Pick Your Poison

Agitator 4.3

[Wednesday, November 24, 2010]

After I sent Stalker down, we descended in the Skiff until we were about to land, but by then all hell had broken loose. What had seemed to be a standard brute smackdown from the sounds of it, turned into sudden eerie silence, followed by what seemed to be every damn bug in the area swarming in and over the warehouse. We had the good reaction to slide the door shut and keep in the air as we helplessly watched what looked like something out of the Exodus swarm the place holding my best friend, Bitch, and Mush. Oh, and Hess, but she could go intangible.

"Who the hell's power is that?!" I demanded as the waves of ground bugs finished pouring into the building, and what had to be a whole city block worth of bugs was concentrated in one spot. This was with it getting colder. I shudder to imagine the numbers in the summer.

"No clue boss! I've never heard of anyone with bug control as a power!" Rocksteady nervously answered, getting me to snarl and pace as I kept looking out the windows, which despite us being invisible, were still crawling with a litany of flying insects, mostly flies and sweat bees, which was weird, unless there was an empty lot for them to nest in nearby.

"Great, so the kidnappers probably had this mystery cape waiting to strike, and now we've likely lost one of our own, an ally, and the girl." I snarled as I whirled on a visibly pale and shuddering Kid Win. Fuck, he was about my age, wasn't he? How come he's taking this so hard compared to me? I don't have the advantage of government training. "Kid, get your bosses on the horn and-." I was interrupted by the bugs on the windows moving in a disturbingly organized fashion.

We watched as the bees and flies moved around to roughly spell 'HELP ME' and then move off the windows to reveal Bitch, who now had a body shape similar to Pantera's, stumbling out of the warehouse buck naked since her power destroys whatever she's wearing when she uses it on herself, and being supported by Mush who had his cans back in his massive travel pack. But what distracted from the naked dog-girl was that it seemed an amorphous mass of bugs was carefully navigating out with Stalker leading it. "What the hell?" That's my question Kid.

"Take us down, we don't have long before the officials show up, and we still need to drop Kid and Stalker off safely." I ordered, and waited nervously. Where is Taylor? We touched down seamlessly, and I slammed open the door, not caring if I crushed a bunch of bugs in the act. "What the fuck happened?! Where is she?! Who is this?!" I demanded heatedly of the three who went in, and my answer instead came from a chorused buzzing from the mass of chitin.

"Dealer. Help. It burned, I was trapped. I feel spread out everywhere, but mostly here." Buzzed the new cape, and I leered at it cautiously, making a T with my hands insistently. "Yes. Please."

"Get her in! We've gotta get out of here before the white-hats storm in and decide to arrest her for Triggering so violently." I snarled as I entered the transport, and everyone but me moved to the farthest corner from Taylor as she awkwardly shifted and crawled in her mass of bugs into the transport, keeping her admittedly disturbing form concentrated into another corner away from most everyone, while Stalker, Mush, and Bitch plopped onto the furthest benches. "Head for the PRT building, we're gonna drop the heroes off quick and then get T someplace secluded so she can adjust to her new powers."

"Hey, uh...where's the girl we came to-?" Kid Win was interrupted by Stalker grabbing the collar of his armored costume and growling in his face as she pulled him down.

"Do. NOT. Even ASK. She's SAFE. Capiche?!" Stalker urged angrily and seriously, and Kid Win quickly nodded his head, at which she let him go. "Get us to the PRT HQ Downtown, just please don't forget me if my 'Teammates' decide to throw me under the bus for doing the right thing."

"I won't." I swore, before I nodded at Rocksteady, who got back on the horn while the pilot, a Peeper since they have the most experience with these things at the moment, took us back up and cloaked us. "T, are you alright? It's not a stupid question before you quip with that."

"Boss, even I can tell that really is a dumb question." Bebop snarked as he approached Taylor. "Hey, got any crickets in there? It's out of season but I'd like to have some to deep fry later."

"Please don't ask to eat pieces of me again." Taylor droned in her new swarm-voice thing. "It doesn't hurt, but every bug that dies is another instance of me that disappears and it scares me. Until I can figure out what's going on with my powers I don't want to take dangerous risks. I mean, sure, as we're flying I feel...myself, vanishing as what I assume are more bugs leave my range, but are replaced by other bugs that enter the range, but the fewer I lose permanently right now the better. I can feel, see, hear, taste, EVERYTHING they are doing, and it's honestly amazing I'm not an insensate pile of meat trying to comprehend all of this at once."

