I'll be making a change from how Quests work, which you'll see this chapter. This change is retroactive for anyone wanting to see how the other Quests were affected. A Quest for recruiting Uber and Leet was added to the beginning of chapter 1-6 for example. And on a tangential note, I've had to update the EXP values of each chapter too, but that had no effect on the story.
I have a small surprise in this chapter. The Interlude will be at the beginning and it's fairly big too, making up about half of the chapter.
Here's chapter 7.
***L14: 9-6; 21-18; 16-3; 22; 27; 17**
As far as most days went, the ninth of January wasn't too bad. It was four past noon, and the only sign of notable cape activity was Uber and Leet, which became a bog standard car chase through light traffic. With the head start their area of operation provided, it was child's play to prepare a trap. It was everything after this successful operation which made Emily unable to think of the day as a good one.
Uber and Leet were idiots to be sure, but they became pretty aware of how quickly the PRT and the heroes can respond to a location after their first capture. It didn't make sense that they would suddenly be less prepared to deal with a response than they usually were. If it was just that, she would have attributed it to the idea that they got overconfident, but the way they've been acting since the foam was dissolved flew in the face of their typical behavior. She would never trust a Leet who could keep his mouth shut when prodded.
Granted, she wouldn't trust him either way, but it went doubly so in this case.
The whole situation stank, and she didn't need Thinker powers to know the reason was the unknown cape. She didn't like unknowns. In fact, if it were up to Emily, the boy would be getting the same treatment as the known villains were getting. Except protocol was very clear on how to treat new independents, which was what he was claiming to be.
It didn't help Emily's opinion that the cape decided to call himself Level, as if taunting everyone with the connection.
If Level was to be believed, he was out for a simple walk when he spotted two obvious capes speaking with random pedestrians. Seeing an opportunity to ask a pair of experienced capes about life as a parahuman, Level approached them. They told him to wait by their 'car,' where they pulled out their guns. When Uber and Leet were questioned, they both claimed that they were planning on giving him a 'friendly' warning about approaching other capes randomly. Once they told him that, Level reacted by tossing Leet into the passenger seat and got tossed into the back by Uber when he tried to do the same to the Skill Thinker. When asked why he didn't assist in the capture of Uber and Leet, Level claimed that he wanted to take a neutral stance.
It was all complete and utter bullshit, and there was no way to prove it. So instead of getting properly interrogated, Level was being given the full VIP tour. He insisted on seeing everything, which could have been to gain a tactical advantage just as easily as because of childish curiosity.
Emily Piggot took a deep breath and tried to bury her paranoia. Cape or not, he was fifteen by his own admission, and if he wasn't lying about his powers, Level was too valuable to alienate. Dauntless 2.0, with the ability to grow stronger over time through physical exercise. Everyone thought he was pulling a fast one until he demonstrated the ability to lift over half a ton. After he promised that he would be stronger within a week, everyone started bending over backwards to put up a good front. It didn't hurt that he seemed genuinely interested in meeting with everyone.
It was suspicious as hell, and her suspicions had over three hours to brew. Still, he couldn't tour the facilities forever, so Emily's chance to make him wait inevitably came. Of course her reasons weren't entirely petty as it also gave Armsmaster time to make himself available for the interrogation. Already, he had revealed that Uber, Leet, and Level were sub-vocalizing far more than would be normal, with the timing implying that they were exchanging undetectable radio communications under the PRT's nose. It explained why their stories checked out as cleanly as they did.
Unfortunately, there was nothing left to learn remotely, so it was time to meet the cape face to face. Emily pressed her finger to the intercom button. "Send him in." Seconds later, a scarecrow of a teen walked through the door and sat down without any prompting. He was a little stiff, and his arms were trembling slightly, but Emily hesitated to attribute that to nerves. "It's good to finally meet you today. I understand that you are interested in joining the Wards, but wanted to meet with me before making any final decisions."
