Many thanks, as always, to my loyal and wonderful supporters on . Please consider joining their ranks!

Neolithic Knuckledraggers: Here_I_Am!, Maziel Montero, Tempist

Bronze Barbarian: Luke Baccus

Iron Intellectuals: Dragon Guy, Mars, MouthyStorm, WanderingDaemon

Machine Menace: Amanda Ellis

Now, before you go and enjoy the chapter, please make sure to check out the ending author's note! There is important information about a public poll (meaning, anyone can vote, even those not paying me money) I am running on my about some writing projects I am picking my next story from. Please note I intend to do all of them eventually, this poll is simply to establish what people want to see the most.

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Because of the War

Chapter Fourteen

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Miss Militia's exclamation, or at least the end portion of it, brough the room virtually to a halt as everyone stared. Humanity had only been tinkering with the theoretical use of using electrified coils to accelerate ferromagnetic projectiles when Scion had come, but the entire field had been abandoned with the advent of parahumans and the destruction of the world's collective WMD arsenals by the World's First Hero. Only a handful of Tinkers had done anything in the field since, and they had tended to die fairly quickly, given the lethality of the weapon and the general cross-hair that all Tinkers languished under.

Which meant that XCOM was either far better connected than anyone had imagined, or had scientists at their command that could develop, weaponize, and miniaturize a technology that had scarcely been in its infancy, a feat that would require decades of research and ludicrous sums, without even a hint to the world at large. That in and of itself was highly concerning, but in many ways the fact that they were willing to just give two of them to the Protectorate, potentially risking them being replicated, was in many ways far more worrisome. It implied that they were unconcerned that the technology could be turned against them, which in turn implied that they had ways to effectively and quickly counter it.

"Miss Militia is quite correct, on both counts. There is no Tinkertech involved in the construction of these weapons, and they are in fact gauss weapons." The Commander confirmed with a nod and a small smile. "Each one has a three-round magazine of 100g rounds, an effective range of two miles, and a muzzle velocity approximating 5,630 feet per second."

"Mach Five. She is saying that these weapons fire rounds at five times the speed of sound. At that velocity, each round would be hitting with the equivalent kinetic energy of 112,096.1045 foot pounds." Armsmaster explained clinically as everyone who couldn't, or didn't feel like trying, to do that sort of mental math looked over at him. "Converting that to kilo-joules, 151.9819, sufficient energy to flash-boil the water within the average human target's body."

"Correct. Combined with Fletchette's power, these weapons in concert should be capable of killing Crawler. I think you will agree with me that, outside of Shatterbird, eliminating Crawler is the most important part of the opening exchange." The Commander confirmed again, sounding entirely unruffled by the looks she was getting for possessing weapons that could, in lay-man's terms, vaporize at least a portion of a human being. "If Fletchette were to look at her weapon, she would notice it is slightly different to Miss Militia's own. Since I didn't know exactly how her power works, only that she needs to maintain some sort of contact with objects she uses it on for an indeterminate amount of time to make it work, both the magazine and a portion of the firing chamber are exposed to allow her such contact."

Looking over her weapon, Lily found that the other girl was entirely correct. There was more than enough space for her to be able to imbue the rounds with her power, both in the magazine and the firing chamber, and despite the frankly beyond-her-grasp power of the rifle, it seemed (despite it's greater length) as though it would actually prove less cumbersome than her usual arbalest.

Not that she expected to be allowed to keep the thing. Even if the Commander didn't reclaim the two rifles when this mission was over, the Protectorate would never let her keep something like this. Her arbalest could be used to wound, to disable, even to help her get around by launching grapnels and the like, but this rifle was only capable of killing. Even if she did try make shots to non-fatal areas, it wouldn't matter.

"And does XCOM have many such weapons?" the Director asked, eyeing the group of commandoes with a distinct, edged wariness, and the Commander shrugged lightly, tone enigmatic as she responded.

"I think, Director, that the only thing currently important is the fact that these two weapons are, for the duration of this operation, in the hands of two steadfastly heroic individuals as these." She paused for a moment, before continuing. "That being said, I am concerned about this intelligence on the Siberian. Do we have any idea how to locate and eliminate the master, preferably before the Siberians tears our people apart?"