"Well you 'Pinged' off of us three." Mush stated as he gestured to himself, Bitch, and Stalker. "When you Triggered I mean. So the bugs are obviously your original power, but you being bugs might be more that you're assimilating them like I do debris. Can you or your bugs beef up like Bitch, or can you or the bugs go shadowy?" Everyone silently stared at the pink stout and buff goblin of a man, who crossed his arms and grumbled. "I'm not dumb, just quiet…."

"Wait. You're in full control? Then why did a giant fucking roach-lizard thing attack me! It was goddamn terrifying and it could even enter a shadow form like me!" Stalker angrily screeched, and I winced. Taylor isn't stupid, and Hess isn't masking her voice at all. Hopefully I don't have to try and play mediator between a swarm and her vengeance.

"Sorry Shadow Stalker, I was still coming out of a blurry haze of sensation. Also I was getting over the fact I was eating several human beings. Sure, they tried to kill me, but I still just killed and ATE several men! You killing what must've been the strongest bug there snapped me out of it before I might've killed you, Bitch, and Mush too. So good job saving the good guys from me." Taylor droned, before she held up a bulky limb of bugs, and the bulgy mitt slid back to reveal strands of fleshy tendrils releasing the bugs and forming back into a hand. "EW~! My powers are so disgusting!"

"Hey!" Mush indignantly declared, but we ignored him.

"Hey, it could be worse. At least you can get back to normal. People like our new team leader Weld don't have that option." Kid Win commented optimistically, and I could tell that it was ernest enough that he wasn't faking sympathy. At least the other Wards aren't as bad as Hess.

"True enough...wow, you guys do a good job keeping the pests out." Taylor commented as we lowered down to the roof of the PRT building, which was currently unoccupied, but there were cameras everywhere. The pilot expertly guided us over by the roof access and landed with the door facing a niche where even when open the angles would hide the opening until someone stepped out.

"Alright, thanks for taking such a risk. I hope to see you again Stalker, you're alright if a bit fucked in the head." I snarked as she got up and her companion got ready to exit.

"Bite me." Was her snarled reply, and I couldn't help myself.

"Don't tempt me." I purred, and I could just smell how that excited her as she hurried out of the door with Kid Win. Once the door slid closed and we were up in the air again, i turned to Taylor. "Okay Taylor, try and let all the bugs you've absorbed out and keep them nice and tidy in that corner over there." I directed, and watched in fascination as Taylor willed the bugs off, or rather, out, of her body, the whole time her cute voice chanting 'ew, ew, ew'. The moment of victory was short-lived however, because I saw red once the extent of her injuries came to light.

Taylor's legs were gone. Below mid-thigh, her long sexy legs were just gone, burned off judging by the chemical burns on her stumps. There were several raw stretches of skin all over her and all of her hair, both on her head and body were gone along with her clothes from whatever they did to her. Likely her Stim was all that saved her life and let her Trigger to survive. "The acid...it burned. I was in so much pain…." Taylor whimpered in her spot sitting in the corner, hugging her arms around her exposed chest and crying.

I immediately knelt down to her, hugging her and letting her sob into my shoulder as I uttered sweet nothings in her ear and nuzzled her neck. Damn it. I wish I was faster. I wish I had made her even stronger. I even wish I made some sort of knockout gas so she could get some rest instead of having to face this all immediately. Then there's the fact that I'll have to share Stalker's identity so Taylor and the others don't do something stupid to Hess in public now that said bitch is in-the-know about my own Identity if the scents she kept giving off meant anything. Well, that, or she's just a wanton slut, but I highly doubt it.

"Taylor. I can restore your hair, but your legs...I'll contact Panacea early tomorrow morning. It's a Truce day, so hopefully she'll be willing to interrupt Thanksgiving to help you." I told her once her sobbing had abated and she wasn't squeezing me so tightly anymore, but now she was petting me, running her fingers through my deceptively soft quills.

"Y-you don't need to do that for me Andrew. I've seen some people lose limbs and grow them back with Stim. I'll be fine…." I didn't buy that for a moment, this isn't a time to play tough Taylor.

[Pick Your Poison]

The rest of the ride to Haven was mostly filled with pampering Taylor as much as possible. It seemed that her powers let her shuck things off on her swarm instead of having to deal with them personally, which was part of why she was able to ignore her debilitating pain, she just passed it to them instead, and they weren't exactly intelligent enough to comprehend complex things like pain or terror anyway. I'll have to look that up now, can bugs feel pain?

