Part 1

Research and Development

Seed 1-1

My watch rang, and I sighed. An hour was barely enough time to do anything useful during lunch.

I logged off of the website, and set my watch alarm for an hour. I stretched my legs to rub some feeling back into them. I had been sitting in that chair for too long.

I pushed play on the speaker, and the audio book started up on again where I had left off. Having more free time to read made up a little for the lack of social interaction now that I wasn't going to Winslow. The postings on PHO did help to meet my some of biological social needs. Research showed that healthy social interactions could help decrease my depressive feelings in addition to my self-medication.

I yawned as I walked to the kitchen and pulled out the bread. I could make and eat a sandwich in an average time of 5minute and 23 seconds. Looking in the fridge made me realize that I had forgotten to buy more mayonnaise. I made a note for myself on the fridge-writing pad to buy it, as I poured the last of the coffee in a mug.

The SX-1 tightened a bit around my waist as I chugged down the coffee. Too much caffeine was bad for a growing body, but I needed a stimulant since I had been staying up alot lately. I checked my watch again as I cleaned up my mess. I had 55 minutes to look over my preparations for the SX-2 and finish creating the venom they would develop.

Then I had to get back and upload the rest of today's school assignments. After today I will have finished all the reports and projects that will be due for the rest of the year. Then my schedule allowed a three-hour power nap before I made dinner for Dad and me. I would go to the basement after he was asleep and start growing the SX-2 until I found a form that met my needs.

Next year could not come fast enough when I could finally test out of school and focus on my real work. I knew I shouldn't be complaining. School was a breeze now that I didn't have to worry about Emma and the others stealing all my assignments. Just being able to focus on my lessons and reading had caused my grades to soar without the side benefits of being a Tinker.

Biology and Science were so easy now that having to do the assignments seemed like pointless busywork. I had already checked out and read most of the biology and animal science books in the library anyway. I could teach the class better than the teachers had at Winslow.

Now that I think about it that was a good idea for earning some extra money. I pulled out my ideas notebook, volume 2 and wrote Tutor by the hour next to moneymaking ideas. I needed some extra money for future projects, but I felt guilty asking dad for more after he gave me so much already with a large allowance.

After the settlement money from the lawsuits had come in, I thought we would have enough to meet all my needs for equipment and materials. But that had very quickly been proven false as I used all of my allowance, including an advance, just buying the basic materials for making the most basic seed.

I sighed again as I finished cleaning up and started to disinfect my hands, thinking of all the lab equipment I wanted. I hadn't realized how expensive and hard to get basic lab equipment was. Everything that was sold was carefully tracked because others could use the equipment to cook drugs and worse.

I had an idea of taking on a job at the hospital that would let me watch patients and doctors do their work. But I would have to convince dad first. He wouldn't like the idea of me working late at night. But that was when the hospital needed people to watch patients in their rooms, and paid the most. He might be more open to the idea when I showed him that I had finished all the years school work already, and reminded him of my stated plan to be a neurologist.

Glancing at my watch, I unlocked the door to the basement and turned on the light. I remembered to step over the broken step as I put on my gloves. I had cleaned up the basement a bit, but it was still filled with old boxes of mom's stuff that dad couldn't bring himself to get rid of. We really should buy a storage space, but dad didn't want to waste money when the basement was big enough for our needs.

I moved a few boxes, and crawled under through a little tunnel to the hidden alcove where I stored my first generation lab equipment. It wasn't much, just the terrarium, my chemistry kit, the glass box made from an old aquarium, and my custom made computer. I still kept it around mostly for convenience sake so I could tinker a bit without having to go to the lab.

I picked up the pheromone bottle that attracted the SX-1 and sprayed the terrarium. It immediately began uncurling from around my waist and went down my arm to rest under the sun lamp while slowly coming out of my sleeve.

I couldn't help but feel a bit of pride looking at it, despite it looking rather ugly. I had spent a whole day growing it from the second seed I had ever made. I had never grown a Lusus before, and my impatience was the cause for how weird it looked.

It was a darkish green color, about 3 and half feet long, and looked like an unusual snake. Though the differences became rather more obvious after a second look. Its eyes were way too small for one thing. It looked blind at first glance, but it did have tiny eyes that were both on the left side of its face. The body proportions were a little off compared to other snakes. The most obvious difference was the rattle, which was a bit too over sized compared to a regular rattlesnake.

It rarely used the rattle when threatened, even when I sprayed the attack pheromone. I wasn't sure yet why it never rattled it as a warning like I intended. I didn't yet know if most of its instinct came from the base form of a garden snake, or the rattlesnake DNA I added to the seed it was grown from.

I wouldn't find out until I examined its brain after it died and compared it to the brain of a normal garden and rattle snake. That might be a few weeks off based on how healthy it was at the moment. It had lasted much longer than I had predicted based off the crappy quality of the materials and the seed I used to make it.

The poor quality did have an effect on its behavior though. It still bumped into things, and would lunge suddenly at the air for no reason. The first time it did that had caused me to flail and fall on my butt. While I knew it was friendly, I had removed its fangs and venom sacks almost immediately after that little episode.

