A/N: As this storyline is going more and more into a sort of crime drama, it's harder to maintain a single perspective. I'm going to adopt a multiple-perspective approach from here on, with Taylor as first-person while everybody else gets stuck with third-person.
I had scored a major blow against the gangs. With Lung gone, the entire balance of power in Brockton Bay would shift. The Nazis would begin to overextend themselves trying to snap up territory, and I could pick them off one by one. The only one who was a real threat was Purity, but she hadn't been active for a while.
So, like, any teenage girl, I decided to celebrate. Fugly Bob's was a local fixture, established in the early 2000s by a war veteran who'd been horribly scarred by an explosion. He wore the title "Fugly Bob" with pride, as the rest of his platoon regarded him as a hero for getting in the way of the blast. Turns out, he had always wanted to be a cook and was pretty damn talented. Over nearly a decade, he'd gone from being the only cook to having a full staff and running the most popular burger joint in the city. Today, instead of eating people, I was going to consume something with the approximate mass of a person: Fugly Bob's Challenger.
The burger was gigantic, served on flatbread instead of a bun because the multiple pounds of meat would never fit on a bun. It cost more than thirty dollars, but if you could finish it by yourself within an hour you got it for free and had a commemorative photo put up on the wall. I showed up as myself this time, though I did away with the glasses and put my hair up in a bun. I looked different enough that I wouldn't be immediately recognized, but once my photo was up everyone would know I'd been there. Yeah, I was trolling the Protectorate: I knew at least one of them would show up at Fugly Bob's sometime and realize that their number-one suspect for Adrestia had casually shown up at a burger joint.
I walked right up to the counter and grinned at the scarred face of the restaurant's owner. "I'm here to take the Challenge."
Bob rolled his eyes. "Always the skinny ones. We don't cover getting your stomach pumped." He grabbed what looked like a notepad, but I realized it was actually a roll of waivers. I quickly signed through them and passed it back, and he nodded. "Alright then." He turned back to the kitchen. "We got a Challenger, people!"
I sat down and couldn't help but bounce a little in anticipation. It had been days, maybe weeks, since I'd had a proper meal. After all, I'd spent my time eating people rather than treating myself to food. Plus, food bought with money taken from gangsters just plain tasted better – that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The blonde looked around the restaurant, keeping herself amused by ferreting out secrets from the crowd. On the surface it looked like she was on a date with her boyfriend, but really it was because Bitch was too grouchy while she healed. Then again, she thought, I suppose I'd be pissed if my teammate tased me, too. Rachel had no real strategy beyond 'attack, attack and keep attacking until the target is a smear'. Unfortunately, that was the exact wrong tactic against a rage-dragon and the surly girl had nearly died. Her dogs had been killed in the fight, but they'd barely managed to escape. Bitch was still laid-up from her burns, and they'd left Regent in charge of making sure she wouldn't get up prematurely. Better she be mad at him than us, she snickered to herself.
Her eyes scanned across the various patrons, her power laying secrets bare before her. In the closet. Cheating on her boyfriend, likely with his boss. White-collar criminal – embezzlement. Rapist. Then her eyes settled on the tall, skinny girl at the counter and Lisa practically heard a record scratch in her head. The sensation was so shocking that she nearly sprang from her seat, startling Brian. Shaking herself off, the blonde looked again. Her power provided her with information, but not the kind she wanted: Death. She tried to push for more. Death incarnate. Do not engage. Leave. NOW.
Lisa nodded to herself, leaning across to Brian. "Call for the check," she whispered through gritted teeth. "We need to go now." She didn't take her eyes off the major threat, watching as the girl smiled to herself and bounced in anticipation of the Challenger. Happy. Excited. Has not eaten in a long time. Has not eaten food in a long time. She forced herself to look away. She didn't need an insight power to know that she was better off not knowing any further details. As soon as the bill was paid, she took Brian's hand and led him outside. To any outside observer, it looked like young lovers excited for some privacy. Only the almost white-knuckled grip she had on his hand gave away the truth. Sound of explosion! Brace for impact! The alert came a split-second before a nearby building erupted in flame, the concussive blast throwing them back through the glass windows of the burger joint. Chunks of concrete and flaming debris hurtled with the pair, butchering the crowd within Fugly Bob's.
