6.4

I'm sitting at a table.

I'm sitting at a table with a mess of pages all over it.

I'm sitting at a table with a mess of pages, doing my best to not strangle the man sitting across from me.

This has been the sum of my life for the last ninety-seven minutes.

"Alright… so…" Dollerant drawled as she looked at the page in front of her. "A new costume design… we've tackled item number one on the list… at this pace we should be done by the time my grand-children have picked up my life insurance policy. Lovely."

The two of us grunted.

The 'compromise' we'd finally settled on was the love-child of a prom dress and a suit of armor.

It had a skirt, a long skirt. Slits were cut from the bottom all the way to the top in the front and sides for freedom of movement in the legs. I could run. Especially since I was assured I had pants under the damn skirt. The fabric of it was thick and was designed with 'excess' fabric so that when I held still for a photo-shoot one would never really see the cuts in the skirt.

From the waist up, the armor was designed, again, like a compromise. It could pass as a gown… urgh. The tinker-tech fabric I insisted on would be blade resistant and bullet proof, even without my covering it in ash.

My left arm would have some semblance of armor though. It was overlapping folds of metal trailing up from my wrist to my bicep, like scales, topped off by a shoulder pauldron. My hand wouldn't be armored though. Too much temptation to make the fingers into claws.

My 'helmet' was open, in as much as I would let him get away with. The visor was damn near T shaped. My nose, eyes, and mouth would be exposed. Nothing else. Not my cheeks, not my jaw, or neck. Nothing. He insisted I at least conform to a design of softer curves as opposed to rigid angles.

"Ok." Glenn cleared his throat. Glaring at me like I was some entirely new nemesis he was growing to detest.

Good. The feeling was mutual.

"Now. Your combat. I'm going to insist like I did before. You're gonna have to pull back from close range. Just use your ash control for mid to long range support."

"I'm a heavy hitter." I answered flatly. "A frontline cape."

"Yes. Believe me, we've all noticed." He said without looking at me, flipping through pages. "Nearly a dozen men put in the hospital on your first patrol. A woman's arm sawn off. Armsmaster quite literally curb-stomped into the pavement-"

"Alright Mr. Chambers." Dollerant interrupted, her tone sharper than usual. "You've made your point."

"No, because my point is that a lot of her most infamous stunts come from that combat style of 'front line cape'. If you don't want to have people looking at a mini-Surtr every time they look at her then she needs to hold back on both aspects. Her aesthetic, along with her skills. Right now the story of Surtr being an entirely different cape is holding, and its very tenuous. If you want to divorce yourself from that at all then this is the only way to do it."

I shrugged. "The story won't hold forever. Hell, it's not really holding now."

"If I let you cop up to killing a hundred some odd PRT troopers, prisoners, and cops, putting a Hero Commander in a coma, and causing millions of dollars in collateral damage, I'll be out of a goddamn job and you'll be in a district asylum at best. And that's if the judge is feeling nice and doesn't decide to go the Canary route with you."

"So what? You're gonna hamstring me against people like Lung and Kaiser-"

"You're a damn Ward. You won't be fighting Lung and Kaiser! That job is left to the Protectorate heroes!"

The look I must have given this man…

"Have you even looked at the goddamn Bay!? Are you out of your mind or just stup-"

"Alright! Enough!" Dollerant shouted. "Both of you calm down or I'll have you sit in corners till you're ready to resume yelling to each other rather than at each other."

He took a breath, fingers clenching the bridge of his nose. I did the same, but leaned back and looked at the ceiling.

"Let's make a deal." He finally said. "With every fight you get into, if you get into fights, you just use your ash control. Creatively to try and maximise its effectiveness against whoever you're fighting. And IF, and only IF it doesn't work, and IF you exhaust all of your options with your ash, then you can go with something else. Punch em or burn em or whatever you're most comfortable with. But that's only for a last resort. Only."

Not like I was gonna not use my powers just because the PR guy asked me. But if this got me out of this room faster…

I nodded.

He took a breath and made some notes. "Right, lets pretend I buy that. Ok. Next issue then-"

I'm not sure how long it was. But at least a few hours, and several coffee breaks later we were still at it.

"I wonder if high blood pressure is contagious." I heard Dollerant muse, fingers to her pulse point. She stood up from her chair "Well. There are some other things I need to attend right now. You two can handle the rest of this yourselves, I trust." She began to walk off towards the door.

"Don't eat all my candy." I heard her say just before the door closed behind her.

I looked at Glenn. He looked back.

For once we seemed to come to a mutual decision.

"Pick this up some other time?" He asked

I nodded and stood.

