Amy looked up as Lisa came into her workroom, holding some sheets of paper and appearing slightly disappointed. "I need a somewhat different approach, I think," the other girl said, putting them down on the bench and spreading them out. Inspecting them, Amy could see that while they were bone dry as if they'd been baked, they also looked like felt and on several of them much of the writing was badly damaged.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I tried taking them down to vacuum at different speeds to start with, so I could get a feel for what happened," her friend explained. "I knew doing it quickly would ruin them but I wanted to watch how that happened." She tapped one sheet, which was more like toilet paper than writing paper, and was falling apart whenever she touched it. "Basically the water boils as the pressure drops, forcing the fibers apart, then freezes when it's low enough even at room temperature. I knew that but I was surprised at quite how destructive it was."
Amy gently picked the paper up and looked closely at it. "The steam made holes that the ice crystals weakened even more?" she conjectured, flexing the piece in her fingers and watching a shower of fibrous material fall from it.
"Exactly." Lisa shook her head. "No matter how slowly I did it, the results aren't ideal. At the lowest speeds it's probably usable but it's still causing too much damage. I checked online for some more detailed documentation and it needs to be frozen first, then put in the vacuum chamber. And the temperature and rate of freezing needs to be just right so it doesn't take too long or happen too fast. A lot of different methods are used so we need to come up with one Taylor can make easily."
"Some sort of non aqueous very low viscosity liquid would probably work," Amy suggested, putting the ruined paper down again and watching as it fell completely to pieces in the process. "Maybe one of the perfluorocarbons. It might be possible to come up with something that also absorbed water, which could speed things up too."
"Seems worth a try." Lisa nodded slowly, thinking. "My power seems to think so too. Wonder where we could get some data on that sort of chemical?"
"The Family Biosculptor branch is ready to help our people," Amy grinned. "Let me think about it for a moment." She communed with her own power, which rose to the challenge eagerly. After a couple of minutes, while Lisa stared at her with interest, she nodded to herself. "Yep, that should work. I think. Let's see..." Looking around, she grabbed one of the beakers Taylor had made dozens of for her and put it on the bench, then held her hand out over it. Tweaking the extruder glands in her palm, she modified them on the fly to make the chemical she'd come up with, a clear liquid dribbling into the container. Lisa gaped a little, making her grin.
"Taylor's not the only one with bullshit powers," Amy said calmly, stopping when the thing was full, about two quarts of fluid present. "Try that. It should have a freezing point somewhere around 150 kelvin, and it has a very strong affinity for water. It also has a very low vapor pressure and a high boiling point so it won't evaporate easily. If you stick it in the vacuum chamber to cool down, you can try putting the test paper in it to freeze and desiccate it at the same time."
"Crap. That's impressive all over again," Lisa commented, peering at the container. "Sometimes I forget with Taylor around skewing the bullshit bell curve how ridiculous your own power is." She studied the fluid, swirling one talon in it for a few seconds, then sniffing it. She licked it, making Amy snicker.
"Hey, that's not bad," the other girl said, grinning back. "Oh, god, I'm doing what Taylor does… Not everything is food, Lisa!" she added with a small groan. Amy laughed.
"Her attitude to the world is… contagious?"
"That's what I'm afraid of," the black lizard sighed. She picked the beaker up and held it to the light. "OK, I'll try this, thanks. One question, how am I supposed to get this out of the paper afterwards?"
"Oh, that's easy," Amy replied. "See if it works to freeze the stuff without damaging it, and get an idea of how long that takes, then get Taylor to make more of it that times out after a little longer than you needed."
"Good idea," Lisa nodded, appearing pleased. "For the only damp papers, soaking them in a big tank of this stuff to absorb the water might be enough anyway. That would speed things up a lot. And if what we need is in the later documents, we might find it that way too."
"Great." Amy looked past her into the main room. "Is Taylor still 'farming'?"
