Some time ago when I started thinking about a Worm fic, I had three ideas that came to mind. One turned into Taylor Varga, which grew rather out of hand, although I regret nothing! One I did about eight chapters of, but shelved for the time being as it was rapidly turning into something ridiculously complicated. I may come back to it at some point in the future even so. I've lifted a few bits out of it for Taylor Varga, so it wasn't a waste of time.
The third idea was the one behind this beginning. Whether I'll go on with it at some point I don't know. I quite like the idea, but I haven't decided exactly how it would work, aside from it being an AU of Worm that breaks entirely with continuity some years before the start of canon. No Scion, that golden idiot makes the entire setting almost impossible to end properly without nearly everyone dying or a huge deus ex machina, so he snuffed it at the same time as Eden. Less powerful Endbringers, for the same reason, although still insanely powerful. Basically, tilting the field a little more towards sanity. It would have been fairly dark even so, although not Worm dark. I didn't want to mow down entire worlds full of people...
This is the starting setup fragment, but there is a prologue I never finished, which is set far into the future in a parallel universe. One where the last Bolo still in existence intercepts a weird transmission while trapped in hyperspace after the pyrrhic victory style climactic battle which wiped both humanity and the Enemy from the universe, follows it back, and decides to interfere with the evil plans of what it marks as a new version of the Enemy threatening a new, but recognizable, version of humanity.
All it needs is some recruits, who are willing and able to learn.
Oh, look there. How convenient. We'll just sabotage that Enemy mind link, hijack the connection, subvert the processing core which turns out to be no match for thousands of years of development in positronic computation, and begin...
For the Honor of the Legion.
June 29th, 2007
"You hurt my mother."
Derek was surprised at the high-pitched female voice, sounding like a preteen girl, which suddenly spoke from behind him, full of a mix of fury and determination. He noticed that Jim was looking past his shoulder with a startled expression on his face, as was the clerk behind the counter. The rest of the customers in the gas station were lying face down on the floor, some of them in tears.
Turning, his eyes immediately focussed on the barrel of the 9mm handgun which was pointed straight at his face in an impressively and worryingly steady grip, not wavering even slightly. The girl holding it in both hands in what looked appallingly like a practised weaver stance was rather tall for her age, and bore a definite family resemblance to the dark-haired woman who was lying on the ground behind her, one hand clamped to her side with blood welling between her fingers. The older woman was barely conscious at this point, while the other customer next to her who had got in the way of their robbery was already dead from Jim's shotgun.
Wondering for an instant where the hell the girl had got the damn gun from, he raised his eyes from the barrel, meeting the coldest gaze he'd ever encountered from anyone, never mind a girl that was, at best, something like twelve. Involuntarily he shivered a little. He'd known stone-cold killers in solitary confinement that couldn't pull off a look like that half as well. Glancing at the dead man, he spotted the badge on his belt, exposed due to the way his jacket had fallen open as he hit the floor, next to an empty holster. 'Fuck. A cop.' That explained the gun, at least.
He moved the hand his own weapon was in slightly, instinctively raising it a little in the face of the threat, which had the immediate response of the girl twitching the barrel to the side and firing one shot without any hesitation at all, the report deafening in the confines of the gas station. He felt a burning pain along the top of one ear, screeching in surprise and shock and nearly dropping his pistol.
"Holy fuck kid! You could have killed me!" he screamed in rage.
"Easily," she replied in an icy voice, having instantly reoriented her gun back to pointing at his face. "Drop your weapon or I will with the next shot."
"You really think you could kill someone, girl?" he asked sourly after a moment or two, his free hand feeling his left ear which he realised was missing about a quarter of an inch.
She slowly smiled in a manner which made his blood run cold.
"Try me," she replied in a terrifyingly even voice.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, she's just a kid," Jim suddenly snarled, swinging his shotgun up. There was another loud bang, making Derek lurch sideways, then something hit the ground next to him. Sidling away from whatever it was, the girl following his movements with her weapon having whipped it to the right and back too fast for him to capitalise on, he glanced down. Jim was lying face up on the floor, a neat hole exactly centred between his eyes, dead as a post with blood spreading in a pool from under his head.