"Um, right. It's nice to meet you too," he said with a friendly hand extended. Giving no outward signs, Emily hesitated to reciprocate the parahuman's offered handshake, but she wouldn't have taken the job if she was afraid to risk her own well being. Emily expected a number of things to happen, but what she didn't expect was for a triangular piece of folded paper to be transferred to her grip. Dozens of new questions ran through Emily's mind.
When someone wanted to secretly give someone valuable information, doing so through a handshake was a tried and true method. So the question Emily needed to answer first was, why. The wave of confusion lasted only a few seconds, but it was long enough for Armsmaster to deem something wrong and brandish his halberd. "Unhand the director this instant."
Emily promptly took the slip of paper and broke off the handshake. "Stand down Armsmaster. His grip was a little on the strong side, that's all."
Level seemed to shrink in on himself, presenting the image of someone incapable of subterfuge or guile. "I'm sorry ma'am. I'll try to control my strength better in the future." Unless this was the beginnings of an ill-conceived joke, Emily would have to commend Level's acting skills. He looked genuinely apologetic about something he didn't do.
Armsmaster holstered his halberd and returned to his prior position. "Understandable, but you will need to take steps to learn how to restrain yourself. Receiving assistance in learning proper control is one of the many benefits that joining the Wards would make available to you. Other benefits include a $50,000 annual salary added to a trust fund up to your eighteenth birthday in addition to minimum wage pay that you can spend however you like. Another advantage is having a team of like-minded teens with whom you can share experiences and camaraderie. We are also equipped to provide for any special needs arising directly or indirectly as a consequence of your powers or employment. This is all standard for any new Wards, but if what you said about your powers is true and you display exemplary service, you can see improvement in your compensation in as little as three months."
Emily nearly sighed in relief when Armsmaster's recruitment speech came to a close. She never liked listening to them, and hated giving them, but at least Armsmaster ended on something that would make for a good segue. "Speaking of your powers, I can't help but think that they are too good to be true. Do you have a way to prove here and now that your powers work as advertised?" It was a long shot, but any additional information that may not have come up during Level's brief testing was worth learning. She may even manage to catch him in a lie or get some insight on the piece of paper he handed her.
"Well…I do have a few ways to prove it, but I'm not really comfortable sharing everything about my powers right now. I know that it's silly, but I can't help but worry about what would happen if any of my weaknesses get exposed."
Emily clenched her fists when Level's eyes seemed to gain an uncharacteristic sharpness. Either he was using a ludicrously subtle Master power, or he was trying to communicate something to her. Armsmaster ended up taking Level's implied question in her hesitation. "While your concerns are noted, there is such a thing as being too paranoid. Rest assured that all information that could be detrimental to the safety of any heroes is protected by the best security we have available. The Wards' identities are known only to a select few within the PRT. If anyone reveals your secrets to a criminal element, we have a small list of suspects. The perpetrator would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"But is it still paranoia if they really are out to get you?" With far too coincidental timing, his eyes sharpened again.
Suddenly, that single piece of paper that he handed her held far more weight than any paper should. "Perhaps," Emily said to interrupt whatever Level was saying, "if I can promise that whatever you have to tell us won't leave this room, would you be more willing to speak?" He lowered his head for a second, then nodded. Emily returned his nod then pressed the second of her three emergency buttons. The lights turned red, shutters blocked her windows, and other hidden mechanisms activated. "Alright, enough games. This room is now completely cut off from the outside world, so you're going to tell me what this is all about and you're going to tell us about your powers." 'This' being the paper she was holding up where Armsmaster could see.
Unsurprisingly, Level's posture shifted into something far more confident than before. "Huh? I wasn't expecting you to do that. Regardless, I think you already know what this is." Emily ground her teeth at Level's distinctly female voice. She had been pulling a fast one from the very beginning.
H-She shrugged. "Contained within is a list of every spy that I discovered during my 'tour' of your facilities." She used finger quotes, telling Emily the true purpose of the tour. "While I don't think you'll be able to distinguish colors in this lighting, blue is for anyone that you might already know about. Red is for those who were given offers they couldn't refuse. A red name is underlined with blue if they overlap. Black is for everyone else. I've written down who each person is selling information to. You may notice one villain's name turning up more often than the others."