"Yeah." Lisa shook her head in wonder. "You should see the amount of stuff those two have made in only a couple of hours. There's enough protective clothing to keep the DWU going even if it was ten times the size, in every size you can imagine, about twenty thousand flywheel units of the type we showed the PRT, tons of body armor, firefighting gear, you name it. Everything I demoed we now have a warehouse full of. She was making some bigger flywheels when I left, like the ones you used for the dragons. If we don't stop her that entire room will be filled with tech by the end of the day."
Giggling, Amy went to have a look, Lisa following with the beaker in her hand. Sure enough, inside the big room was a massive stack of crates, all neatly labeled with their contents. She examined a few, opening the lid of the nearest to see a number of the EDM water tanks for firefighting. Picking one of them up she turned it over, then put it back. She did the same with another, seeing they were absolutely identical, which made sense bearing in mind how they had been made.
Closing the crate again she watched as the mass of cubicles that had been present when she came in vanished, leaving another pile of goodies behind. This time it was only about two hundred rather than thousands. Looking around the room she quickly calculated that Taylor could, at a push and assuming it scaled that well, get about twenty three thousand copies of 'Saurial' going at the same time. Which gave her a totally ridiculous mass production capacity.
And that was only limited by space and the total Varga mass, which even that number of lizard girls would only be using around four thousand tons of out of over sixty thousand tons available…
She shook her head in awed wonder. Using all of it would give over three hundred and fifty thousand copies of that particular aspect, far more if she used the micro-dragon. It was a slightly unnerving thought. Even for her.
It would probably terrify the crap out of the PRT, she thought with an inner grin. But it certainly meant that with this one oddly simple concept the Family could easily make large quantities of almost anything, which was bound to end up being useful sooner or later. For now, this was more than enough.
"Not bad," she said as she walked over to where Taylor and her demon were putting the new power units into more crates. "You certainly have seized control of the means of production in a big way."
Taylor chuckled, closing the last crate and stacking it on top of the nine others. "Looks like it. When I thought of it in bed the other day, I couldn't believe it would be this simple, but it works amazingly well. The critical thing is the enclosed space to remove all the confusing sensory information. At that point, it's not much more difficult than running the normal two aspects. I mean, there's more effort, yes, but it's not enough to make it not work."
"How many could you actually do at once?" the healer asked curiously. Taylor and her other aspect both shrugged.
"I'm not sure unless we try. More than four thousand definitely. That seemed like a good first test and at the moment we don't need any more capacity, but I'll have to try it some day." She looked at the crates next to her, then over to the much larger stack of them next to the wall. "I might have got carried away as it is."
"We certainly won't need to worry about stock for a while," Lisa commented, also looking. "There's enough there to outfit the entire BBPD, BBFD, and local PRT. With spares. Never mind all the DWU-specific stuff."
"I thought I might as well get as much done in one go as possible since you never know if we'll need it," Taylor said. "This way I don't need to keep making things in small batches all the time."
"Mass production does have benefits," Amy agreed. "Where are we going to put it all?"
"Dad said we could have the unit on the other side of Rachel's as a stock room," Taylor told them. "We'll fix it up and expand it, then link the door to it too. We can put all the BBFO stuff in there, and put the DWU stuff in their main store room." She scratched her muzzle, both aspects being in the Saurial body at the moment, and added, "I hope I got all the sizes right. We based it on normal clothing sizes and the sort of jacket and pants the guys here use, in both male and female versions. It was easier to make more than we needed than the exact right amount, and a lot faster than custom fitting everyone."
"My power says we're fine," Lisa assured her. "And we have spares for years. Even Zephron will fit in the largest size and he's about the biggest guy here."
"Great. That's a relief, although I can always adjust them if needed." Taylor pointed at one stack of crates. "I got the measurements for motorcycle helmets off the web and used them to make those in all the standard sizes, so that should also cover most people. Same with the body armor and so on."
"Sounds good." Amy grinned for a moment. "I was half expecting to find you'd build some huge Rube Goldberg contraption using fractal dimensions as a conveyor belt or something when I came in. A factory as designed by Escher."
Taylor giggled while the Varga smirked. "We considered it, but to be honest this was probably easier. It doesn't take long to walk around and pick things up."