He started gathering up his things and I marched out the door, leaving him in the office.

The second I made it out of the Director's office I made my way to the elevator. It was late. I'd been in there since twelve PM. It was now nearing six.

A part of me wanted to say to hell with it and just go to my rooms, but the other part of me recognized that going to bed hungry would do nothing for my irritated mood, or my health for that matter.

It was almost strange to not have Sills two steps ahead of me as I made it through the hallways. If you walk everywhere with someone for the better part of six weeks, then the sudden absence would be startlingly jarring, just as it was annoying when it first began.

I made it to the cafeteria and ordered some chicken pasta.

Soon enough, I sat down to eat. Mindlessly chugging down the food at an absurdly fast pace like I usually did.

So it was a little surprising that halfway through my meal, someone walked up to me.

"Mind if I join you?"

I looked up to find Chris standing there, a hesitant smile on his face.

It took me longer than would be considered polite before I answered. "Sure."

We'd talked… somewhat, since my capture. Though always with more people around, and he always avoided some of the more awkward topics. Stepping on eggshells I imagine.

"You up for patrol tonight?" He asked.

I shook my head. "Nah. Tomorrow morning." I answered.

"Its freaky." He said as he opened the styrofoam box, revealing some rice and steamed chicken. "We haven't even seen any petty thieves out."

I nodded. It was rumored that the Endbringer's were attracted to conflict. With the Outcry incident and the Prison break earlier, people were really doing their level best to try and make sure they wouldn't come here.

I could almost liken it to a 'valued sacrifice' made to the gods. Only this time the 'valued sacrifice' people were offering was bad behavior, and the Gods were living, breathing natural disasters.

Fuck if that wasn't a depressing thought.

"Where do you think they'll hit?" I asked for lack of anything better to say.

He shrugged.

Just like that, the conversation was over and we fell back into silence.

Minutes later, as I was taking the last few bites of my meal, Chris spoke up.

"Hey… listen."

I looked up, Chris was doing a remarkable job of examining the table.

"I heard you're getting more leeway on your patrols."

I nodded. "If you mean I don't have someone two steps behind me every minute of the patrol anymore, then yeah."

"Ahh… Well. Your helmet-" He paused. "The helmet Armsmaster gave you."

I blinked, thoroughly surprised. I'd… I'd all but forgotten about that with everything that had happened.

"I worked on it." He said hastily, speaking fast enough that I couldn't get a word in edgewise. "-adding some things, making some upgrades. It was done a while ago but I wasn't sure if you'd want it back after everything so I didn't say anything, but with you getting more leeway on patrol I figured you'd need the extra bits to be more effective and-"

"Chris." I finally managed to cut in. "Breathe."

He smiled, nervously. "So you want it?"

I opened my mouth and answered.

"I… I don't know."

I didn't. Yeah, it was a high tech piece of gear, one that would make my life infinitely easier with its various functions and Chris had apparently put in some effort into upgrading it… upgrading a piece of Armsmaster's tinker tech. But… it was Armsmaster's tinker tech.

He looked disappointed. Hurt.

"Give me a little bit to think about it ok?" I asked, not wanting this to end up being a complete disaster. "Either way… I do appreciate it Chris. Really, I mean it." I added, hoping it'd be enough to appease him.

Maybe it was, since he smiled a little again.

(X)

When I eventually made it back to my rooms I fell into my bed, sighing as I looked at the ceiling. I looked to the books resting on my desk a little ways to my left, knowing I should work on some of my school-work but just not feeling like doing anything right now. Even turning on the TV didn't seem all that appealing.

I didn't much care for any of it.

Maybe I was just tired. This whole thing with Glenn and the PR and Chris now with Armsmaster…

I just wish there was a way to just get this over with. All of it. Skip to the end of the proverbial book to find out how all the bullshit worked out one way or the other.

At this point… I just wanted to get to tomorrow.

I looked to the books, then back to the ceiling before I stood up, marched to my bathroom, and took a shower.

When I walked out, I set the air conditioning to be a little colder before I fell on my bed to fall asleep…

I wanted to go somewhere else, be somewhere else.

But that wasn't happening. Not for a while.

For now… just get to tomorrow.

I began to sleep.

(X)

That night...

When Katherine Dollerant entered the conference room it was to Dauntless, Velocity, Militia, Battery, and Aegis already sitting there.

"Triumph is on patrol but I'm sure you can bring him up to speed later along with the other Wards." She said as she took her seat, receiving nods all around. Sills marched in behind her, standing at the wall in parade rest.