"Jesus," Derek whispered in shock, looking back at the girl. She was still wearing that appallingly cold and determined expression, looking completely unmoved about the fact that she'd just killed someone. It was downright creepy, even with his own experiences over the years.
"Put down your weapon," she repeated. "You have fifteen seconds to comply before you die."
He stared in horror for several heartbeats. "Ten seconds." The muzzle of her gun raised just a fraction, making him absolutely certain it was aimed dead centre between his eyes. "Five. Four. Three..."
"Shit, OK, OK, I'm dropping it," he ground out, tossing his gun to the side. She didn't take her eyes off his face to follow the path of the weapon even for a moment.
"Thank you. Sir?" The girl flicked her eyes at the clerk, then back to Derek before he could move. "Will you please come out from there, going to your right, then come over here? Please kick that shotgun out of reach in the process."
The clerk didn't move for a long moment, then did as requested, a metallic rattling sound indicating the twelve-gauge sliding across the floor. As he came into view Derek could see the twenty-something man was shaking. "You, lie face down on the floor with your hands behind your back. Sir, please remove the handcuffs from the left jacket pocket of the officer here and put them on the perpetrator." She sounded more professional than some twenty-year career cops he'd encountered. The clerk stared at her, then at Derek who had reluctantly dropped to his knees, before bending over the dead police officer and gingerly fishing in the relevant pocket.
Sighing a little, and also more than slightly unnerved, Derek went the rest of the way to the floor, putting his hands behind him, the gun muzzle following him down. The click of the handcuffs locking around his wrists was horribly final. Tugging a little on the cold metal, he sagged. The young man may have been in shock but he'd tightened the cuffs more than enough to prevent escape.
"Thank you, sir. Please call 911 immediately and request a medical and police presence as fast as possible." The girl's voice was still hard, but not quite as controlled now. Derek looked up to see she was kneeling next to her mother, taking her own coat off and then removing her t-shirt, before folding it up and gently moving the older woman's hand aside to press the improvised bandage over the gunshot wound in her abdomen. "Mom, you're going to be OK," the girl said softly, worry now for the first time apparent. "Just hold this for me." The mother opened her eyes, blinking at her daughter, then smiled faintly.
Derek made a small motion to relieve the stress in his arms and then froze as the girl was instantly pointing her appropriated weapon directly at him again. He'd barely seen her move. "Stay still, please," she stated calmly. He stared, that almost robotic note was back in her voice again, making him entirely sure she'd pull the trigger without a second thought if she decided he was a threat.
The sound of the clerk talking urgently on the phone in the background stopped. "They're on the way, miss," the man said.
"Thank you, sir. Can you please find something more effective as a bandage? Do you have a first aid kit, for example?"
"Sure," the man said, sounding eager to help. He rummaged around for a moment then came back around the counter holding a large box with a red cross emblazoned on the cover. Putting it down he opened it, turning it around to show the contents to the girl. She looked them over then indicated a few things.
"Open that bandage," she directed. He did as requested. "Fold it twice, into a square," she added, watching as he followed her instructions. Derek watched in amazement as she talked the young man through the process of bandaging the wound in her mother's side with all the assurance of a practised paramedic. As he finished, she felt her mother's throat, checking her pulse, then nodded. Seconds later she looked up at the sound of sirens.
"Good, they're here. You'd better go back to the counter, make sure you keep your hands visible." He nodded and stood. The girl competently popped the magazine from the gun in her hand, showing considerable expertise, then ejected the chambered round with a quick action of the slide, before slipping it back into the magazine. When she was finished making the weapon safe she leaned over her mother to replace it into the holster of the dead officer, putting the magazine in his pocket, then moved back to sit beside her mother with one hand on the older woman's bandage and the other on her shoulder.