While Taylor and her demon moved the last crates over to the main stack, Lisa explained her experiments and Amy's idea for dealing with it. "I'll try this stuff and see if it works," she finished, holding up the beaker. "If it does, we'll need a lot of it, and some method to chill it down outside the vacuum chamber."
"No problem." Taylor took the beaker and sipped the liquid inside. "Hey, that's not bad!"
Amy looked at Lisa then both burst out laughing.
"Don't drink it all. I need it."
"Aww." Their mad friend seemed mildly disappointed but gave it back. "OK, I can make as much as you need. And a chiller tank is simple enough, it can go in the airlock and we can cool it with the EDM block in the main chamber. Will that do?"
"Should be good enough for a test. I'll use this, then if it works we can do that." Lisa swirled the liquid around in the container, before heading for the airlock door. "We may need to modify things a little as we go but I think we'll work it out in the end."
Amy watched for a moment as the black lizard disappeared into the airlock, then went back to her workroom. Taylor followed, while the other aspect went after Lisa. "How's your work going?" 'Saurial' asked curiously when they were inside the workroom.
"Well," Amy replied. "I made this." She indicated her latest project, which was sitting on the bench. Growing out of a container about a foot square was a strange-appearing plant with dark blue-black leaves, the shape of these somewhat reminiscent of those of a chili plant. The container was filled with ordinary potting soil.
Taylor felt one of the leaves, which had the texture of fine felt. "Cool color," she said. "What does it do?"
"This." Amy put one finger on the plant and triggered a fruiting cycle. They both watched as dozens of small orange flowers budded, opened, and grew, then fell away in a shower of petals, the entire cycle only taking about twenty seconds. Left behind were some very familiar objects hanging from the plant on tiny stems.
"Wow." Taylor stared, then plucked one of the things and looked closely at it. "You made a one-shot plant."
"I did do that, yes," Amy replied with great satisfaction. It had taken her a lot of thought and three prototypes, but the new plant worked perfectly. "The color is because I improved photosynthesis by about a thousand percent. It's horribly inefficient normally. This version is much better, and is what gives the plant enough energy to fruit so rapidly."
"How large will it grow?" her friend asked.
"About three feet tall. That seemed like a reasonable size. At maturity, which will only take about a week, it'll be capable of producing nearly five hundred one-shots in each crop, and can make two crops a day if you give it enough light and nutrients. Ordinary tomato fertilizer is fine. Since it doesn't use normal DNA nothing will eat it, it won't get infected by any plant diseases, it can't pass on anything like that either, and it doesn't really compete with normal plants. It will only grow in ground that's got specific trace elements in specific quantities present, ones that are easy to get but you won't find in nature." She admired her work, gently stroking one leaf, as Taylor nodded thoughtfully.
"Hopefully that's enough to stop the PRT getting funny about it."
"You know them, they get funny about everything," Taylor sighed. "But it sounds like you've taken sensible precautions. How does it propagate?"
"If you spray it with acetone at a ten percent concentration in distilled water, the next cycle produces seeds rather than one-shots," Amy said.
The lizard girl looked at her oddly. "Acetone? That's… Why acetone?"
"Cheap, more or less non-toxic, easily available, and not likely to happen accidentally," Amy shrugged. "I wanted to make it not dependent on me. If I come up with some exotic catalyst, which is simple enough, sure I can control how they grow but the whole point is to get them out there. Not restrict the things. I don't want to end up having the supply of the one-shots requiring me to handle it personally. I've been doing that sort of thing for years and I'm tired of it."
She pointed at the plant as Taylor looked at her sympathetically. "This will, eventually, if things work the way I hope, save more lives in one day than I could as Panacea in years of effort. I don't want to profit from it, and I don't need to. It's not like any of us will need the money."
Sighing a little, she stroked the leaf again. "I'm sure it will have to be introduced carefully, I don't want to destroy the medical industry overnight, but at the same time the mere fact that it's an industry in the first place is a lot of the reason that health care in the country is like it is now. This will help a hell of a lot with that. I'm happy to help the hospital and the PRT figure out the best way to get them out there slowly enough so things keep working, but one way or the other they are getting out there."