Regardless of the little things, Taylor was stable if crippled for now, and I didn't hesitate to carry her to the new clinic the moment we made it back, much to her embarrassment since we didn't exactly have anything to maintain her modesty besides my vest, which while big it had no zipper so she had to hug herself to keep it closed, but had to use her hands to hide her groin.

Thankfully the Peepers I texted while getting on the horn with Squealer about the situation had followed orders, and my mom along with Danny were already here. What didn't cheer me up was that the Peepers have suffered casualties, one having been cut in half by Coil's fucking merc's laser rifles and two others have lost limbs, so they'd be out of action for possibly weeks. In both cases, they'd come for my family and my friend's family, nowhere was safe but Haven now.

"I'm going to get you in this bed and I'm going to go take care of things, okay Taylor? Your dad's here, and this is a safe place." I insisted as Taylor didn't want to let go of me, her arms having gone to my neck when I tried to set her down.

"Please. Don't leave me." She pleaded, and I looked beseechingly to Danny, who was both incandescently furious at the situation and his daughter's condition, yet incredibly relieved and saddened too. Seeing me looking to him for help, the pajama-clad man swallowed and took a cleansing breath.

"Little Owl. I'm here too. I'll stay with you, but Andrew needs to go right now." His eyes and tone when he looked at me told me he was both thankful and upset with me, but I'd have to talk to him later.

"...Okay…." Taylor sounded so weak and pitiful that I wanted to stay too, but I had to get things started since this was mostly my mess and I couldn't just heap it all on Squealer and Skidmark. I finished lowering her to the clean bed, and after carefully prying her arms from around my neck, I pulled out my phone and quickly dialed Squealer as I stormed off, my mom staying with Danny and Taylor while my lieutenants and Bitch kept pace with me.

"Where is that bitch Squeal?" I practically demanded of my nominal superior as we left the large warehouse that was the new clinic, which even had a maternity ward, since the first Surge-born baby boy was delivered earlier today. At least something beautiful and good happened today.

"The Undersiders are being held in the jail, Warehouse 5." In the middle next to the cafeteria and Parian's workshop then. "Be gentle. They...didn't get away cleanly." Some of my fury abated at hearing that before I hung up. Hopefully none of them were dead. I looked back at Bitch, who still shamelessly followed us in the nude. I hoped she wouldn't have to hear one of her friends were dead. Or her dogs, because then Coil would definitely die by mauling.

The clinic was Warehouse 3 between my lab and Parian's workshop, so we didn't have far to walk before I slammed open the door and marched with purpose towards the only occupied cells in the first-floor corner, since this place was more like a small prison than a simple jail in size and utility. Each one even had its own toilet and sink. I think Uber and Leet may have gone overboard in their architectural planning, since working together they were really good at making schematics and blueprints. I stopped and put my hands on my hips as I glared at the three teenage villains who were glaring at Trainwreck until I arrived.

Indeed they didn't get off scot free. Tattletale's purple costume which did nothing to hide her new physique and proportions nearly matching Glory Girl's own new measurements was melted onto her. Neoprene and other materials used for bodysuits tended to do that when exposed to intense heat. That and she had a few visible bullet wounds, her left ear was mangled as well, blood having dried and caked her blond hair on that side a ruddy red-brown.

Grue had shot up like a weed, easily towering over me by nearly a half-foot and his motorcycle leathers were tattered and stitched with bullets, so I wasn't surprised he was practically hanging on the bars to keep himself upright since most of those wounds were in his shoulders and upper back, and keeping that area tense and higher than his heart would slow the bleeding.

Regent, who was tall and wiry had lost an arm and was clutching the stump with a rag, his white and grey renaissance style costume was coated in blood, which didn't seem to be from him. Lastly in a surprise fourth cell was some shivering scrawny little rat of a woman, who looked terrified and confused. She, because the whimpering was a bit too high-pitched for me to think she was a man, was wearing nothing but rags and had long ratty brown hair that hid her face.

"Did they at least get some medical aid?" I asked Trainwreck as I eyed our guests with some vindictive joy at seeing their possible betrayal having come with a cost. Tats claims she never told Coil anything, but then why, when she's the only one outside the crew that knew, did he know exactly where to snatch up Taylor, my mom, and Danny all around the exact same time?