She turned her head to stare at Derek meaningfully.
"If my mother dies, I will find you, and I will make you beg for death." The look in her eyes combined with the total assurance in her quiet voice nearly made him piss himself. He had absolutely no doubt she meant every word and would find a way to follow through on her promise.
Dropping his head to the tiles he waited while the police car and ambulance screeched to a halt outside, the gas station filling with cops seconds later. A few minutes after that he was sitting in the back of a police cruiser wondering who the fuck the girl was while hoping desperately they never met again.
Detective Maggie Thorpe of the BBPD watched the surveillance video from the aborted gas station hold up with a mix of awe and horror. "Jesus Christ, that's terrifying," she said softly when it finished. "How old is that girl?"
Her partner, Detective Leroy Vanover, replied in a tone of voice expressing similar feelings, "Ten days past her twelfth birthday." He flipped through a pile of documentation. "Taylor Annette Hebert, born June nineteenth, ninety-five, to Danny and Annette Hebert, here in Brockton Bay. Gifted student, no previous interaction with the police, nothing on record as to any gang affiliation or anything else of that nature. Something of a loner according to her teachers, although it sounds more like she just prefers to keep to herself a lot of the time. Sociable, but not really social, if you see what I mean. She's got at least one close friend, an Emma Barnes, daughter of Alan Barnes, lawyer. Who also says the Hebert girl is a private individual, but very open and happy to those she trusts. Although there aren't many of those people. He says she's one of the smartest people he's ever met. Reads a lot, apparently."
"And spends three hours a day in a gun range practising?" Maggie looked away from the monitor to meet her partner's eyes. He shook his head, shrugging.
"Not that we can find out. She's visited a local range a few times with her father for target shooting and the range operators say she's an amazing shot, but they thought her parents were teaching her."
"Not according to her father. He thinks she's just got good reflexes and an eye for shooting. He said she's read every book she could find in the library on firearms and other weapons, but also that she's read practically everything else as well so it didn't particularly stand out. Apparently she reads really fast not to mention incessantly and seems to be interested in almost anything. Basically it sounds like she started at one end of the library and she's working towards the other end. Takes out about ten to fifteen reference books a week."
Maggie looked over at the other monitor which showed the image of the girl she'd just seen interrupt and shut down an armed robbery with more skill and cold judgement than she thought she could bring to bear herself, never mind dropping one assailant in his tracks with no more apparent regret than if he'd been an irritating insect. It was... not at all normal. The girl was sitting calmly at a table in one of the interrogation rooms with her father and a man she recognised as a public-appointed lawyer next to her, the two men conversing over her head.
"Is she a parahuman?" she asked slowly. He sighed.
"We can't actually ask that, as you know. But I don't think so, personally. In my experience capes tend to be pretty obvious pretty fast, and there's nothing in her history that would suggest that she's been wandering the city plugging muggers for fun, for example." Maggie snorted with mild amusement at his dry words. "Not to mention she's awfully young for that sort of thing anyway."
"Age doesn't seem to be much of an issue with parahumans," she replied sourly.
"True enough, but even so, it doesn't quite seem to fit in this case."
"We're going to have to call the PRT even so, I suspect," she sighed.
"Possibly. For now, though, how do you want to handle it?"
Maggie dropped the paperwork she'd been leafing through on the desk and shook her head slightly. "I'm not sure. She's a minor, for one thing, and any good lawyer would make a pretty convincing case of self-defence for another. Her mother had been shot in the commission of a robbery in which a cop was also killed, by two men who between them have a body count of something like ten previous victims and were obviously not worried about adding to it, and the one she dropped was clearly about to shoot at her. Personally, I think she's due a medal for how efficiently she handled the whole thing. I probably couldn't have done it as well myself, especially if a family member was bleeding out next to me."
"I feel the same." Leroy scowled. "Ray was a good friend."
"The thing I'm worried about is that total lack of emotion about the fact she killed someone. Not actually in cold blood, but still... It was kind of creepy how little she seemed to care about it. She might be some sort of psychopath and this is just the start."