Her best friend put her hand on the shoulder of her bioconstruct. Both of them watched the plant transpire for a little while. "You did good work, Cousin," Taylor said in the end, in a soft voice. "I'm proud of you."
Amy busied herself picking the new one-shots, Taylor helping her. Shortly they had a container full. Picking up another sprayer, she spritzed the plant, which seconds later flowered again, the blooms this time bright green. "The color shows these are seeds," she said as the leaves fell away to reveal small fluorescent pink pods, which they picked and put into another container. Screwing the lid on, she held it up and rattled it around. "About sixty. That's enough to get on with. I'll plant a couple and check they work properly, then take them to the hospital."
"Do they fruit automatically or do you have another catalyst?"
"I can set them to do either. I'm not sure which method is best at the moment, that's one of the things I want to talk to the doctors at the hospital about. We'll need to figure out the right method to distribute them sooner or later but making sure they have enough for a proper testing program comes first."
"Really nice job, Amy," Taylor smiled.
"It was a lot of fun." Putting the bottle of seeds away, Amy turned to the other side of the bench. "I also started making another batch of bioguns. I'll need your help to finish these off later."
"Sure. That'll give us…" Taylor glanced at the existing biogun tree, which was on a shelf on the other side of the workroom. "Sixteen. That should be enough to properly test."
"I think so. We can talk to Mark about that tomorrow, perhaps?"
"Sounds like a plan."
The phone in the main room rang, interrupting them. Taylor disappeared and when Amy came out of the workroom, she was talking to the gate guy. Putting it back after thanking him, she turned to Amy.
"Faultline and her people are here."
Looking over his shoulder, Newter watched the barrier come down behind them, the two gate guards watching them closely as they drove around the large building in front of them down the left side as they'd been instructed. Neither of the men had seemed particularly surprised to see a car full of Parahumans turn up, but then with the Family wandering around he supposed that they'd be used to it.
Going back to looking out the front, he stared around as Mel very slowly drove on towards the water. Everyone else was also watching the surroundings. Off to the left side in the huge clear area he could see several of the walking mechs that Vectura was apparently responsible for working with more conventional construction equipment to cut up the last part of the tanker left after the train had gone the previous day. At the rate they were going it didn't look like it would take long to finish the job. Brilliant lances of plasma were coming from two of the machines, sparks flying, while the rest were either moving the cut pieces or slicing other sections off the remnants of the ship with huge and obviously stupidly sharp blades. Normal bulldozers and excavators moved back and forth, while overhead cranes were picking the resulting scrap up and dropping it into rail cars with echoing crashes he could clearly hear from his seat.
"They seem to be working hard," Gregor commented from behind him. "I expect those machines speed the process up considerably. I wonder how many more they'll end up with?"
"Probably depends on how reliable they are," Mel commented, glancing that way for a second. "You know Tinker Tech, it can fail at the worst moment. If they have too many of them, Vectura will spend all her time maintaining the things."
"Possibly," the large man muttered, still watching. "Possibly not. I've been hearing some interesting things about that one's tech..." Newter glanced back at him to see he was studying the distant machines with a pensive look. Beside him, Elle was also watching, apparently finding them fascinating. She caught his eye and smiled, so he smiled back.
"We're here," Mel said, slowing further, then turning right. Everyone looked front to see the familiar sign they'd all come across on PHO. Newter read it, feeling a sensation go through him that he couldn't really identify. Slight hope, mixed with caution, added to excitement and trepidation, was probably about as close as he could pin it down to. "As I said, try not to upset them."
"The DWU or the Family?" Newter asked in a glib manner, smiling. She looked at him for a couple of seconds, then turned the engine off.
"I'm not sure if there's all that much difference these days, so I'm going with 'yes' for that one," she replied, before opening the door and getting out. A little more worry joined the odd feeling he had as he watched her, then he also exited. Gregor and Elle followed, the girl looking around with a small smile. She was in a definite good mood at the moment, almost eager in fact.
He wasn't quite so sure now he was here, but it was too late to back out. So he took a deep breath and walked over to stand next to Mel as she knocked firmly on the pedestrian door to the BBFO office.