While the pheromones kept it docile, I didn't want to dad to freak out if he found it.

Trying to explain that I had another new hobby besides the vegetable and flower garden in the backyard would be unusual. It involving taking care of weird snakes would be a big red flag besides it having huge fangs.

I walked over to the cage nearby and pulled out a mouse to feed it. The SX-1 was enough of a plant that it got part of its energy needs from my upgraded UV lamp, but it still needed to eat regular mice to supplement its diet. The mice were self-replicating, and the clones would breed fast once I activated that sequence in them. I could save money by not having to buy more mice to feed the future SX models I would grow.

I really needed to grow a Lusus to a sufficient size before I could use it as a base form for even larger creations. I couldn't just bulk buy monkeys, farm animals, and bears from the pet store after all. Besides while my power seems to have given me a strong stomach against blood and guts, I don't think I could bring myself to kill a monkey or dog. That was a bit hypocritical since I was killing snakes, but no one kept snakes for cuddly pets.

My plan was to grow young or adolescent versions of base forms and manipulate them to grow quickly. If I made it a certain size while having it mature, I was positive I could cause it to grow to a much more useful size. But that could take weeks of trimming seed forms, and I didn't have the time yet in my schedule until all my schoolwork was finally finished.

I had to be very concise in my schedule to do all of the schoolwork ahead of time, eat, and tinker while moving things around to sleep and work when dad was not at work or asleep himself. For once I was glad that he was so busy that he had to work late all the time. Things had been so busy and hard for him ever since the economy had started tanking.

Brockton Bay had benefited greatly when Boston had been sealed after the Simurgh attacked it when I was little. But things were still pretty bad despite the extra benefits from the ships at the dock coming in. There were talks of a strike if the governor made good on his threat to pass something to stop the Unions bargaining power.

Dad usually ate dinner and talked with me when he got home, spent an hour relaxing or watching TV, than went straight to sleep. The lawsuit money had improved our finances dramatically but he still pushed himself to work hard to try and help the dockworkers, as work got harder to find. Though at least part of it was probably also to keep out of the house that had so many memories of mom.

I walked to the small clear aquarium where my next batch of first generation seeds was being grown. I almost had enough seeds to grow what I wanted. Being a Tinker was a little weird in that I could visualize exactly what I wanted and could make already without experimentation. The problem was figuring out how to backtrack and make the idea work with what I had.

I envisioned having a half dozen SX models wrapped around my body that I could hide under my clothes. I would give the pheromone to attack, and they would move away from me to deal with whomever I sprayed. Though I would put the pheromone into a breakable paper ball instead of a sprayer for long range. They could also rattle and make noise to scare off anyone who tried to mess with me. Hopefully they would think I could grow snakes out of my body. That way everyone would guess I was a master rather than a Tinker.

Of course I had no intention of going out as a hero yet. The snakes were just for self-defense when I went out at night to gather materials, and build at my lab. Brockton Bay was dangerous at night, and I wanted something to defend myself before I started sneaking out more. All my other ideas of Lusus with night vision, and something I could ride to escape trouble had to wait. I just didn't have the equipment or materials yet to even begin something like that. I had to go slowly and stay under the radar for as long as possible.

I had done the research on Tinkers and it was pretty depressing. Most didn't last long by themselves. They were forcibly recruited by gangs, killed to keep someone else from recruiting them, or affiliated in some way with the PRT though they had a lot of restrictions. Only a very few actually seemed to join Toybox, and it was a much smaller organization than I had first pictured.

I really didn't want to work under the PRT, at least not yet. I would have been required to join the wards, and I had enough teen drama when I was at Winslow. This wasn't getting into the fact that my specialty would scare people with how similar it was to what Nilbog could do. They would be suspicious of and restrict anything I made if I joined them, and I knew that I could make a difference in the city.

I had been both excited and filled with apprehension when I figured out my specialty. I had just uploaded all of the hidden video footage to a DVD to show a lawyer, and had a stray thought of using a bird to fly around with my camera for some cool footage. I remember the shock and excitement when I realized that I had several ideas on exactly how to make a bird.

My specialty lets me literally create life from raw materials. I can fashion homunculus from stuff you buy at the garden and drug store. I decided to call my creations Lusus Naturae, or Lusus for short, which was latin for whim of nature. I had a million ideas for Lusus to protect people walking the streets at night, and specially made farm animals that required little to take care of them and would help feed people.

I knew how the PRT felt about self-producing creations, but they would surely be okay with helping to feed the world. I'd take numerous precautions and I wouldn't mention the self-replication until I was a trusted hero. I would hide that I was a Tinker until I had enough power to defend myself, and create something useful to sell to the PRT.

Researching capes had made me very cautious about not going out until I was ready. There were a grand total of two independent Tinkers that had lasted longer than three years in the United States right now. Though both were villains, and I was going to be a hero.