"God damn it," Lisa grunted, clutching a bleeding gash in her head. Another explosion, as if the first hadn't been enough – this time, however, Brian threw up a wave of darkness to dampen the blast. Concrete clattered along the ground just past the threshold instead of sailing further into the restaurant. The blonde reached into the cup of her bra and pulled out her spare domino mask, a tie-off version that would wrap around her head. Spirit gum that close to body heat was a bad idea, after all. She steeled herself and moved back into the restaurant. "Hey, you! We need to get these people out of here!"
I looked at the blonde woman in the mask, realizing she was talking to me. How did she know? No, that was a question for later. She was right: this place was a warzone. I ducked down where hopefully no-one would see me, and shifted into a larger and more authoritative male form. "Alright people," I boomed over the carnage, "this way! We're going out through the back of the restaurant!" I felt another concussive blast and moved before I even realized it – I stood in front of the black man casting out darkness, forming my arms into two massive parasol-like shields. Rebar and other debris lodged themselves in my flesh, but I just shook that loose. "I said MOVE!" My voice reverberated through the restaurant and everyone finally reacted. In a sort of stunned shuffle, they began moving toward the back.
Something that I needed to understand was that, although I had most of my victims' memories, they weren't an encyclopedic archive that I could pull up at will. Other than the most important moments in their lives, the rest was a clamorous soup that only gave up information when triggered. Thus, as I tried to understand what was the cause of this bombing, Lung's memories offered an answer.
Lee had often told me that he worried his experiences at the hospital were the result of a persecution complex and not actual bigotry based on his heritage. After nearly getting my head caved in during a gang fight and watching his coworkers interact with him while one of the nurses stitched me up and set a cast, I told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn't in his head.
Rize, on the other hand, was a self-made victim. Listening to her ramble was insufferable and all I wanted to do was twist her head off. Unfortunately, she was too valuable to kill so casually. Her bigotry and intense hatred were a perfect fit for my gang and her power had the potential to deal with the Triumvirate or even exterminate the Yangban. Until her usefulness was at an end, I would endure her psychoses. Ever since learning that Asians were docked points on the SAT, Rize had decided that the American educational system was racist against her. And, when an arrogant and sloppily written paper (I had read it to get her to be quiet for several minutes) had received a very generous C, she'd snapped and held the entirety of Cornell University hostage. We smuggled her out and rechristened her as Bakuda.
Bakuda. That was the source of the explosions: a literal mad bomber with even less respect for human life than Lung. Unfortunately, Lung's memories refused to surrender the location of her lab. Perhaps I could take the information from Lee or an unpowered lieutenant. I stood, shapeshifting into a nondescript member of the ABB. Immediately afterward I had to drive tendrils into the street to keep myself from being sucked away – with a noise that I could only describe as an explosion in reverse, an entire building collapsed into a singularity before popping with a distinctive fart noise. The darkness-generator slammed into my back, his power's product being sucked away into the storm, while the blonde screamed and managed to grab my arm. The compressed matter, looking like polished obsidian, dropped to the street and then through it, the mass of an entire building condensed to the size of a golf ball.
Flashes of more memories flickered in my mind's eye. Bakuda couldn't work without endlessly rambling about how the world had wronged her, but she would also crow in detail about her bombs. Black-hole bombs, time-freezing bombs inspired by Clockblocker, anti-gravity bombs to send victims out of Earth's atmosphere, even a bomb to turn the blood of anyone caught in the blast into mercury! I hated to admit it, but she had to be one of the most talented Tinkers I'd ever heard of – such devastating versatility, all in weapons the size of hand grenades.
Except for the big one, my mind interjected. She was building it without Lung's knowledge, but threatened me into silence. Put a bomb in my brain. I started, but then reminded myself that I consumed everything, including inorganic matter. If there had been a bomb, it no longer existed. She bragged to me that I'd vibrate into liquid if I snitched, then told me she was building the ultimate bomb, powerful enough to obliterate all of North America. The world would pay for undervaluing her.