"I, uhm, I can help with that?" the girl who had introduced herself as Pinpoint said nervously, tugging on the hood of the haphazardly modified sweatshirt that made up much of her costume, a lock of crimson hair briefly making an appearance before disappearing again. The room's attention shifted to her, and she seemed to shrink in on herself. "Uhm, I can dowse for things, I guess it's called? I can find anyone or anything I look for, but I need some sort of map or target for it to work. Like, in this case, I could find the Siberian's Master, but I need a map or something else that would have his location on it in order to find him. So, if you give me a map of this South Beloit place, I can find him as long as he is inside the city. If he's even a foot outside the area displayed by the map, though, I'm useless."

The shocks just kept coming, Lily mused blankly to herself, wondering somewhere in the back of her mind just what the fuck was in the water here in Brockton Bay. Loud, hacking coughs had her turning to look at one of the PRT Strike Commanders, a man called Calvert, who had evidently been in the middle of taking a sizable drink of water when Pinpoint had spoken, and now seemed to be trying to eject his lungs through his mouth. The officer next to him, a woman named Sheffield, helpfully pounded on his back as he struggled to breath. It was strange though, in between coughs it almost seemed like the man was laughing. Wheezing, off-pitched, chaotic laughter, perhaps, but laughter all the same. Maybe the surprises of the last day or so had just gotten to him? She couldn't say that she blamed him, if that were the case.

"Potent." Was all Armsmaster had to say in response to that, which Lily felt was rather uninspired and understated way to respond to a revelation such as this, but it was admittedly well within his character to do so. Especially during a semi-public meeting. God forbid that he display some manner of emotion to others.

"It's certainly quite the tactical advantage." The Commander agreed, sounding very pleased indeed, and she tilted her head slightly to the side in contemplation. Even with her features concealed, there was something terribly cute about the action in Lily's personal opinion, so different as it was from her normal behavior. Folding her arms beneath her armored bust, the other girl drummed the fingers of one hand on the elbow of the opposite arm. "I would recommend leaving Pinpoint as far from the battlefield as possible, here in the Bay itself if at all possible, and having her direct us via radio. Furthermore, I suggest having plainclothes in the vicinity of Doctor Manton as early as possible so they can eliminate him quickly. Unless you are willing to order a long distance attack of some sort?"

"Even if we were willing to lob a missile of some sort into the middle of one of our own damn cities, which we're not, Mannequin always detects them and the Siberian throws them back at us when we've tried to take that route." Piggot denied the suggestion instantly and without hesitation, giving her a less-than-pleased look for even suggesting it. "That being said, it shouldn't be hard to have some people in place, though we will have to maintain sufficient distance that they aren't preemptively killed if the Nine try to kick things off early."

There was a moment of silence as everyone waited to see if anything else was going to be mentioned, brought up, discussed, or otherwise delay the end of the meeting, but it was a silence unbroken until the Commander gave a decisive nod.

"Let's be about it, then." she said with an audible, if grim, grin.

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The interior of the XCOM dropship was quiet, despite the power of the engine that carried it as it quickly and (relatively) quietly made it's way west. It wasn't a particularly comfortable silence either, but a tense and stifling one. At least for a portion of the craft's passengers.

Cassandra Herren, known far more commonly to the world as Rune of the Empire Eighty-Eight, couldn't restrain her anxiety, her right leg bouncing up and down from nerves as she made her way towards some of the most dangerous and depraved people on the planet. It was better than going up against Heartbreaker, of course, as a Bad End here would only mean (hopefully, and quick) death rather than being mind-fucked into some Canadian bastards' sex-toy, but she still had troubling believing that she had volunteered.

Of course, the reason she had volunteered sat beside her, just as nervous as herself, with the added anxiety of being separated from her husband on top of it. Evidently, The Commander of XCOM hadn't been willing to let a known and notorious skill-thief like Victor set so much as a toe on one of her ships, necessitating that her slightly-older cousin Ariana (far more famously known as Othala) to ride separately from the man. She had protested of course, but Kaiser's orders had been clear, and the minute Cassie had realized the only family she had left that was worth the name would be in the same city as the fucking Nine, she had leapt to join the fight.

That had resulted in quite the fight between the two young women, until it had been agreed that their relegation to the support positions meant that they would be safer than almost everyone else involved. Even then, they would probably need to have a serious, heartfelt talk after this, if they both survived.