Emily's heart and body became agitated, which was not good considering the state of her kidneys. Level claimed to be a Brute with the ability to grow stronger over time, and was claiming that she was a powerful Thinker as well. Emily was no expert on parahuman powers, but that didn't add up. "You've made some extraordinary claims today. Forgive me if I end up thinking that you are guilty of embellishment. Perhaps you would be willing to tell us what your powers truly are?"
She hummed in thought. "While there is an easy way to prove what my powers are, I get the feeling that neither of you would be very receptive, unless you want to prove me wrong on that count."
With one sentence, Level raised a direct challenge to Emily's ability to trust. Of course if she wanted to be trusted, she'd have to show some trust in return. "Before we go into that, why don't you tell us about the real reason you were with Uber and Leet? Certainly you don't expect me to fall for that sack of lies."
Level shrugged. "Hm, I suppose it's fair that you'd want to know. I contacted them last night with a plan to make a deal in which I participate in their shows for six months in return for them helping me figure out my powers and any tricks to improve my growth rate. That didn't go very well, so I 'convinced' them to meet up at the southern ferry. To my surprise, they had one of their themed activities ready to go, or at least ready enough to haze me. During the car chase, I realized that my best option, if I could manage it, was to join the Wards and convince Uber and Leet to join the Protectorate. That has been going according to plan, with all of the spies being a minor hiccup."
There were dozens of things wrong with that story, all starting from one point. "That has to be one of the most idiotic things I've heard of since a cape decided to call himself Chubster. Try again…the truth this time."
Level pressed her hands to the armrest of her chair and slowly pushed herself to a standing position. Armsmaster brandished his halberd while Emily's finger found the first button, which would douse Level's half of the room in foam instantly. Luckily for her, Level made no move other than to use her height and sharp gaze for intimidation. Emily wasn't impressed. "I did not lie to you. Perhaps if you opted to learn what my powers are first, you'd understand my reasoning."
Emily met Level's gaze as she mulled over the girl's complaint. Level seemed insistent on sharing what her powers were, and Emily could only think about how compliant Uber and Leet had been. "You mentioned a quick way to explain what your powers are. What exactly would that entail?"
Level sat back down and tilted her head. "I'll need a few seconds to figure out how to describe it without breaking your suspension of disbelief." Emily counted to twelve before she spoke. "Think of it as a connection between myself and a number of people I choose. Anyone who is a part of this connection can communicate with anyone else, excluding or including whomever they want. It also includes visual information on each person's general health and if they are being affected by any atypical effects. Individuals can also allow those they trust the ability to see their identity and where they are on an included map. I can change things so that every member's identity and location are visible regardless of who they trust. Beyond that, I am not exempt from the rules of this power."
Emily fought not to let her jaw drop. She would have been impressed if it was just radio comunications without hackable hardware, but it also added constant medical diagnostics, a map, individual control over the power, and possibly warnings if anyone is being Mastered. If the part about revealing identities was true, it would still be a non-issue if Level joined the Wards. It was logistical perfection, and far too good to be true. "And this doesn't let you control the people you're connected to?"
Level's brow furrowed. "If it does, I'll be pretty upset that my power has been lying to me so far."
It was the answer of someone who hadn't considered the possibility. "Who have you connected to so far?"
"Uber, Leet, my dad, and a friend." That explained how Uber and Leet were communicating under their noses.
It also meant there were four people who could be potentially Mastered without anyone knowing. Half were already in a perfect position for observation, which was an amazing stroke of luck. "And joining this connection will help us learn about your powers?"
"I don't expect you to believe me otherwise."
That was a reasonable assumption considering that Emily hardly believed her as is. "Fair enough. How do you form a connection with someone?"
"I need to invite them by name. A cape name works just as well. Then they must accept the invitation."