Void was a tinker in New Orleans whose specialty was a variety of short ranged teleporters. He had lasted so long by being hard to catch, and rumor on PHO was that even his lab moved around. His MO was a high tech thief, teleporting into rich people's houses and various tech places to steal what he wanted. Though it was reported that he had quickly became used to the finer things in life based off the fact that not everything he stole was fenced. He seemed to become more versatile the more familiar he was with an area. He wasn't as effective outside his territory, and a local group of hero shifters had been his main rivals for years. He was seen as strictly small time until recently when he gained a very high blaster rating. It seemed he had devised a way to teleport a portion of a person away and had killed a powerful local Brute. He had started charging protection for parahumans who entered his territory and tried to assassinate anyone who didn't pay.

Overmind on the other hand was some type of hive mind tinker in Seattle, with drones and implanted henchman. There was a lot more information on her. She had started as a prostitute called Leshawna Wilson before triggering and being forced to join a local street gang called the Ballers almost immediately. The gang had very quickly risen in power with its members becoming similar to commandos, and acting amazingly coordinated against rivals and cops. It seemed they could share skills, communicate information between each other, and had improved reaction times with drones acting as spies and mobile defense platforms. They had quickly taken over the local projects and gangs, swelling in membership and being led by a low level Thinker called Three C. Many local teens had started piercing once side of their forehead with gold jewelry to copy the old implants that weren't internal like the higher-level members. Despite their power they didn't really try to expand their territories or operations because of other powerful villains in the city.

No one knows if it was because they weren't expanding anymore, or she just didn't like not being in charge but Leshawna, now calling herself Overmind, had simply notified every member of the network that she was now calling the shots. When people tried to fight her, she simply lobotomized or fried the brain of anyone who didn't follow her orders. Scarily enough there were also rumors that she had limited control of the motor abilities of those she killed. Under her control, the gang had started to aggressively expand and she was fond of siege tactics that were hard to root out. She had become such a nuisance that the PRT had moved team members around to create a custom team to deal specifically with her, which was starting to prove effective at ousting her forces.

Luckily I didn't require as much mechanical equipment as other Tinkers since I worked with biological material. Clumps of earth, distilled water, some drugs from the drug stores, and a custom computer that I bought parts for and managed to put together myself. My main issue had been lab equipment, and a machine shop to build stuff. It had taken me two weeks of carefully mixing a few things with some samples to make my first seeds. While the seeds were amazing they had a lot of flaws since they were only first generation and all my Lusus simply would not last longer than a few weeks. I didn't have the tools yet to create the next generation of seed, and it would take money and time to build the basic equipment I wanted to really get started.

I had stolen my basic lab stuff from Winslow, after the principal had refused to take action against Emma and Sophia. It was weird but I felt horribly guilty not at the fact that I stole from the school, but that I didn't feel guilty at stealing from them. The school had completely failed in its duty to protect me, but it wasn't like that excused stealing. Dad had raised me better than that, and mom would have lectured me but I just couldn't feel bad about it. I promised myself that once I was a trusted hero with plenty of sponsors I would pay them back with interest.

And things were finally starting to come together on the state of my equipment to build what I needed to be a hero. It was almost torture to not immediately grab the equipment and materials I needed and start making what I wanted. I had a million ideas for Lusus, but I learned my lessons from studying Overmind and Void. I took my time gathering materials to not arouse suspicion, trusted no one, and would try to hide what I was capable of whenever possible. I promised myself that I would not go out until my equipment was ready.

Once my snakes were grown, I already knew what my first stop would be. I had spent the first week after had confirmed that I had a power just wandering around and taking notes of my tech tree, and what it would take to build up to it. I had carefully made a note of things I could use, and I remembered an old hospital that had closed down on the north end of town a few years ago.

I had read about it in a local haunted places of Brockton Bay book, and based on my research they had to have some neuro imaging equipment that I needed to help build something to help "program" my Lusus.

The information I could give them right now was very limited, and was sort of like teaching rats how to run a maze but done in a few seconds after creating them. I couldn't reprogram minds already "programmed", so I had to create brand new SX Lusus to program them to curl around me, and come when I gave a signal. I couldn't be a good hero if I couldn't control my creations, and there was no way I was going create intelligent ones.

I was also hoping to find some copper wire to salvage in the walls, and I could teach the Lusus to move into and gather it without making holes. I really needed the money for materials before I could build my first human sized model. I had an idea for getting around not having a human sized base for it after watching a documentary on the future of food and scientists efforts to grow meat in a lab.

I figured I could grow a living, and expanding organism that I could grow as big as needed for a base for my Lusus. While I needed something living for my current seeds to work, my "meat moss" should qualify.

I carefully poured the distilled water into the tank, and spent the rest of the hour organizing my samples and materials. I had the seed carefully suspended in the large former fish tank, and checked on the portable generator I had made from a car battery.

I looked at a slide of the venom I had extracted from the SX-1, and compared it to other genetic samples of snake venom and drugs on my computer. I got most of my research from a few medical databases that didn't have good security. I needed venom that would stop a person, but there was no such thing as a perfect tranquilizer for every person. Too little and it did nothing, but too much could be deadly. I had spent almost a week but I had finally thought I had something that would paralyze the nerves without causing pain, but wouldn't have another other side affects. It still wasn't completely perfect, but I would have some anti-venom in case someone had a bad reaction.