"Yeah. One of the nurses came in here, and he demanded he be allowed to give them Stim since they were so bad off. They're doing better than when they got here." Trainwreck informed me before he crossed his mechanical arms. "So, little bitch, feel free to explain why you think you're innocent when clearly you sang like a canary."

"Gladly." Tattletale clearly didn't like Trainwreck, but I ignored that as she focused on me. "I'm sorry. I thought I had his power figured out, but I guess even if I resolved I wouldn't say anything, the reality of it is I guess I can't resist torture."

"Go on." I crossed my arms and forced myself to calm down. Which really meant I channeled my anger and irritation into my tail, which was whipping around behind me and scratching the concrete floor like an undulating snake. How poetically ironic.

"I thought his power was probability manipulation, but that went out the window when all his attempts on you recently failed. Then I thought he was a precog of some sorts, but that didn't make sense either for the same reasons. Finally, with this being the last straw that also led to him deciding we were a risky loose end, I have concluded that his power is either one of two things." Tats said as she paced in her cell and fretted. "His power is he either is a precog of sorts that models outcomes on his actions and he can run two simulations starting at a point, and then he picks the outcome he prefers. Or he outright splits timelines themselves and discards the one he doesn't like." Holy shit.

"Bullshit." Hissed Rocksteady as he rubbed his arms. "Fuck. That second one better not be true. How many versions of me got fucked over while I'm okay?" That's a scary thought. But either way, what could've happened that he would keep the results of tonight over some other scenario? How was showing his hand like this preferable? I don't get it, it's suspicious….

"So in either case, he could torture the information out of you whenever he wanted and then pretend he never did while having all the info he needs. Great, so I can't stay mad at you then." I sighed as I scratched my neck plumage. "Before I let you out and have you escorted to the bunkhouse, what happened to Bitch's dogs?" At my question, Grue and Tats visibly saddened and looked away, and Bitch howled in anguish before she covered her eyes and whined.

"They died holding one of Coil's new capes off. At least I assume that's the case since they were so big and strong. Some sort of monster out of Lovecraft's nightmares. We had it rough avoiding their teleporter, but my darkness kept us out of his sight. We didn't have Bitch with us, so we couldn't take them along and we had to steal a car. The mercenaries were what gave us some lead passengers." Grue informed us and he grunted as one of said bullets finally fell out of his back to fall to the floor with the others of it's kind, and he sighed with relief.

"I didn't recognize them immediately, but they're the Travelers, a nomadic group of villains that never stay in one place too long. Last I heard they were in Boston, but something happened with Accord back in October and they disappeared again. Now we know where." Tattletale informed as she hissed and pulled on her costume. "Fucking Sundancer…."

"I'll help you with that Tats. When it happened to me I had to be fucking skinned alive to get it off. Thankfully you're just wearing neoprene instead of glass." Pantera offered as Trainwreck, who was the unofficial warden of Warehouse 5, moved forward and unlocked their cells. "But who's this little girl?" Pantera asked as Trainwreck unlocked the unknown woman's cell and she scurried back against the back wall.

"No clue, little rat was sleeping in the sedan we jacked to get away." Regent stated, having been quiet the whole time until now. "Watch out, she bites." I couldn't tell if he was joking, but I ignored our new guests as Pantera led them off and I went to the cell, kneeling down at the door to seem as small as possible.

"Come on out. We'll get you fed and cleaned up and put to bed." I reassured the small woman, who still hid her face with her hair, save one dark eye. "We'll even take you home if you want." I waited for a few moments, and I was rewarded by her finally speaking up with a tiny voice.

"I...I don't have a home…." She uncurled and slowly stood up, so I slowly followed. Dear god, she's emaciated. She has almost no muscle or meat whatsoever on her. How long has she been on the streets? She looked around Pantera's age and only looked somewhat better off than Pantera had been when I picked her to test my mods.

"You can have one here. What's your name?" I felt my hackles rise as she fidgeted and how the very air seemed to suddenly get a breeze, and one of the handles on the sink steadily opened, the water that came out bending into the air before she seemed to catch herself and whatever she was doing stopped.

"My name's Sarah. I, uh, guess I just outed myself anyway, but I'm a parahuman." Sarah admitted, to which I shrugged. Parahumans seemed to be everywhere these days.

"Okay then, got a name picked out?" At my question, she got a sheepish smile.

"I like the sound of Whirlygig." Did she Purposely mispronounce whirligig? Ugh. As if Trainwreck wasn't bad enough, now we have a misspelled toy. Whatever, still got work to do.