"As you know, the subject of who exactly the next Hero Commander of the Bay has so far been unofficially filled in by Miss Militia in the interims where Legend has been absent. Well, I received word that the higher ups upstairs finally cleared all of their paperwork for our next Hero Commander. We'll be transferring in Mouse Protector to fill in that role."

There was no word of protest, no movement in the room. Though their eyes traveled over towards Miss Militia, a move that betrayed their surprise and concern.

The star spangled cape offered no reaction of her own. If anyone were to judge by looking at her, one might as well have mentioned that Legend ate cereal this morning.

"Why?" It was Dauntless that spoke. "Don't get me wrong, 'Yay, more manpower for us' and all that, but Militia has been doing a great job with everything since Armsmaster got taken ou-"

"Dauntless." The woman in question interrupted. "Its fine." She looked to Dollerant, staring the woman straight in the eye and offered a single nod that seemed to carry more weight than mere approval. "When can we expect her?"

"Two more days." The older woman answered. "She'll arrive with the help of a teleporter on Sunday after she's wrapped up all her affairs."

"I don't know." This time, it was Aegis that spoke, surprising everyone at the table. "Personally, I'd just go with Miss Militia. Like Dauntless said, she's done great so far. But if not her, why not Battery? Or Velocity? Someone who knows the Bay and all it contains. No offense intended to Mouse Protector, I'm sure she's great, but this just feels like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole."

"Like me." Dollerant smiled.

Carlos blushed and looked away but didn't exactly deny it.

"You're not used to the way I run things." She said, taking a breath. "Your whole tenure here as a Ward has been under Piggot and Armsmaster, and they run a very different ship. You're still trying to peg me and you're not entirely sure you like the new status quo. Add a whole new factor in Mouse Protector and you're more reserved than most of the others who have served under different commanders before." She surmised before leaning back in the chair.

"I could tell you that she won't be so bad, or tell you that things won't change much. But the fact is there will be a great many changes in the coming months around here. I have every confidence you'll like most of them in the long run but you're just going to have to learn to roll with the punches Aegis, even with those changes you don't like or aren't sure of. I have no intention of going anywhere and depriving you all of my wonderful modern music choices from the fifties and sixties, and just to be clear here, this isn't me dragging in someone from outside the bay on a whim. Battery would have been my personal first choice but she doesn't want the job. And both Dauntless and Triumph are too young and inexperienced. Mouse Protector has just as much experience as both Miss Militia and Armsmaster. She was a Ward under Alexandria just like they were."

"Gee what the hell am I, a flower pot?" Velocity mumbled under his breath.

Dollerant turned to him, still smiling with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you want Armsmaster's old job?"

"... Good point."

Carlos looked to Battery, wondering why the woman would say no… but… decided to shrug and let it go. Not like he could change anything. She was still mourning over Assault's death. He shouldn't be so selfish as to want her to take on this much responsibility so soon just because he was having trouble adjusting.

Dollerant looked around the assembled Parahumans before standing up. "Now, if there's nothing else, it's late, time to go home."

Just like that, the meeting was over, and the five people nodded, standing in turn, and pushing their chairs back in under the table before filing out of the conference room.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Sills spoke up.

"Frankly, I'm in agreement with the others. Why didn't you keep Militia as the head of the branch here? She has proven herself more than capable so far."

"Oh I have no doubt that she's capable and is more suited to the responsibility than anyone, even Mouse Protector. But the fact still remains, that while she protested Piggot and Armsmaster's decision, she still went along with it and kept their secret."

"She regrets that decision." Sills pointed out.

"As well she should-" The director nodded with a bob of her head. "-that makes her a thinking human being with a conscience, unfit for Slaughterhouse Nine membership. But I can't reward the kind of inaction that was a partial cause of so many deaths with a promotion. I like my beauty sleep too much. Not to mention Miss Hebert. The girl wouldn't take too kindly with someone who betrayed her being her Hero Commander. We're walking on eggshells covering tacks, Sergeant."

"Hmmm. I understand." The man's shoulders moved in a shrug. "At any rate, she didn't seem to begrudge your decision. And you not selecting Battery?"

"Battery is pregnant, and honestly, the only reason I'm telling you is because she'll be putting in a transfer application that I need you to make sure isn't looked at too closely since she has no intention of actually moving from the bay. Just making it look like she did. She'll be back when she's ready. As for Miss Militia, she has a good enough head on her shoulders to know why I made it." Dollerant answered. "In a few years, I'll recommend her for the posting myself if I'm still alive. But for now she has to live with her mistakes and all that entails. Not just her sense of guilt."

She patted him on the shoulder before proceeding to march out the door. "Good night Sergeant."

"Goodnight ma'am."