Chapter 9

Considering they were sheltering a cape that had attacked Glory Girl in front of the head of the local Protectorate, Brian had found the past week to have been pretty uneventful. Assuming you ignored the terror attacks that the ABB were committing on a daily basis, of course.

Brian wasn't really sure how he felt about Voorhees. While she had saved him and his team on two separate occasions she also had some deep seated emotional issues. The first day or so Brian had been a little concerned she might go on a rampage if they said the wrong thing but once he had talked with her he realized that wasn't the type of issues she was suffering from. Based on how she acted in conversations, Brian suspected (and Lisa later confirmed) that Voorhees' problems were a lack of friends and a severe self-image issue, both of which had been (understandably) exacerbated by her getting powers.

Once Voorhees had gotten over the fact that, yes villains were people too, and that just because her powers were turning her into a monster didn't mean they were going to run screaming in fear from her, she had turned into a pleasant conversationalist. Still shy and tended to back down if Rachel was in the room (which was just weird to watch, this giant Brute being intimidated by someone who Brian could take in a fight) but overall, Voorhees seemed like a perfectly reasonable person. She was quite the reader. Brian had gone out and bought several novels to keep Voorhees occupied since Tattletale wanted to be able to use her laptop instead of fighting off Voorhees who had pirated a bunch of books onto it.

Brian had been splitting his time between hanging out with the team and staying home to keep an eye on his sister. Technically, she was still supposed to be living with their Mom but with the bombing spree going on no one was going to make a fuss about her staying at his apartment. Shockingly, Aisha actually seemed to understand the gravity of the situation and was (mostly) staying home. Brian was waiting for the other shoe to drop with her.

Voorhees was currently staring at a burner phone Brian had got her, evidently trying to work up the nerve to call her dad and tell him she was okay. Brian could sympathize with her, it was a similar situation to himself and Aisha. You don't want to tell your family so much that it puts them in danger, but you don't want to leave them completely in the dark because then their ignorance creates problems. From what Brian had learned, Voorhees' Dad knew she had powers but not necessarily the specifics of how she had got them or what they fully entailed.

Brian glanced over at Voorhees. Despite having a monster face she could still be pretty expressive with her emotions and she was looking rather torn.

"If I'm intruding you can tell me to back off, but what, exactly, is this issue here? What's the difficulty you're having?"

Voorhees looked up from the phone, seemingly desperate for any excuse to avoid making the call. "Besides the fact that I'm a wanted criminal that attacked the poster child of New Wave? Besides that?"

Brian nodded. "Yeah, besides that."

Voorhees glared at him. She had not expected his lackadaisical answer. Brian was willing to admit it seemed like something Alex would do but he felt that getting too emotional would only serve to wind Voorhees up. He needed to remain patient to keep her grounded.

"I just...I thought my life was finally getting better. I got to meet Miss Militia and Armsmaster and Glory Girl and Panacea. Real life superheroes. And they talked to me. Me! I helped them capture Lung, a parahuman that was head of a criminal gang. No more dealing with bullies at school. No more being the weird social outcast. No more being unable to talk to my own father about what was going on in my life. And then I fucked it all up."

The last sentence was said in a tone of such defeat and despair Brian was half tempted to get up and give Voorhees a hug. That probably would have been a mistake though so Brian remained seated.

"The worst part is it was inevitable. I can't look back and go, 'oh my life would have been so much better if it wasn't for that one mistake.' No, with my power I was doomed from the word go. Doesn't matter what Panacea does to me, my power was always going to turn me into a monster. There was never any chance of me getting friends and attending school like a normal person, not when I look like this! So yeah, I'm on the run because I got in a fight with Glory Girl. So what? I doubt most parts of my house could even hold my weight. I hardly have anything to go back to, so what's the point? Maybe I should let the old me die and just be Voorhees from now on."

Brian really didn't know what to say in response to that. Voorhees was in desperate need of a therapist and Brian was woefully under equipped to handle this situation correctly.

Fortunately, Brian was saved from putting his foot in his mouth when Lisa walked in, already in costume. She glanced around and looked at Brian with a raised eyebrow. He shrugged in response.

"Voorhees, got any plans for the evening?" Lisa asked cheerfully.

Voorhees took a couple of calming breaths before answering. "I may not know the specifics of your power but I've figured out enough to know you already know the answer to that question."

Tattle laughed. "Fair enough. There's a meeting of the local villains tonight. Wanna tag along?"

"Meeting of the villains?"

"To discuss the ABB situation and whether or not something should be done about them," Tattletale explained. "Sure sure, you aren't a villain but you are an independent who's fought both Lung and Bakuda."

"I didn't win either of those fights."

Brian snorted and decided to interject. "Don't go ruining your reputation by telling the truth. You fought Lung and he ended up in jail. You took one of Bakuda's bomb to the face and walked away. You're a badass that people should fear."

"I dunno…"

"Think of it this way. If you come along you might be able to offer insight that would help us stop the ABB from continuing to bomb places. You could save lives," Tattletale said, sounding serious for the first time in this conversation.