Jesus fuck, this woman was utterly insane. All this over a bad grade? This bitch's life was paradise compared to mine – and, really, compared to most people's. I would've felt strongly inclined to kill her if all she did was complain, but this mass murder was far past what merited my attention. But first, I needed to know where she was. Where had the Big One been hidden? How would she store that away without Lung knowing?
Toybox charged inordinate fees, but it was worth it to have security. Bakuda's weapons were, for the most part, like grenades: pull the pin and throw. Made it easy to load Lee up with more powerful explosives, but it would also mean our annihilation if her lab was found. Several gates to access a pocket-dimension warehouse, DNA-locked to Bakuda, Lee, myself and my most trusted lieutenants.
Wonderful. And of course the gates weren't fixed in place: all they needed was power. But wait, I thought, what if we destroyed the gates? Would that leave Bakuda trapped in her pocket dimension? I couldn't answer that question. I wasn't a Tinker, and while Squealer had some ideas on the subject, it wasn't like I could put myself in her mindset and access her powers. Her memories were vague, especially on the topic of pocket dimensions. She'd been working on a teleporting car, but the idea of dimensional boundaries was something she cared little for. It was entirely possible that one of Bakuda's bombs could tear open the pocket dimension and let other explosions out, and she would most certainly do just that as a final "fuck you" to the world.
I grabbed the black man by the shoulder. He was using some darkness to conceal his face, but that couldn't hide that he was built like a brick house. In other circumstances, I'd be stumbling over my own tongue trying to not appear too pathetic. "It's the ABB," I growled to him. "They have a bomb Tinker. We need to inform the Protectorate – this is only going to get worse."
He looked at me, still probably in shock from the sudden cataclysm. "What? How do you know that?"
"We don't want to know," the blonde answered for me. "It's best if we know as little about our new friend as possible." She looked to me. "Any idea where this Tinker is hiding?" She was already pulling out a phone.
I shook my head. "Some sort of dimensional gate to her warehouse. I think it's a pocket dimension, but it might just be somewhere far away. I'm not sure about anything else."
She gave a decisive nod. "Go do whatever you do, then. If you have family, check on them. We'll handle things here, then we have our own people to look out for."
I took off in a run and rocketed into the sky. I'd go on a hunt, but before I did so I needed to make sure Dad was okay. I couldn't show up as myself, but I could pop in as a 'concerned citizen'.
For once, I was thankful that we lived in a rather crappy section of the city. There wasn't much worth blowing up, so the house was untouched. I landed, leaving a crater in the sidewalk, and approached the front door. I was still in the form of the towering skinhead, but I overlaid a more unassuming hoodie and jeans. I knocked on the door.
My dad's voice came through it, though he didn't open up. "What do you want?" His tone was hostile; I didn't blame him.
"Sir, are you aware of the bombings being carried out? The ABB are retaliating for Lung's death, and are targeting random installations and high-population areas. My recommendation is that you stay home for the next few days."
"...That's it?" Incredulity dripped from his voice. "No offer for paid protection? You're not a hero or PRT."
"I'm here on behalf of a concerned citizen," I replied. Dammit, if he decided to try looking for me now… "She's safe," I continued. "She asked me to come warn you. Keep your head down, Danny. We'll make sure you can see your daughter again."
The door flew open. "Where is Taylor!? What have you done with her!?" His grip held the strength of desperation, tugging me down to his level. I pulled back, jerking free.
"I've said too much already. Taylor doesn't want to be found. She's safe; I'm in her employ." I walked backward down the stairs, avoiding the rotting step. Once I was on the sidewalk, I flexed my legs and launched myself into the air on springs of my essence. That was probably a really bad idea, I said to myself. That was just more reason for the Protectorate to suspect me of being Adrestia. But, damn it all, I didn't want my father to go running off in an attempt to finally be a good parent again.
I landed amid the Boat Graveyard, looking around at all the ruined ships. If we didn't do something, the entire city would end up like this. Well, it was already headed that way, but this would speed things up to an intolerable degree. I needed to find some more ABB, find out where Bakuda was keeping her gateways, and then end this threat.