Her partner watched the monitor as well. "I know what you mean, Maggie. I've seen professional soldiers who were more affected than that girl about killing someone. Which is just freaky in a twelve year old. But the psychologist's preliminary report says she is, in his opinion, 'A very intelligent, polite and essentially normal young girl although more reserved than is typical.'" He quoted from one page of the report he picked up again.
"He spoke to her for about half an hour in total," she snorted, "how can he come to any sensible conclusions in that time?"
Leroy chuckled. Maggie didn't get along with the psychologist. "I know what you mean, but it matches what everyone else we've talked to says about her. No one thinks she's particularly troubled at all, never mind some sort of cold blooded killer just waiting to strike."
She waved mutely at the other monitor. He sighed once more. "Although I admit that viewpoint is sort of hard to reconcile with the terrifying killer robot act she put on in that gas station."
"She was like the fucking Terminator," Maggie grumbled. "Give her a leather jacket and an Austrian accent and people would run like hell after seeing that."
Leroy snickered for several seconds. "You paint a worrying picture, Mags," he grinned.
"I'd love to know where she learned to shoot like that," the female detective mused, playing the security footage again with the sound muted. One camera was pointing directly at the girl's face, clear enough to make out her expression perfectly. Maggie shivered slightly. Even through the screen the look in those eyes made her feel chilled. She noticed something as the girl fired the first shot, the one that had removed the top of the living suspect's ear. "Look at that," she exclaimed. "She literally didn't even blink when she pulled the trigger. Do you know how unusual that is? Practically everyone blinks at the shot. I do. I know you do as well."
Leroy watched the second shot, then nodded. "I see what you mean. That's kind of weird."
They watched for a little longer. "And look at that. She did exactly the right thing with the materials on hand to deal with a gunshot wound. How did she learn all that? I doubt the first-aid classes in Junior High teach that sort of thing."
"No idea," he replied. "One more mystery to add to the box labelled 'Taylor Hebert' I guess."
"Very helpful, thanks a lot," she muttered, making him smirk. After a few seconds, she stopped the playback, freezing it at the point the girl said something to the suspect they had in custody. She'd love to know what but whenever he'd been asked he clammed up, looking worried. Which was also sort of weird.
"How's the mother?" she asked. Leroy sighed slightly.
"Luckily she's going to be OK from what the hospital said. The bullet went through one kidney and out the back, but did surprisingly little damage all things considered. That said, they told me that without the first aid the girl provided she'd have bled out before getting to them. The young lady definitely saved her mother's life, and I'd guess quite likely the other three survivors in the gas station. Those two idiots might have slaughtered the witnesses, they've done it before."
Maggie nodded absently, inspecting the three people on the monitor. The Hebert girl looked up, staring right at the camera for a second or two, which made her twitch a little. She could see in the girl's eyes she knew full well they were being watched.
After a moment the girl went back to looking straight ahead, apparently at her reflection in the one-way mirror opposite the table, with the same calm patience visible on her face. Maggie got the impression she was prepared to wait more or less forever for something to happen. By now the lawyer was taking notes about something the father was saying.
"What do we have on the parents?" she asked slowly, studying the tall skinny figure of Danny Hebert, who looked surprisingly calm for a father that was in a police station with his twelve year old daughter, waiting to see what happened about the way she'd shot someone between the eyes. Leroy turned to another page in his documents.
"Daniel Hebert, age thirty-six, born in Brockton Bay. Officially head of hiring at the Dockworkers Association, and from what I know is actually pretty much in de facto charge of the union. They have a hell of a lot of respect for him. He doesn't look like much but I've heard stories about a few things over the years..."
Leroy shook his head. "There's a reason that most of the sensible gangs tend to leave the dockworkers alone. No one can prove anything, but there's more than one ganger that tried the heavy approach and turned up beaten to a pulp in an alley the next night. One or two of the more persistent ones never turned up at all. Even E88 tend to be polite around those guys. Impressive, for having no capes I know about."