Now I just had to create the template for the venom, and copy it in the right place of the DNA of the seed and a copy of the SX-1. Unfortunately I couldn't directly create or modify something from the start yet. That wasn't until the very end of the tech tree, and could take years to build up to. Right now I would be stuck using trial and error, while carefully trimming the biological growths of the seed as they developed until I had a form that used that venom. I had a pair of very sharp knives I had turned into scalpels to remove the growths I didn't want. I would then bury them into the garden in the backyard. Luckily the Lusus were enough of a plant that there wouldn't be unusual dead animal smells to rouse suspicion from the neighbors.

Since the SX-1 forms were not that big, it would not take long to grow and trim forms, but it could still take many hours before I had a form that had the right makeup of venom and shape that would meet my purposes. I could slow the seeds growth but couldn't stop it from splitting and growing once I started. I would start it tomorrow after dad left in the morning. Now that I didn't have to worry about schoolwork I had more than enough time to grow the right form. Then I could simply clone some more seeds and clone at least half a dozen more SX-2s to defend myself with when I started to go to my lab at night. I had spent time doing nothing but making sure it was hidden. I was so excited to finally being able to make what I imagined. I'm going to change this city for the better. I know it.

Dad arrived at 7:32 and I gave him a hug as he came in. Research showed that strong family relationships could help people with depressive symptoms cope better, so I made it a point to try and spend time with dad.

"Its not that I don't appreciate it, but you don't have to hug me every time Taylor," he said with a laugh.

I ignored him but released my hold. "Dinner is ready. I made a marinated, grilled fish, and a salad from the garden."

He put his bag next to the door, and immediately started to eat.

"Wash your hands, you animal." I joked. "How was your day dad?"

"Busy and I had to deal with a lot of angry and frustrated people. If the governor makes good on passing his bill, then a strike is a sure thing."

"How long do you think it could last?"

"I'm not sure Taylor. But people are underestimating how angry everyone is. I know that it won't be too hard to shut down the dock and they can't force us out. But don't worry about work Taylor, how was your day?"

"I'm a week ahead in my assignments. I know I would pass if I took that test today.", I said with confidence.

"That's great Taylor, but you are on the waiting list for arcadia. A new school will be a fresh start. You don't have to graduate so early. You should be out making friends."

"It could be awhile before I get in, and it just feels so pointless at this point. My grades have never been higher, and I intend to test out when I turn 16."

"Well if it really doesn't work, I promise you can just take the test and get your GED." he said as he put his hand on my shoulder. "But I would still like for you to try and make some friends. Not everyone is like Emma. Regardless, once all this labor trouble is over, why don't we take a vacation? Just the two of us."

"I'd love that dad."

I felt a new flash of guilt at Dad as he smiled at me. I returned the smile in turn, and we made small talk while we ate.

Should I just tell him everything? I gave it a lot of thought as dad ate. He'd probably insist I join the wards or tell the PRT. Especially because I'm a Tinker, and he would get scared at how dangerous is was for new Tinkers. If I imagined myself in the PRT shoes, I would be the last hero they would want. A Tinker with abilities similar to Nilbog, who can't control her creations? Yeah the PRT would just love to support me.

No, I wouldn't tell dad until I was trusted hero. Then I would tell him everything.

We ate in relative silence while we watched the news. There was a small piece on the governors proposed bill. Some Dutch aristocrat had been assassinated by the Blasphemies, and there was some kind of scandal with the hero Bastion, who had shouted a racial slur on camera.

It was around 8 when I kissed dad good night, and went to my room. Dad usually fell asleep around 8:30 since he had started to get up earlier. I would wait until 9 before I left. The buses were open until ten on Fridays and started at 6:30 on Saturday.

I figured I could ride the bus to the lab, get off and spend a few hours growing the Lusus. Then take the first bus back home. Dad usually slept in until noon on Saturday, so I would have plenty of time to sneak back in and clean up.

Then I would tell Dad I was going to the library and sleep in the lab. Then head home and do the whole thing over again while collecting what I needed at the hospital. I quickly set my watch alarm and went to sleep.

I really, really need to get a car.

Dad had taken me driving twice already, and there had been strong hints that he would buy a car for me when I turned sixteen. He already said that I was a natural. I was confident that I could purchase a cheap clunker for a few hundred in disguise and fix it up. I had already read a few books detailing car repair and maintenance and my Tinker abilities seemed to give me a gift for basic mechanical knowledge. But I just didn't have the money for that right now. I was reminded of a quote by Salinger, "Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell."

I was always a night owl, and staying out late tinkering had become second nature at this point, but I had never walked the streets of the docks at night. This was the real docks not the relatively safe area where my house was. I had gone to Winslow, so it wasn't as if I wasn't used to the gangs. You had to learn how to spot things and not draw attention to yourself. It was just a very different experience walking the streets at night. Despite the presence of the Lusus, I felt a little afraid.