Meaning that any recipient had to give some measure of informed consent. If Level really was telling the truth, the risk was worth taking. Unfortunately, the only people available for the test were each leaders of one half of the local branch dedicated to parahuman law enforcement. Fortunately, Armsmaster had numerous Master/Stranger contingencies built into his suit, including things that would neutralize him if he became a threat to his allies and scanners that would detect any abnormal brain activity. "Armsmaster, join Level on her side of the room."
He did so without question as Level focused on him. "Before I do this, I'd like you to know that I'm still connected to Uber and Leet. Is that okay with you, or do you want me to cut them off?"
It was a good question and a sign of Level's cooperativeness. Emily decided that she would leave answering up to Armsmaster, who proceeded to do so without prompting. "Level, before I make such a decision, I need you to confirm that they will not be able to harass me or aquire any sensitive information."
"You'll have the option to mute all incoming voices and the most they'll learn is how durable your armor is, unless you decide to trust them."
He nodded back. "Understood, but know that if you are lying to us, you will be charged with assault with a parahuman power at the least."
"That's fine. Just give me a second." Level then poked at the air a few times in one of the odder displays of behavior she'd seen a cape partake in. "Powers… Invite Armsmaster to Powers Party." What Level said was ridiculous, but Armsmaster's reaction was immediate. Emily was prepared to foam the both of them, but the Tinker quickly collected himself.
"3:56 pm. January 9th 2011. This is Armsmaster commencing power testing of the cape known currently as Level. After speaking the phrase 'Invite Armsmaster to Powers Party,' a green hued window appeared. Contained within the window is the text, 'You have been invited to the Powers Party. Accept, forward-slash." He suddenly paused to glare at the teen through his helmet. "Level! Explain."
Something must have already went wrong, but Level looked unperturbed. "It's voice and touch controlled. You said accept…" And she trailed off from there.
"That is information you should provide before any power testing is performed."
"If that's how you plan on doing it, we're going to be here all day if not all week," Level countered. She seemed absolutely confident that she was right.
Armsmaster turned to face her fully. "All parahuman powers must be tested thoroughly when they require human targets. We are already breaking protocol here."
Level glanced at him then snorted in a blatant display of derision. "I'm sharing my power here so we won't waste time pointlessly. I only need you to believe me when I say that my powers have turned me into a living video game character. We can do testing from halfway across the city now that…"
"Hold it!" Emily interrupted. "Did you just say that you're a…video game character?" If Level turned out to be a result of one of Leet's contraptions, Emily was going to kill him: consequences be damned.
"Yes. My powers work off of video game logic. The only things you need to figure out what I can do is a pen, paper, and a calculator, because everything is spelled out. I've confirmed with Uber and Leet that my power mostly resembles MMORPG, or Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. But there are no games that work exactly like my powers."
At least that meant she wouldn't have to murder Leet. "Armsmaster, is she telling the truth?"
Armsmaster stopped glaring at Level and fixed his attention upon her. "While my knowledge regarding modern video games is lacking, Level's powers do bear a strong resemblance to Dungeons and Dragons, the precursor to the RPG genre." After saying that, Armsmaster frowned oddly, poked the air the way Level did, then smiled.
Emily decided to ignore Armsmaster's behavior in favor of Level. She was starting to show signs of impatience, which was an opening crack in the teen's calm veneer or a chance to garner some good will. Level seemed to be cooperative so far, so Emily decided upon the latter option. "Fine, we will postpone power testing for the time being. Is there anything else you want to tell us about?"
"If there's anything I want to talk about, it's how I've given you a list of spies that I found, and you haven't looked at it. Call me crazy, but I'm a little hesitant about joining an organization that's infested with moles. At least not without some assurances that the problem is being dealt with. Do you know, you have a guy whose job is to tell Coil about every Thinker that comes in? I'm glad that I can fake being a Brute. Coil is the one forcing people to be spies."
Emily's hand quickly found the forgotten paper and unfolded it. While she couldn't distinguish between blue and black in the red lighting, she recognized the two underlined names as people on the Watch List for suspicious behavior. There were two for the E88, one each for the Merchants, ABB, and Accord of all people, and six for Coil. The Accord, ABB, and an E88 man all added to Coil's count. Worst of all, most of the names loyal to Coil for whatever reason were people she recognized as being in highly valuable positions with access to most areas, including the janitor responsible for cleaning her office. "How did you get this information?"