When it opened to reveal a seven foot tall matte black lizard with glowing green eyes, he couldn't help but take a step back in shock.
Taylor watched from the table as 'Metis' led the four members of Faultline's group over, having admitted them and closed the door. She didn't react to the thing she'd instantly noticed but glanced at her other aspect, who was as often the case Raptaur to her Saurial.
He looked back. "That is… extremely intriguing," he said silently.
'That it is,' she replied. 'What do Eidolon, Coil, Battery, Alexandria, Newter, Triumph, Legend, and Gregor all have in common aside from that fucking weird smell?'
"I have no idea. But I would very much like to find out."
Amy was giving them a sideways look, picking up on their slight confusion. She shook her head minutely, indicating that she'd tell the other girl later. Standing, she held out her hand. "Welcome to BBFO."
Faultline, a tallish dark haired woman wearing a welding mask that to normal eyes entirely obscured her face, a fairly long skirt, and body armor over her torso, shook her hand. Taylor inspected her in thermal vision, seeing a face with narrow and strong features. She smelled a little uncertain and cautious but not scared. "Thank you for agreeing to meet us," she replied.
"It's no problem," Taylor smiled. "We like meeting new people. We've met pretty much all the local heroes, but you guys were out of town when we first arrived."
The attenuated lanky boy with orange skin and a long tail standing next to his leader snorted with laughter. "We're not exactly heroes..." he began, before Faultline looked at him, making him fall silent. Taylor smiled again.
"You're not villains either. From what I've heard you are very professional and don't cause problems in the city, and the PRT seem more or less OK with you, so I can't see any reason to think of you as bad people."
"Nice to hear that," Faultline commented.
Holding out her hand again, this time to Newter, Taylor waited. He looked at it, then her, then Faultline, before shrugging and shaking it. The somewhat reptilian boy looked a little surprised when nothing happened other than her releasing it again. Once more he looked at Faultline, who was apparently watching closely, and visibly relaxed slightly.
Taylor grinned. "I read about your hallucinogenic sweat," she told him, before licking her palm with her long forked tongue. "Interesting chemical makeup. But it won't affect any of us."
"Um..." He stared a little more, then shook his head. "Wow."
"It's good to meet you as well, Newter." Discreetly covering her hand with very short lived hydrochloric acid, which the Varga thought would neutralize his chemical-laced sweat, she made sure it was gone before she turned to the next one. "And you would be Gregor. Or Gregor the Snail, if I'm being entirely accurate."
Gregor nodded, before looking a little tentatively at the hand she held out. "Don't worry, I neutralized it, you won't have a reaction," she assured the somewhat translucent and heavily built man, who after a moment shrugged and shook. He definitely appeared impressed when nothing happened.
"A pleasure," he replied in a voice that had a faint accent, she thought one of the Scandinavian ones or something similar.
"And finally we have Labyrinth, I believe," Taylor went on, turning to the youngest of the visitors. The girl, who was probably somewhere around Dinah's age, or perhaps a little more, had long blonde hair and was wearing a green mask and a robe of the same color with a maze-like pattern on it. She was looking around the room with apparent great interest but turned back when Taylor again offered her hand, shaking it without hesitation.
"Hi, Saurial," she said brightly, making her companions look at her then exchange a glance.
"Hello, Labyrinth." Taylor smiled widely, causing Newter to gulp a little, Gregor to very slightly pale, Faultline to take half a step back, and Labyrinth to giggle. She found all four reactions funny. Indicating her friends, she carried on, "This is my sister Raptaur, my cousin Ianthe, and her sister Metis, who you will recall from such times as the one where she let you in." All three of her friends smiled at the newcomers, but were letting her do the talking for now.
Newter snickered then swallowed it, before getting an expression that suggested he wasn't sure whether it was safe to laugh or not. She winked at him before adding, "Anyone want something to drink?" while indicating the coffee machine and fridges. "We've got most things."
"Coffee would be pleasant," Gregor replied.
"Do you have any soda?" Newter asked.
"Sure, any of the usual ones."
"Coke, then, please. Labyrinth likes Sprite."