Fear is an important survival trait of course. There are usually very good reasons to be afraid of something, and your chance of survival goes up by avoiding it. So intellectually I know why it's a normal and useful thing for people to be apprehensive in the dark. But that doesn't change the fact that being out in the open like this was very distressing. I felt like I was back at Winslow, unable to relax for a moment and being wary of everything.

The SX-2's squeezed in response and I felt a touch of reassurance at their presence. I had ended up bringing all six of them out with me. They curled around my waist and arms hidden under my oversized coat. I also had two of them hidden in my backpack and gym bag. I knew that I probably wouldn't be bothered too much. I was tall enough, and "sigh" flat enough that with my hood over my head I could be mistaken for a boy so I wouldn't seem like an easy victim.

The fact that I currently had an older male face also made it easy to hide who I was. One of my very first inventions had been a fungus with a human skin like quality. It had taken some practice, but growing and shaping it into a face hadn't been too hard. If I ever failed as a hero I could probably make a killing as a plastic surgeon.

I had ended up copying my regular face, but changed things around enough to seem like an older male. I could pass for close relative pretty easily. It wasn't completely perfect though. There was a little bit of an uncanny valley effect despite my best efforts. Though as long as no one looked too closely, it would pass inspection.

It was a little chilly tonight, which may have been why the streets were mostly empty with hardly any ABB members around. During the day there were large groups of them swaggering around wearing their colors proudly. But right now the sidewalks were almost empty which made everything seem so much more ominous.

This part of the docks showed that the Brockton was going through some tough times with the large amount of abandoned and boarded up buildings.

I sighed as I walked up to the bust stop. Someone was peeing in it. Lovely. I glanced at my watch. The bus should be here another five minutes. I wisely decided to wait well away from the bus stop while the man who looked like a junkie with his shaky hands was sitting down.

I imagined Emma laughing at a superhero waiting for the bus. I'd make a joke about a bus themed superhero called The Bus Driver. Then we'd laugh and start talking about something stupid.

It still comes so easily to me thinking that we are still friends. Imagining me joking and laughing with her. I can so easily picture sharing with her that I'm a parahuman and my plans to be a hero. I imagine her excitement, her showing of support and insistence on helping to make me a costume, and scheduling brainstorming sessions together at her house. Just the two of us, like always.

I forcibly push those thoughts aside. That was a far different Taylor, and a far different life. My friend is gone, and I need to stop living in the past.

Where the hell is the stupid bus?

The Lusus tighten suddenly when I hear a gunshot. Thankfully it's far away, and they relax as my breathing slows down. It's been too long since I have been out of the house and I have to get used to gunshots again. Things aren't too bad right now with the Butcher trying to expand in Saint Louis. The Teeth tend to just defend their borders when the Butcher is gone. Skidmark and Spree cared more about selling product than expanding territory.

PHO liked to say that Brockton Bay had seasonal hot and cold periods. During cold seasons the gangs tended to avoid fighting and trying to expand borders. There were occasional border skirmishes but very little open fighting. They usually entered a cold period when an Endbringer was due to arrive, or when the gangs were recovering from a nasty fight.

Then something would happen and set off a hot season. The Butcher would arrive and try to expand, the Empire would go out and do something nasty, someone major would go down like the Marquis, or Accord would try to force the Teeth out of Brockton again.

The bus is late, and I feel self-conscious standing alone here. Having nothing better to do, I started to picture what I would need to move my Lusus around. They'd bring too much attention just wandering the streets at night. The ability to move my Lusus where they were needed would be big issue in my effectiveness as a hero. I imagined having a series of non-nondescript trucks that I could hide them in as I moved them where needed.

I couldn't think of a way to make one that was big enough to transport others and also fly. There were limits to what I could grow, and making a tank big enough to grow something that size would be a giant waste of resources.

I turn and can't help but think finally when the bus rolls up. The SX-2 were a bit startled when the bus stopped suddenly in front of me. Thankfully I had programmed them to not rattle their tails without the little whistle sound I could make with my lips. I made a mental note to work on how skittish they were for future versions. I didn't want them freaking out at every loud noise. The older female driver stared at me a little as my coat moved, but didn't say anything as I climbed aboard.

In Brockton you learn to not say anything and not bring attention to yourself. Knowing this city, I honestly would not be surprised if she had seen weirder things at night. There were always rumors going around about weird stuff at night. The latest rumor on PHO was some kind of time holes that pushed you a few seconds forward and backward in time.

There was a large group of young looking ABB members in the back laughing and smoking despite the no smoking sign. I sat in the front, and looked at my watch again. The bus being late had put me behind schedule and I only had few hours before the buses closed, so I would have to be quick. I planned to take this bus to the last stop at the north part of town, then move through the patches of undeveloped land to the back of the hospital.

At my current walking speed, I should have roughly an hour to grab what I could find and be back in time. I had already scouted during the day, and knew there was a tree I could use to climb over the fence.