"It's from one of the minor powers that I call skills, Observe." Emily was about to ask what Observe was, but got mildly distracted by how Armsmaster's attention snapped to an invisible object then followed its movement. Level noticed her lapse in attention and looked back. "Can you read that?"
Armsmaster nodded. "4:03 pm, same day. While speaking with Director Emily Piggot, two windows visible only to Level and myself appeared. One is blurred, but the other is a concise account of the Director's condition, represented numerically and descriptively, her allegiances, and a short biography. I will now read out its contents. Emily Piggot: Level 14; Condition: mild blood poisoning, overweight, high blood pressure, major kidney damage, moderate muscle damage (legs); Allegiances: Parahuman Response Team. HP: 573 forward-slash 730. SP: 26 forward-slash 30. MP: not applicable. V-I-G-R: 9 subtracted by 3. E-D-N-R: 21 subtracted by 18. D-E-X-T: 16 subtracted by 3. I-N-T-L: 22. W-S-D-M: 27. I-N-T-U: 17. Emily Piggot is a long lived member of the PRT and one of the two non-parahuman survivors of Nilbog's rise in Ellisburg…"
"Enough!" Emily gave the armored man a firm glare before turning that glare upon Level. She wasn't too upset about her story being known because she didn't care to keep it secret. The issue was that she never bothered to share and no one bothered to ask. "You used your power on me?"
The teen shrugged back at her. "Like I said, my powers are voice activated. I'm learning not to use trigger words, but it's unavoidable when telling someone about my powers." So not only did Level manage to aquire Emily's personal information, she did so casually and accidentally.
"And what happens if you do say the wrong words at the wrong time? How many people can you hurt just because you weren't watching what you say?"
"None so far." Level's eyes narrowed slightly. "That doesn't mean I won't develop a dangerous skill in the future. I will be very careful if that happens."
Emily wasn't one to bet on young parahumans showing that kind of restraint without rigorous training, but that played second fiddle to how Level casually implied that she could gain new powers. Observe also didn't sound particularly weak for a 'minor power.' It sounded like the kind of power that was the reason Thinkers were the first targets in any parahuman engagement that included them. And Level had spent over three hours using it on every person she came across during her tour. Nearly one-hundred men and women, mothers and fathers, had their personal information revealed to a teenager who never thought twice about invading their privacy. With that power alone, Level was the kind of potential threat that needed to be dealt with or brought under their umbrella. The first wasn't an option unless the girl decided to try her hand at genocide; fortunately, they were on track for the second option as far as Emily could tell. "Alright. Tabling that and our spy issue, what are you looking to get out of the Wards?"
"I'm looking for an arrangement that has people helping me with how quickly I can improve my strength, skills, and survivability. I do have a few conditions for joining, but I think they're fairly reasonable." Emily did not like the sound of that, but waved Level onwards regardless of her misgivings. "The first is that Uber, Leet and myself are a package deal. You take all three of us, and keep all three of us in Brockton Bay, or you get none of us. That's what I've promised them, and I will stick by that."
Emily flexed her fingers but reigned in any further reaction. She would have to fight against some superiors to manage that, but Brockton Bay's heroes would be better off for it so long as Uber and Leet behaved. "The second is that we need to keep the mental aspects of my powers secret. I can get away with being a Brute that gets stronger through exercise and someone who becomes superhumanly skilled with just a week of practice. If the villains find out about my power to learn part of someone's life story at a glance, they'll see me as a threat to the unwritten rules they rely on."
Again, it was a reasonable request. It would draw negative attention from her superiors if they kept that kind of secret past Level's press release, but only the most idiotic and selfish bureaucrats would give more than token complaints. "My final condition is that I don't want to go to school. That would be forty hours a week; time I can't dedicate my full attention towards improving my skills or stats. It would be a better use of my time if I did homeschooling or computer courses."