"No problem." She glanced enquiringly at Faultline, who shook her head. Her face-enveloping mask would make a drink difficult to handle anyway, Taylor thought.
"Nothing for me."
"OK. Please have a seat." 'Raptaur' had silently moved to get the drinks, coming back as they were sitting down with what they'd asked for and the usual for all of them on a quickly generated tray. Shortly they were all seated. She looked around at the visitors. "While a social visit is nice, I have a feeling this isn't just that."
Everyone looked at Faultline. She looked back, then turned to Newter. He swallowed hard as Taylor and her friends fixed their attention on him.
"Umm..." The poor boy seemed rather nervous now, adding to the complex emotions they could all smell on him. "Do you know about Case 53 Parahumans?" he asked after a long pause while he visibly gathered his thoughts. Faultline leaned forward just a tiny amount and Gregor was obviously listening closely.
"We know that they are a subset of Parahumans who generally share the distinction of having a non standard physiology and always have a very particular form of retrograde amnesia," Amy replied immediately. She had told them about her own experiences with Case 53s and the oddities she'd run into. "In some cases the variation is minor, as with you, Newter. Other cases have more divergence from standard human bodies, up to the point of being entirely non organic while still being functional through means currently unknown," she added. "Also, our information is that they always have a mark, usually considered to be a tattoo of some form, somewhere on their body, in the shape of a horseshoe, letter U, or Omega symbol depending on who is describing it."
He seemed a little startled at her recitation, but nodded.
"A concise and accurate summation," Gregor said, looking approving. He turned in his chair slightly to show his upper right arm, which did indeed have the symbol that Amy had described. Taylor had noticed it when he shook her hand. To her it definitely appeared to be an Omega symbol more than anything else. "Case in point."
"Mine is here." Newter lifted his simple T-shirt to show the same mark on his chest, on the upper left side, then lowered it again. Other than jeans that was all he was wearing, as his feet were bare.
"I see," she said. "You two are the first Case 53 Parahumans I've met." She motioned for him to continue.
"Well, anyway, like Ianthe said, neither of us can remember anything of our lives before…" He trailed off, then finished, "Before."
"What my young friend is trying to say is that we have no knowledge, other than things like language and general motor skills plus some generic day to day functions, of the time before we presumably Triggered," Gregor put in as the boy sighed a little. "In my case that was approximately five years ago. I just woke up in an alley and wondered where I was. When I saw myself for what might as well have been the first time, there was a very slight impression that something was different, but it wasn't until someone else saw me and screamed that I realized I was that unusual."
The large man shrugged slightly. "I won't go into details but let's say that the first couple of years were somewhat difficult for me. In the end I joined up with Faultline and things got better. I'm more or less resigned to never knowing what happened and I'm comfortable enough with that, although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious even so."
"Yeah, what he said," Newter sighed. "In my case it was maybe three years ago. Woke up looking like this, didn't realize what was wrong except that something was, freaked out when I worked out I couldn't even remember my own name, then found out that other people freaked out even more when they saw me the first time. First time I touched someone with bare skin, I discovered what my sweat did. That was… weird."
"I can imagine," Taylor said, feeling sorry for both of them. Her own change had come with built in help and a life-long friend, while they seemed to have drawn the short straw in a big way.
"I was living in the sewer for months, since I got chased out of all sorts of places," he grumbled. "That wasn't much fun. Stunk, too. Faultline found me and offered me a place with her, so it got better, but I still have bad dreams about that time."
"Both of them are valued members of my team, and friends," Faultline said as he paused. "They had a hard time through no fault of their own, to the best of our knowledge."
"I understand," Taylor nodded, glancing at Amy, then the Varga and Lisa, all of who were listening intently. "So what can we do for you?"
Newter tapped his finger on the table, looking very uncertain, but finally leaned forward. "A friend of mine made a joke, suggesting that since I look a little like a big lizard, maybe I'm actually related to you guys." He visibly braced himself. "Was he right?"
Feeling very sorry for the poor guy, and sympathetic too, Taylor slowly shook her head and replied as gently as she could, "No, I'm sorry, but you're not. We know where all our people are and what they look like, and you're not one of them."