I sat and felt a little flustered that I had nothing to do. I hadn't brought my cell or ID, so I had nothing to distract me about my nervousness. There were of course so many things that could go wrong. The areas above and below the docks was Teeth territory, and I had heard all the stories about how the teeth liked to abduct people and make them fight with prospective members in big groups hoping for one of them to trigger. I could get caught and arrested for trespassing and any number of other nasty scenarios.

No, I said to myself. Stop and take ten deep breaths. I had already taken my medication, and I had practiced organizing my thoughts. The book I read on depression said to try and stop accentuating the negative. No one knew who I was, and I would be fine. I was going to find the equipment I needed to build a better way to program the Lusus and be back in time.

Despite trying to relax my muscles, I couldn't help but tense up as the bus moved. It really was like I was back in school.

I jumped despite myself as the ABB members started catcalling and for a second I thought it was at me. But they were focused on a pretty Asian woman who was obviously very uncomfortable. She and the other passengers didn't react despite the rather lewd remarks, continuing to stare straight ahead. It was well known that the ABB liked to force new immigrants to work off their debt they owed to the ABB in brothels. She decided to get off at the next stop and it looked like she was crying.

I feel this rage building up inside me. I carefully stared straight ahead to not show it despite the fact that I am nearly grinding my teeth. This is why I wanted to be a hero. It wasn't right that bastards like them made people afraid and I find myself thinking of Emma and Sophia.

When the bullying had started, I had tried to be a pacifist by not fighting back. I didn't want anyone to get hurt, and at least a part of me thought Emma might go back to being my friend. I didn't fight or react, I just tried to run away and read. But of course it didn't work. They escalated and started destroying my stuff, making me feel miserable, and wouldn't leave me alone.

Things didn't really change until mom had her accident and was in the hospital. I still didn't realize how bullies really worked until Emma had cornered me one day and started to make fun of my mother. She blamed me for causing her accident and said horrible things about her. And I snapped.

I finally realized that Bullies don't pick social outcasts to send a message, or even make it harder for them to make friends although Emma had Sophia had done that to me. They did it because social outcasts like me are more vulnerable. Bullies are weak and pathetic. They're just taking out their own issues on the weakest target around. I didn't know what caused Emma to change, or why Sophia was a psycho, but I officially stopped caring. I couldn't care less what they did to me, but you don't fuck with my mother.

So I tried to fight back. I kept a journal detailing everything they did to me. I went to teachers and asked them to step in and asked them why they did nothing. I made appointments with the principal, and tired to insult Emma back. I had been her best friend at one point too, so I also had info that I knew would hurt. But nothing worked.

The teachers did nothing, Emma and Sophia escalated their behavior, and mom died. I'm not sure but I was fairly sure that was when I triggered as I struggled to figure out a way to stop them. I refused to let those bitches win. I found a small camera, installed it in my glasses, and recorded everything I did. From my attempts to seek help, and everything they did to me. I got a lawyer and I gave the school an out. I wouldn't sue them if they expelled Emma and Sophia or made them attend counseling, and they had to bring in a bullying specialist to change their ways.

I had won, but I knew that there people all over the world that couldn't defend themselves. People who are weaker than their bullies, and need help. These gang banger motherfuckers deserved to be afraid to ride the bus, and to be scared to walk the streets at night. It wouldn't even be hard. I already had designs for the humanoid models that could blend in and harass the gangs. The ABB would be easy to fight because they always wore their colors. It should be relatively easy to get the Lusus to only attack those colors. I silently thanked the assholes in the back of the bus. They had caused all my doubts and fear to melt away.

We continued to ride for a few minutes, when the gang members pointed and yelled out the window. I turned and saw Slake streaking down the street clad in her signature motorcycle helmet and leathers.

Slake was one of the many rogues the city. She was dressed in dark motorcycle leathers, with a custom blue motorcycle helmet depicting water droplets. Her legs were moving like she was ice skating, surrounded by her breaker field that looked like suspended rain. She was a mover and long-range teleporter that ran a personal delivery company. She charged a thousand dollars just for a meeting, and it was rumored on PHO that she ran deliveries for Toybox and other tinkers.

I felt a brief pang of jealousy as she skated up the side of a building. It would be nice to have such a straightforward power. She got to speed through the city, while I had to go and steal copper for money.

Though once I had my equipment going I did have a few plans to make some money. I'm sure plenty of people would like custom built pets. A miniature elephant, or a panda dog had to sell very well. Still that was the future and it was time to focus on the present I thought to myself as the bus finally reached my stop. I walked slowly out of the bus and pointedly ignored the driver giving me a weird look.

I checked my watch again as I started to walk at a brisk pace. I was thankful I had continued my running routine to build up my stamina and distract my thoughts. Though walking through old lots was different than my treadmill.

I found myself relaxing as the buildings gave way to woods and there were less potential eyes on me. Though I could feel my legs starting to get tired. Perhaps I should increase my workout, but I was still worried about my schedule. Most of my free time was spent tinkering, and wasting another hour to exercise didn't seem worth it. I wondered how a Tinker like Armsmaster had time to work out while working on his equipment and being a hero. I'd buy any book he had on time management.