Emily blinked. "And that's it?" Level nodded back, leaving the director feeling…pleasantly surprised. Every one of them would be a benefit to the ENE PRT if they could manage it. The first meant three new capes, which meant more manpower and a huge influx of funding. The second meant that they'd have a surefire way to suss out spies with the villains being none-the-wiser. The last meant that Level would be available and under surveillance for most of every day. The negatives all boiled down to one word: paperwork. "Well, I can't say that everything will be easy, but what you asked for is at least doable. We might receive some opposition from other directors or the Youth Guard, but it's doable."
"That's reassuring." Emily couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. "So I think that leaves deciding when I sign up. I'm thinking Tuesday morning or tomorrow evening. I understand that you guys like want me signed up ASAP, but I have plans to drop out tomorrow and I want to give my dad a little more time to get used to all of this."
She was right, Emily did want to get the recruitment over with, but that wasn't an option without her father. "I see. How can we be sure that you will come back?"
"Oh that's easy." Level brought her left hand up to her scarf and held out her right. "Hello, Emily Piggot, my name is Taylor Anne Hebert. Here's hoping for a cordial working relationship."
Emily looked at the smiling girl's boyish face and extended her hand in return. "Same here. You can start with reporting the full range of your powers to Armsmaster. I'd also like you to leave the moles to us. You've done enough identifying them."
"That sounds good for now. I don't have any ideas on how to deal with Coil aside from what I've already done. Though, may I make a name suggestion: Operation Lawnmower. After all, one of the best ways to find a snake in the grass is to mow the lawn."
Emily found herself liking the name right away. No one would guess the operation's goal from its name, it still invoked an image of the mission, and (God forbid) anyone lost wouldn't have an embarrassing name forever linked to their deaths. "I'll take that under advisement. You're dismissed."
Emily pressed the button to release the localized lockdown as Level stood up and gave a crisp salute. She then returned her scarf to its prior position over her face and took on a more demure posture. "Thank you Ma'am. I look forward to working with you soon." Even her voice was back to its prior tenor.
After that jarring shift in behavior, Level left. Emily let herself relax slightly and turned her attention towards Armsmaster, who was acting robotic as he usually did. "I want a detailed Threat Assessment on my desk by tomorrow afternoon." Emily was still confused over the specifics of Level's power, but hoped that a full dossier on Level's capabilities would get rid of that niggling seed of doubt telling her she was getting in over her head.
***L13: E98; 33; 39; 26; 43; 21; 24**
My time at the PRT HQ proved to be very productive. Convincing Uber and Leet to switch sides earned me a Bonus of 200 EXP from my Gathering Gamers Quest. I also figured out that I could learn from Skill Books in my Inventory without taking them out. I netted three Skills from four books. Lockpicking and Escape Artist both went into Liberate while the book on pickpocketing became Misdirection. Dad got me a book on Ventriloquism, which was an amazing find. When combined with the Passive aspect of Misdirection, it let me use Active Skills without needing to cover my mouth. I also developed the Massage Skill and added Baking to my Crafting Skill. I also lucked out in spotting a Coil plant within a minute of being released from the foam. I wouldn't have thought to keep my powers secret if not for that, nor would I have gotten my new Quest.
Quest: Operation Lawnmower
The supervillain known as Coil has planted numerous spies throughout the PRT and Protectorate. Weed them out and subdue the snake before his plans come to fruition. (Time Limit: 4 months)
Success: +100,000-EXP; ENE Parahuman organizations secured
Failure: Death or enslavement of self, friends, and/or family.
(Bonus +10-EXP: for each Coil agent identified.) (6)
The rewards were huge compared to what I was used to, but so were the risks. That quest wasn't the kind of thing I could do flying by the seat of my pants like I had been for the last two days. It was reassuring that I wouldn't be going into this one alone. The real question going forward was deciding who to exclude. It seemed fairly obvious that I should exclude everyone who wasn't a member of the parahuman organizations and was unaware of my power. I was apprehensive about keeping my dad and friend in the dark, but I knew that the director wouldn't approve of civilians being involved. That would also exclude the Wards, except for two who had slipped my mind. I quickly checked Voice Chat to make sure that I wouldn't be transmitting to the gaming pair and glanced at Armsmaster's intimidating Level and Health Points.
