event, loss of family, mental trauma, suicidal impulses, obligation to protect-
A movement at my side. Alexandria was studying me, a neutral expression on her face.
> Alexandria. Mid-level Thinker, reaction speed during conversation; reads micro-expressions. Knows I found out Glassworker's involvement in the Shattering; knows the truth about the Shattering, PRT account is a cover story. Cover story corroborated by Eidolon and imagery from Dragon's satellites; conspiracy by Triumvirate and Dragon to cover up the truth about the Shattering, conspiracy to recruit Glassworker as a hero. Alexandria covering up the truth about mass murder; is willing to take extreme measures to maintain cover up, has access to a secret parahuman containment facility, is about to take me on a solo flight away from my team; I'm fucked.
I took a deep breath.
I forced myself to grin.
"Hey, Glassworker," I called out.
The girl turned to face me, hovering in mid air.
"You know, I may call myself a villain, but it's inspiring to see heroes like you come all the way across the country to clean up our fair city. Our teams worked so well together, too. Maybe it's a sign that we're meant to be fighting on the same side.
"I'm thinking that I'll take your advice and ask Director Calvert if the PRT is willing to make a deal with a villain who has a change of heart. Who wants to make up for her dastardly deeds and start a new life as a hero. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?"
With a scraping of glass-on-glass, the girl's face rearranged itself into a broad smile.