I slowed down to a crawl as I neared the back of the old hospital. I peered at it with my binoculars I had borrowed from dad. There was just enough moonlight to illuminate the whole building. No one was sure why this building had been abandoned, as it was still relatively new when it closed.

The whole area was supposed to start seeing major development, but that had completely stalled. There were rumors of the 9 and the Marquis fighting here, but that was probably just the same old PHO rumors.

I moved slowly toward the nearby tree by the fence. I had snuck a little stool I had found in a dumpster nearby on my previous scouting visit, and used it climb up on a branch. I awkwardly shimmied over the fence and jumped down with a thud. I glanced around, but nothing made a sound.

The building had a small maintenance door on the side that I was able to pick without too much trouble. The building was much cooler inside, though it was pitch black. I turned on my flashlight that I had put fresh batteries in preparation for this trip.

I walked slowly down the hall, carefully scanning the walls as I neared what had to have been a lobby. I finally found a map and spent a few minutes memorizing where I needed to go and how to get back.

I was headed for the Acute Assessment Unit, which should have most of the hospitals old medical machinery. I needed the parts to work on my brain scanner and re-programmer. I also made a note to myself to think of a better name for it then that.

The hospital was a little stuffy, but I enjoyed the solitude. It reminded me of my lab. Nothing but silence and muted light.

I walked for about five minutes before I found the right department. The door was locked, put didn't take too long to pick. I swept my flashlight over and smiled.


There were numerous old scanning machines, and plenty of old computer equipment I could salvage for parts. I unpacked my tools and got to work. I only took the most useful of stuff since I didn't have a lot of room, and I would have to carry it all back on a bus. I thought of punching a hole and sending the Lusus through the wall, but I was already running out of room, and I could always come back for the copper later.

I check my watch again. I was actually ahead of schedule for once, and I should be done early.

After some time unscrewing quite a few tiny screws, my gym bag was full, and I was having some trouble zipping up my backpack. That's when I heard the voices and froze.

It sounded like at least two people and they didn't sound that far away. I turned off my flashlight, and crawled to the door. I knew I should just take my stuff and run but sounds carried weird in the building. I'd have trouble moving quickly or quietly with all of my loot. It would be better to get a good idea of how many of them there are and where they were before I made a decision.

I crept silently through the door and tried to breathe as quietly as I could.

As I got closer I could hear voices arguing and laughing. They sounded like they had been drinking. As I heard a crash, I upgraded my assessment to drinking heavily. I crawled on my belly and stuck my head around the corner and immediately pulled it back in.

There were three of them facing away from me. They were drinking and passing around a bag of something. I wasn't sure but it looked like they were wearing colored tags, which meant the Teeth. They liked to display trophies.

I cursed my rotten luck. What the hell were they doing here? Whatever the reason, things were too dangerous to stay. The Teeth might not be very active with the Butcher gone, but I knew plenty of nasty scenarios that could play out if they found out I was here.

I ran the odds in my head as I walked quickly away. There were only three of them, and they were not in the best mental state. I should have enough time to gather my stuff and get away as long as I was quiet and quick. I can salvage this.

Of course that was when I turned the corner and ran right into another one. I couldn't see too much of his face in the dark, but he stepped back in surprise.

"There's somebody here", he shouted as he rushed toward me. I tried to move but he was too fast as he pushed me against the wall. He looked like he was about to say something, but I didn't give him the chance as I let out a loud whistle. The Lusus stirred and came alive.

He didn't have a flashlight, which was probably why he didn't react immediately as the Lusus put their heads out my coat. The ones on my arms were quick enough to bite him a few times, but the ones around my waist couldn't get out in time.

He fell back and screamed clutching at his arms where they had bit him and I kicked him as hard as I could between his legs, which caused him to fall on his back. He cried out and started to rise but his head was the perfect height to kick again.

He jolted back to the floor and didn't get up. Based off his size and seeming weight, the venom should already be having an effect paralyzing him. I could already hear his buddies coming. Should I try to run or confront them?

I quickly weighed my options and decided to try and scare them.

Most people when confronted with a cape would run away especially with someone whose power was unknown. I could run, but they knew I was here and there was no way I could lug my stuff and remain hidden with them looking for me. If I could scare them, they might just run away and let me take what I needed

I unzipped my jacket and gently placed a Lusus around my head. Then had the others crawl around me as I whistled a different note and the Lusus began to rattle.

The flashlight was a little blinding so I couldn't get a good look at them, but I must have made quite a sight as they backed away. I imagined what I looked like. An eerily perfect male face, with six oversized green snakes rattling at them as they coiled around me.

"LEAVE" I said as loudly as I could to be heard over the rattling. Note to self, if I get away make sure to work on my cape voice.

"Cape," one of them shouted. One of them turned and ran immediately, but the other two advanced as I saw one of them start to pull something out his pocket.

Shit, I threw one of the Lusus at him, and ran as fast as I could.

I could hear the guy with the gun jump back panicked, and started firing at the Lusus. I wasn't prepared for how loud the gun was, but I didn't look back.