"Hmm." Maggie could remember a few stories herself now that she thought about it. "I seem to recall there was some sort of incident about a year ago with some Merchants who moved slightly too close to the still working parts of the docks?"
"Yes." Leroy grinned. "That was pretty funny in a horrible black comedy sort of way. An anonymous call was made to 911, when the ambulance turned up they found half a dozen drug dealers groaning on the ground with broken legs and arms. No trace of a weapon or any assailants, and for some peculiar reason none of them seemed to want to talk or press charges."
She chuckled, not being particularly sympathetic. "Serves the scum right," she muttered. More loudly, she asked, "Think he's directly involved in any of that?"
Leroy shrugged. "No idea. The only ones who could tell you won't, that I can guarantee. Those guys stick together like glue and are very loyal."
"Good thing they're more or less law-abiding," she noted. He nodded.
"Pretty much. But I wouldn't like to piss them off."
"What's his background before the union stuff?"
"He's been working in that area most of his career. Apparently he got half-way through a degree in accounting before the kid came along, but stopped when she was born. Guess he just never went back. He ended up in the union, originally as a low level administrator, but worked his way up to where he is. After the riots and the blockade of the port, he ended up pretty much in charge for nearly a year, and in many ways is still one of the more important people there."
Nodding slowly, Maggie looked at her partner. "No military background or anything?"
"Not that we can find. His own father was in the army in the sixties, but he died before the kid was born."
"OK. And the mother?"
"Annette Hebert, age thirty-nine, born in Boston. Professor of English literature at Brockton College. Well respected by her peers, liked by her students. Apparently she's extremely smart, holds two degrees in English literature and English language, not to mention speaks three languages. No one seems to have a bad thing to say about her. Again, no military history, although..." He turned the paperwork to the next page, then looked at Maggie with a small grin.
"Although... what?" she asked, in no mood for games.
"She was allegedly, at one point, in some way affiliated with Lustrum's movement." Leroy raised an eyebrow as Maggie twitched in surprise. "When she was at university. Apparently it didn't last all that long, she met Danny Hebert, left the movement a few months later, then Lustrum ended up where she is now. I couldn't find out any more about it but as far as I can see that's about the only particularly noteworthy thing in her background."
"Interesting," the woman mused.
"Probably not relevant, though, and ancient history now anyway."
"I suppose not." She studied the image of the three people, finally asking, "Anything else in the background check that might be relevant? Anything at all?"
Flipping pages, Leroy went over his documentation, the result of several hours of talking to various people around the city and a lot of computer searches. He finally pulled out one page. "About the only thing that stands out is this." He pushed the paper across the desk to his partner, who picked it up. "Two and a bit years ago, March 2005, Taylor and Danny Hebert were caught up, apparently totally by accident, in that thing with a bunch of the Teeth when they tried to re-establish a presence here in the city. Twenty-three people died when the PRT and the Protectorate stormed the mall the hostages were in, including all the Teeth and an even dozen innocents. The Heberts weren't in that group, but they got trapped by the lock-down of the area. Kid saw the entire thing, apparently. The PRT offered psychological help to everyone involved, the Heberts turned the offer down."
"I remember that. It was a total FUBAR of a situation. Miss Militia nearly died from a booby-trap she missed, and they got Velocity with a sniper. Not to mention six PRT troopers and three of our guys."
"They jumped the gun for sure. That was why they replaced the PRT Director here. Piggot is a lot smarter than the last guy. I don't think things would play out the same with her running the show. But that aside it's the only thing that stands out about Miss Hebert's background that's in any way unusual as far as I can find out. Nothing seems to have come of it but I guess she probably had nightmares for a while."
After another few seconds thought, she sighed slightly, then stood. "OK. Let's go and talk to young Miss Hebert and get her side of the story."
"This should be interesting," Leroy chuckled in a low voice, grabbing a folder of paperwork and following his partner downstairs to the interrogation room.