?/Armsmaster: LV: 24+179
Condition: Combative; Disguised; Fatigued
HP: 1268/1380 (8735/8950)
[Voice Chat (On/Off)] [Trust (On/Off)]
Once I was alone and on my way out, I spoke to him using my Ventriloquism. "I left out another important part of my power. While looking at someone who has a low enough Level, I can get their Job, Name, Level, and a Title if they have the latter. I had this before Observe. It's also how I ended up meeting two of the Wards at the library Friday afternoon. Fair warning, we might have to bring them in on Operation Lawnmower because I may have told Kid Win his specialty."
"What!" Armsmaster yelled. He must have done so in the midst of a group, because he cleared his throat and stomped off at a fast clip.
That was fine by me as it let me talk without interruption. "I was able to do this because of his Title: Modular Technologies Host. Other parahuman Titles I've seen so far are Redundancy Host, Prototype Technologies Host, and Movement Optimization Host for Aegis, Leet, and Uber respectively. If you've brought up your Status Page by now, you'll be able to see what your Title is. Additionally, I can see that you have the Combative Condition like Uber and Leet do. This is the source of your reduced wisdom. Lastly, I do not have a Title nor do I have the Combative Condition. It's up to you to decide what to make of that." His stomping became even faster paced after that.
Finally under the dusk sky, I turned off my side of the chat with an exaggerated sprinting motion then began Observing people. I didn't turn on Mute, but I didn't want to annoy him with me constantly whispering Observe. There weren't a lot of people out, but the streets were populated enough for the Observe Windows to build up. I willed each into a position where my pumping arms could close them out. As I read through one of the Observe windows, I nearly stumbled over myself instead of slowing down as intended.
Julian Hunter/Creep LV: 15
Called Creep for his predilection towards rape, pedophilia, and brutality, Julian was dishonorably discharged from the Marines and later found work under Coil. Because the supervillain provides for his 'needs,' Coil has his complete loyalty.
(+10-EXP: Coil agent identified)
The six foot man watched me with an intensity that was well beyond normal. Worse still, he was directly in my path. Only the fact that we were in a public area gave me the confidence that he wouldn't attack.
Sense Danger is Level 3
My power certainly wasn't helping.
All of that happened in the ninety seconds it took Armsmaster to finally process what I told him. "Level, are you claiming that you are not a parahuman?" He hissed at me. "I hope you have more evidence to substantiate your claim than what your powers tell you and wild deductions."
"I made no such claim. I only presented the evidence and left the rest to you." I considered telling him about Julian, but I knew that would lead to overreactions from him. "Figuring that out is something we can save for later." I decided to start Massaging myself to restore my stamina faster, even if it only saved a few seconds. I then sprinted past Julian without sparing him a glance.
Restorative Breathing is Level 12
Sprinting is Level 6
When my stamina was just about to run out again, Armsmaster spoke up. "Level, do you have any understanding about the ramifications of everything you've told me. This isn't something that we should put off for later. We should at least give you an MRI to determine if you have an active Gemma, or at least a Corona Pollentia "
"Which would give the bad guys a nice big clue implying that something is different about me."
"It is well within my capabilities to design a handheld MRI device." That would work.
Ventriloquism is Level 5
Massage is Level 2
"Huh, well, I don't think that's something we can do now. And I'm supposed to be telling you everything that I'm capable of, but I think it will be easier if we turn on the Trust option." I made sure to not share the fact that Trust could be one sided. I wanted to see his Status Page so I would know where his Allegiances lay.
"What would turning on the Trust option entail?"
His tone sounded distrustful or analytical, but I didn't care either way. "It would invalidate the Privacy Mode between us, allowing us to see each other's real names and location on the map. It'll also let us look at the other's Status Page and Skill List."