Shit, shit, shit. I frantically pulled out my sprayer and sprayed the ground as I ran. Then I dropped off two of the Lusus around the corner and kept running.

I made it around another corner when I heard cursing and the gun firing again. I wasn't' sure if the gunman could hit a small, fast Lusus like the SX-2 while inebriated, but considering my luck so far I didn't want to bet on it.

I stopped to take a breath and tried to think of plan. I could hear yelling and it sounded like one of them was throwing chairs at the other two Lusus. Hopefully they might decide to leave, but I needed a plan.

I quickly went through a nearby double door, propped one open, and gently wrapped a Lusus around the handle on the other side of the closed door. I also placed another on top of the door that was open. I quickly sprayed the area, and walked at a brisk pace.

I figured I should double back, and be quiet. The hospital was a maze in the dark, and the Lusus could attack in the dark. I was breathing hard, but I tried to slow down and listen.

Several minutes went by before I heard slow walking. Sounded like it was just one person, but I couldn't be sure from where I was. I stayed still and wrapped the Lusus around my hand.

I heard the door open and a scream, as the door was wretched back closed. I could hear the footsteps running away before there was curse and horrible screaming. Whoever it was screamed for almost a minute before he finally shut up.

I waited two more minutes before I decided to go and investigate from the back. I sprayed myself so that the Lusus would follow me, and pulled out the little paper balls I had filled with the attack pheromone.

I glanced down the hallway, and saw a body lying next to a dropped flashlight. I walked cautiously as the Lusus followed at my feet. I gently prodded the big guy with the my foot but he didn't move.

I hope he wasn't dead. I needed both hands to turn the body over, and reveal an older, shirtless, man with a weird face tattoo. He wasn't moving and the venom had worked as intended, and I could hear his weak breathing. His pulse was a little weak though. I saw his eyes track me in fear while I searched his pockets. A gun, one extra clip, a bag of I what I assume is meth, and a wallet with two hundred dollars in cash.

"Blink twice if you have any known allergies and once for no".

The man, who smelled like he hadn't shower in a year, quickly blinked once. Okay he should be fine. I made another mental note to work on a version of venom that will incapacitate someone and still let them talk.

That leaves two more to check, and a third possibly still around. I examined the gun, and was careful to point it away from me. I didn't know a lot about guns, but I think the safety was off. I didn't turn on my flashlight as I walked slowly down the hall. I could hear the guy on the ground rapidly have hushed breathing as the Lusus crawled over him after me.

Strange I thought. Why am I so calm? I was nervous all night about taking the bus, but not when guns are going off? Note to self-Study research on parahuman resilience and mental states.

I was cautious as I peered around another corner but I saw another unmoving body and several hastily thrown chairs. This guy had actually managed to hit one of the Lusus with a bullet, but the other one had gotten close enough to bite him. Though it seems like he had stomped it to death before the paralysis took effect. I quickly picked up the dead Lusus, and went over the dropped man.

Breathing and pulse was okay, though he was out cold. Seems he fainted. I was wary as I went to man I had kicked, but no one else showed up.

The other two members netted me some empty wallets and some keys, which I quickly took. I weighed my options and hurried back to my bags. There was no sign of the fourth guy, but he could be on his way with help. I didn't have a phone to call the cops, so I decided to leave the Teeth members there. Someone might have heard the gunshots and the screaming.

Hopefully the cops or the heroes were on their way. The paralysis should wear off and they would be all right in few hours. I quickly ran back and starting taking all of my salvage and made my way back.

I carefully looked out through the door, and didn't see anyone. But I did discover a truck that the teeth had apparently come in. It looked old but useable. I glanced quickly around, and decided to take it. I wouldn't get any weird looks on the bus, and I could use it in the future. I hauled my stuff to the bed of the truck, and put the Lusus under my coat again. I sighed in relief as the truck started.

I was very gentle with the accelerator as I drove to the open front gate, and drove slowly back to town trying to remember Dad's few lessons. I kept to the side streets and made sure to stop at every stop sign.

I felt a little safer as I neared my lab. Though I was still shocked at how calm I was. I should never have investigated the noise, and instead should have left immediately. Still I did get a car out of it.

I decided to drive and park the truck near the house so I could take it back to the lab later. It would save me from having to take the bus. The teeth might be looking for it, but I would only drive late at night, and I would work on making it unrecognizable.

So I was down three SX Lusus, but I had gained the parts I needed and got a car. But things had been too dangerous. I promised myself that I wouldn't take any more stupid risks. I need to be careful and build things up. When I'm done, the ABB and the Teeth will be the ones feeling wary in the dark.

Authors Note: Decided to move my story from spacebattles. Amateur author who is just starting out. This story has been planned for a while, and its purpose is to try and write something entertaining while keeping to a writing schedule of a week or two to improve my writing. The first two chapters are the original draft and a little slow. But things will pick up in chapter 3 when Taylor does something a little creative and dangerous and she make her proper debut in chapter five. Hope at least a few people are entertained.