"When you put it that way I'd feel like a dick if I refused," Voorhees grumbled.

Brian recognized her tone of voice. He had often sounded exactly like that after arguing with Lisa. It was the sound of someone knowing they had just been manipulated but unsure as to how.

"Excellent," Tattletale said, suddenly perky again. "REGENT WAKE UP! GOT AN IMPORTANT MEETING TO GET READY FOR."

Brian entered the bar with his team. If Brian had to use one word to describe the location he would have gone with 'dingy.' The place was cramped, poorly lit, and probably in desperate need of a visit from the health department. Several tables had been pushed together in the center of the room where the meeting would take place. The four supervillains sat down at one of the booths at the far corner and wrote down their orders when the surly waitress approached the table with a pad of paper.

They were the first group to arrive and it wasn't long before more people showed up. Kaiser and several other Empire capes strode in with the level of self-inflated superiority only racists seemed capable of pulling off. Brian fought to keep his body language neutral.

"I thought you said Purity had quit the Empire," Regent whispered to Tattletale.

"She did, rejoined right before the bombing spree started," Tattletale answered back.

"Does that change anything? Do I need to know something?" Brian asked.

His teammate shook her head. "It's more a show of power on Kaiser's part than anything else. Prove he's still got the heavy hitters." Tattletale grinned. "Course, we've got someone who can take anything they dish out."

"Keep that part quiet, remember?" Brian said as he stood up and sat at the main table, across from Kaiser. The leader of the Empire gave him a nod of acknowledgement, which Brian returned.

While the Empire capes places their drink orders two more groups showed up, Faultline and her crew plus Coil. Brian respected Faultline. Despite the rivalry going on between her and Tattletale, the woman was a professional and had gathered a reputation as an impartial, reliable mercenary. Coil was just a mystery. He had a group of well-trained ex-military types working for him yet didn't really seem to have a source of income. Sure, he held some territory and probably had a protection racket going in that area but it shouldn't have been enough to turn a profit on, not with as high as his expenditures had to be.

Brian's musing was cut short as a roar reverberated through the air.

The front door was slammed open as a body was launched inward and rolled several times before sliding to a rest at the tables. Every cape in room immediately tensed, waiting to see what would happen.

Did a member of the Protectorate happen to wander by on a patrol? Who was that anyway? After a quick glanced at the stunned person Brian felt himself not nearly as worried as before.

"Mother fuckin' turd muncher! We took care of you once, we can do it again!" Skidmark shouted as he finally found his bearings and leapt to his feet.

"It's my understanding that there isn't supposed to be any fighting at these meetups," a deep voice from outside said. "It's not my fault you were too strung out to avoid running me over. You're lucky all I did was tear the door off."

And then the owner of the voice entered through the doorway. Brian had to admit that meeting in a cramped building actually worked in their favor because it made Voorhees seem even bigger than she already was as she entered on all fours.

Her wide mouth was big enough that she could have engulfed anyone from the head down to their waist if she was feeling so inclined. Acidic spit was starting to overflow past her sharp teeth and drip down onto the floor. Her arms were as big around as Brian's torso and in her left hand she held the unconscious form of Squealer. She didn't seem to be taking much care to avoid knocking the Tinker repeatedly against the ground as she walked forward. Voorhees' many eyes surveyed the gathered villains in a nonchalant manner. Seeing Voorhees in this manner was quite different from how she acted back at the base. Brian was reminded of a bear. Voorhees was just a solid mass of muscle that wanted to be left alone but would not hesitate to fuck you up if you bothered her.

It was amusing to watch everyone's body posture tense up as Voorhees got close. She was an unknown, that made her dangerous. Combine that with her gruesome appearance and the way she had manhandled the Merchants, it made for an intimidating package. It was quite at odds with the girl who had gotten incredibly embarrassed just a few days ago when Alec had pointed out that she had been naked the entire time she'd been with the group. In her defense she'd had a lot on her mind, in Alec's defense...well he was right, she was naked. That said, Alec should have let it drop after he mentioned it. His continual teasing about it was probably why Voorhees didn't like him.

In a way, Brian felt a sense of pride that Voorhees had taken his instructions of reputation and appearing confident to heart. Didn't matter what she was feeling on the inside, on the outside she looked badass.

"Is this man's claim true? Did you hit him with whatever contraption Squealer managed to get running this week?" Kaiser asked, turning to look at Skidmark. He hadn't raised his voice but Kaiser managed to convey a high degree of anger and contempt in just two sentences.

"She ran out in the middle of the road!"

"Walked. I walked into the road because no traffic was coming," Voorhees responded. "Then you came sliding around the corner in that van and didn't slow down."

"Go sit in a booth. We'll deal with you later," Kaiser said, glaring at Skidmark.

"Fuck you whitey, just cus I'm black doesn't mean I take orders from you."

"No, you take orders from all of us because you broke the rules and unless you want to be killed where you stand you will shut up and go sit in a booth," Coil said.