He hummed for two seconds. "So it will expedite the process. … I am now Trusting you." A quick glance revealed his name to be Collin Wallis. I Trusted him in turn then tapped his name.
You have acquired the Perk: Efficiency.
Protectorate ENE Leader
Name: Colin Wallis/Armsmaster
Title: Compact Technology Host
Armor LV: 179
Threat LV Bonus: 80
Condition: Combative, Disguised, Fatigued
Allegiances: Protectorate, PRT, Wards
Emotions: Curious, Envious, Cautious
HP: 1265/1380 (8794/8950)
Ignoring the Perk for the moment, I lamented not being able to see his biography, but apparently that was exclusive to Observe. That didn't matter as I only wanted to see his Allegiances. "You only have to tap my name then the words: Skill List." Sure that looking at my Skills would distract him for a few minutes, I turned Voice Chat off then devoted my attention to training and what to do about being followed.
I also discovered that the Efficiency Perk cut the cost of Skills by five percent.
Observe managed to pick up yet another Coil agent, making it clear that he was tracking me. I suspected he either wanted to find out where I lived or to test me in some way. I didn't want to give him an opportunity for either. That meant I couldn't go home and needed avoid the alleys. It would put a damper on improving my mental stats, but it provided a perfect chance to focus on my Sprinting Skill and my Stamina restoration Skills. After two rounds of Sprinting, I made sure not to spend more than a quarter of my Stamina in case something happened. It took almost two hours for Armsmaster to do more than mumble to himself. During that time, I earned some Skill Levels, Stat Points, and EXP from spotting two more agents.
Restorative Breathing is Level 13
Massage is Level 7
Sprinting is Level 8
Ventriloquism is Level 7
What followed was a long discussion about everything that I knew about my powers, like what my Stats meant, what they used to be, how I develop Skills, how EXP worked, etc. I was honest with him at every turn, but he always had one more question to ask. There were some things I didn't know the answer to, like if I could store people in my inventory, how my power decided on Quests, what my upper limits were, etc.
Meanwhile, I had taken to the rooftops when a good opportunity arose right after passing another new mercenary. With my Vigor and my Sprinting speed, I had little difficulty with leaping across buildings of similar heights. I eventually found an abandoned building and turned it into my personal obstacle course. It was nearly ten when Armsmaster's questions finally wound down. If not for me being able to train freely over those three and a half hours, I would have been very cross with him.
Misdirection is Level 3
Restorative Breathing is Level 14
Sprinting is Level 10
Ventriloquism is Level 8
Massage is Level 9
"Thank you for your cooperation Miss Hebert. While this was far from protocol, it will allow me to ensure that your practical tests are as streamlined as possible." After spending hours sharing my secrets with him, he was turning out to be far less suspicious of me.
"That sounds like a good plan to me." I paused for a second to take in my surroundings. "If that's all, do you want me to Promote you? I've been out of contact with my other Party for a long time, and I think you can test a few things for yourself that way."
"That would be preferable."
"Okay, just don't give Uber and Leet any grief…unless they earn it. That's kept them from causing trouble so far." I turned on my link to them. "Uber, Leet, I'm putting Armsmaster in charge. Try not to harass him any."
"Yeah yeah, the newb is in charge," I heard Uber say. "We'll play nice."
"He'll probably Mute us again. Maybe I can get him to talk shop first."
Uber gasped theatrically…literally. "Are you…cheating on me?"
"Never. You know that you're the best bro a dude could hope for. It's just, a Tinker has needs…you know?"
"Ugh, keep it to yourselves. No one wants to hear that." They simply laughed before going silent, leaving me alone with Armsmaster and the image they put in my head. "Good luck. You'll need it." Armsmaster sighed back at me.
I chuckled at him. "Swap to Gamer's Conference Party."
This took longer than planned, which is expected when I had to rewrite over half of it. The original draft just had far too much hostility, all of which could be traced back to the lack of a single sentence. The next chapter will finally be the end of the prologue chapters. I've got just about every part of the Gamer's System figured out except for any Titles Taylor could earn.
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