He stared, then slowly slumped. Faultline put a gloved hand on his shoulder for a moment. "Oh." The boy sighed. "Thanks anyway. It was unlikely, but I thought I should check."
"Don't give up yet, Newter," Amy consoled him. "We can't promise anything, but if you want we can look into it. The whole Case 53 situation is intriguing."
"It's horrific," Faultline said in a hard voice. "There are hundreds of people out there with bizarre and sometimes terrible changes to them, and there's evidence it's deliberate. I know quite a few people like Newter and Gregor. I want to find out what or who is behind it and stop them."
"You believe it's a hostile act?" 'Metis' queried, looking very interested. She'd been examining all four visitors since they'd arrived in the way that Taylor recognized as her power telling her things.
"I don't know if it's actively hostile, but I'm certain it's no accident," the older woman replied. "For a start, they all have that tattoo or whatever it is. It's identical in each case, although the placement varies. It doesn't seem like that could be anything other than an explicit action by some third party. And the memory loss too… Same thing for every one of them I've ever heard about. Not one person can remember who they used to be. Someone or something has stolen their entire history from them somehow."
She seemed passionate about it, and went on as they listened. "Sure, it's barely possible that somehow this is being done with good intentions, but if so, wouldn't they get some sort of support? Instead the poor bastards just get randomly dumped on the street. And it can't be some weird Trigger event because it's just too consistent. There are far too many points of commonality between them, and way too little real information."
"So who would be doing this and why?" Lisa asked reasonably. "And how, for that matter?"
"I don't know," their visitor growled. "If I did, we could stop it. Could be a Biotinker experimenting, that's one theory, but it doesn't really hold water." Amy glanced at Taylor for a moment. "Aliens, maybe. That's another even stupider one. The common Trigger is another, and so on. Lots of ideas, no actual information." A harsh sigh came from behind the mask. "The only real clues are the tattoo and the amnesia. Sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if the amnesia is specifically so they can't remember who did it and why, and then end up wondering why if it was so goddam secret the perpetrator didn't just kill them. It would be less effort and probably more effective."
She waved a hand at Newter, then Gregor. "Why leave, if not witnesses, at least proof that something hinky is going on in the first place?"
"I agree that it does sound somewhat suspicious when you put it like that," the Varga commented, frowning a little. Taylor was thinking the same thing, as she was sure her 'cousins' were too based on their scents. "And there is no other useful evidence for a presumed actor behind these actions?"
"No." Faultline paused, then added, "Maybe. A word. Just a rumor, but it comes up in weird places every now and then, and I've heard people speculate it might have something to do with Case 53 occurrences. But there's no proof, and the people who talk about it tend to vanish when you try to find out more."
"And that word is?" Lisa asked, leaning forward and looking fascinated.
The black lizard froze, then leaned back, appearing to be thinking very hard.
Faultline didn't miss it. "You've heard of that."
"I've come across rumors on the internet where that word popped up, yes," Lisa finally said after some seconds. "Enough of them that I think it's barely possible it's a real thing. It's certainly got some consistency to it, even if there's no provable evidence to show what it refers to."
Taylor looked at Amy, who produced an almost subliminal shrug. Once again, she wished she could talk to her friends as easily as she could to the demon in her head, since it would help a lot of the time. She'd never heard that word before, other than attached to a large cooking pot or something of that nature, and was wondering what it was supposed to signify in this case.
"I feel that we may suddenly have discovered something interesting," the Varga said very quietly in her head, watching Lisa think. "And possibly the key to a number of disparate issues."
'Why do you say that?' she asked him.
"I'm not yet certain," he replied.
"One of the more peculiar rumors I've run across, in two or three places, was that there was someone who could, for a price, a very large one, sell Parahuman powers," Lisa added after some more thought. "An interesting coincidence was that the word 'Cauldron' came up in those cases too..."
"And there it is," the great demon said, a sense of satisfaction and surprise in his voice.
'Now that is interesting,' Taylor remarked, suddenly thinking very quickly indeed.
Faultline and 'Metis' were staring at each other.