With a lot of muttered profanity, Skidmark made his way over to an unoccupied booth. Voorhees unceremoniously dumped Squealer's body on the floor next to him and then made her way over to the main table.

"Well, well, well, things are already more interesting than most of these little events usually are," a new voice said from the doorway. Brian turned and saw a group of capes in red and black themed outfits, along with a gorilla-like creature almost as big as Voorhees.

"The Travelers," Coil supplied. "You're a nomadic group, I didn't expect to see you in Brockton Bay."

"With all the hubbub going on, it seemed like an interesting place to visit. I'm Trickster by the way," the cape said as he sauntered forward and took a chair at the main table while his group filtered over to a booth.

"You know the rules while you're here?" Brian asked.

Trickster nodded. "As has just been demonstrated, no powers, no fighting, don't bait others, yada yada yada. Like I said, I've been to these in other cities, we know the drill."

"Good enough," Faultline said as she retook her seat. "Now back to the unknown, I admit I'm unfamiliar with you."

"Call me Voorhees, I'm an independent."

This had been part of the agreement beforehand. As much as Brian wished that Voorhees would join the Undersiders, she was adamant about not being seen as even more of a villain than she already was so Lisa had told her to show up to the meeting later than the group and they would all pretend not to know each other.

"I doubt the other independents such as Circus or Uber and Leet will make an appearance so this should be everyone, excluding the ABB but I doubt they'd send a representative considering they are the subject of this meeting," Coil said as everyone got situated. "To wit: their over use of the bombs as resulted in a severe loss of life, property, and revenue for the city. The national guard has already begun the process of mobilizing and the Protectorate is talking of bringing in extra capes until the situation has been resolved. This affects our bottom line."

People around the room nodded.

"If the situation isn't resolved soon not only will we be hampered by the ABB, but we are unlikely to regain proper control of our holdings due to the increased presence of the law enforcement," Coil continued. "To that end I propose a temporary truce, that we work together to hit ABB safehouses until the danger has passed and the Mayor doesn't feel the need to call for outside help every two days."

"I was actually going to make a similar suggestion," Brian said. "My team has no problems working with others if that is what it takes to stop Bakuda."

More nods from around the room (other than Faultline and her group who insisted on being paid). From there the conversation turned to more tactical aspects. Brian brought up the conscripts with the implanted bombs and Kaiser mentioned several ABB safehouses that everyone else had been unaware of. Voorhees described several of Bakuda's bombs that she had witnessed or been subjected to. Coil even suggested curtailing as much criminal activity as possible until this was resolved so that the Protectorate could focus on the ABB, which was eventually agreed to.

"So now that that is all handled, there is the issue of what to do with the Merchants," Coil said as he looked at the two drug addicted capes. Squealer had regained consciousness at some point during the meeting and had joined Skidmark in glaring at everyone. "As the injured party Voorhees, you may make demand for restitutions or punishment."

Voorhees shook her massive head. "As deplorable as I find the Merchants, we could use their help dealing with the ABB."

"A very utilitarian approach," Coil commented. "Anyone disagree with Voorhees' decision?"

Various people shrugged or shook their heads.

"Alright then, before we all start heading out is there anything else anybody wants to bring up?"

Brian wasn't sure how he felt about having the group divided up like this. On the one hand it did help cut down on the possibility of any one group stabbing everyone else in the back, but the flipside of that was he was working alongside of multiple people that he hadn't practiced or trained with. This felt too fly-by-night for comfort. At least Voorhees was part of this group so there was one person Brian knew could be reliable.

"Do we have a plan beyond charge in there and wreck everything?" Brian asked.

"Cricket is spying on the place now, which you would know if you'd arrived on time," Stormtiger said.

I was only two minutes late you racist bastard, and that was just so Voorhees and I wouldn't arrive at the same time.

"Regardless of what she finds, I'm pretty sure the plan will boil down to, I rush in and draw everyone's attention while you all pick off the important targets," Voorhees rumbled from her spot on the street. "Whatever they turn out to be."

She really does look like a dog, resting her head on her hands like that. I wonder if she's aware that she's doing it?

"Which won't take long at all, not like this is an important site," Stormtiger muttered.

Brian could understand the man's complaint. This was a small warehouse on the edge of town that hadn't even seen active use until recently. They were not expecting a large resistance at this building, if any. Hence why there were only four people assigned to this job. The point was that it was a location that the ABB had begun using and therefor they needed to hit it to show that the Asian gang had no place they could hide. It was entirely, completely necessary that this place get worked over...even if it did feel like a punishment detail.

Without so much as a warning Cricket dropped to the ground in a crouch right next to Stormtiger. Brian was proud of himself that he didn't start in surprise.

"We got a problem," she said without preamble.

"What? They got the place booby trapped to hell or some shit?" Stormtiger asked.

Cricket shook her head. "No, it's Lung. Based on all the equipment I think this is going to be Bakuda's new workshop and he's here overseeing the move."