Seated across from the two of them were the other two members of their little section of the support team, the perpetually grinning Tattletale and dour, scowling Panacea. The World's Greatest Healer's presence aboard, or more accurately her inevitable proximity to the two daughters of the Herren clan, had been the cause of another conflict, with Panacea's family arguing quite passionately against letting the brunette spend hours in close proximity to the same kinds of people that had murdered her aunt.

Cassie had wanted to protest that it had been a rogue actor, a renegade banger that had been brutally executed for it, that had committed that crime, but frankly she had never really believed that the man had acted of his own volition. Instead, she had stayed quiet and out of the way while the adults had hashed things out. Or, perhaps more accurately, the adults had argued until Panacea had put her foot down and made the decision for them by flatly stating that she trusted Archangel and the rest of Menace Squad to keep her safe long enough to be in the same city as the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Which brought Cassie's attention to the other six women in the aircraft, the members of XCOM's Menace Squad. She was envious of them, of their quiet calm, their comfortable silence that bordered on casual relaxation. They seemed entirely unconcerned by everything, like it didn't matter that they, normal humans without powers, were being sent by their teenaged leader to fight some of the most dangerous parahumans in history. To them, it seemed to be just another day, and she struggled to grasp that. She couldn't even start to wrap her head around it, never mind fully understand it.

She had been terrified of them, at first, after they had slaughtered every single man in their way during their introduction to the world's stage. Terrified that they were some sort of mercenaries, terrified that the government had finally gotten sick and tired of the chaos reigning in Brockton Bay and had decided to dispense with formalities and moralities to simply slaughter everyone who disturbed the peace. Terrified that she and her family and her friends, few and far between as they were, would be gunned down the next time they went outside in costume or attended a meeting.

But it hadn't happened. XCOM had focused on the Merchants, freeing the girls they had drugged into being whores and destroying stockpile after stockpile of weapons and drugs. Even then, they had spared those that they could without compromising their missions, killing only those who posed an immediate threat to themselves or to people caught in the (sometimes literal) crossfire.

Everyone was convinced that XCOM was just taking out the weakest faction in the city first before dealing with the Empire and the Asians, and with good reason, but Cassie couldn't help but wonder (and hope) that maybe the organization would be willing to let the two more passive gangs go about their business as long as things stayed calm. After all, without Skidmark and his ilk riling them up, surely the fighting would go down? The Asians could stick to their part of the city, the Empire to their's, and the fighting could stop.

Ari thought she was naïve, Cassie knew, but Cassie would rather be naïve and hope people would stop dying than be fine with more death and even more degradation of their home. She would rather hope against hope, pray to a God she wasn't even sure existed anymore, that the violence would stop before she had to kill anyone. Before she wasn't allowed to be the Empire's ferry service and became one of their hammers.

Before things happened that could never be taken back. Before she went from being 'Sabrina the Teenage Nazi' to 'Rune the Wanted Murderer'.

The interior lights dimmed, and she looked around curiously, glad to be drawn from her dark thoughts, wondering what was going on. Panacea didn't seem to know either, though from the looks of her expression Tattletale either had a guess or was faking it pretty well, given the way her perpetual smirk broadened slightly. It was the way XCOM reacted, though, that caught her attention. Their casual slouches vanished instantly, straightening up like their spines had turned to steel, and their heads turned to lock onto the empty air in the middle of the compartment.

A moment later, a blue node blazed to life on the ceiling, the light it cast cascading towards the deck and coalescing into the form of The Commander. She was standing there, staring out into the distance, hands clasped behind her back, and though her body language was being shown only through some sort of hologram, Cassie could see the solemn seriousness she was radiating.

"My friends, my loyal companions, the time is upon you. Even now, you approach your destination, and beyond it lies a threat beyond anything that you have yet contended. The number of lives, civilian and soldier alike, that your targets have ended are beyond counting. Entire community's have been butchered, despite the best efforts of heroes and villains for far too many years." She spoke, voice resonating, carrying, beyond what even a good sound system could explain. "But these odds, this history of failure, is meaningless to us. Let others believe our enemies cannot be defeated, destroyed, but instead outlasted. We know better, and we shall prove it, starting with the Slaughterhouse Nine, and starting today."

She paused, though whether it was to take a breath or for more dramatic purposes Cassie wouldn't even begin to guess. Out of the corner of her eye, through the shimmering blue figure, she saw that Tattletale's smile had entirely vanished, and her eyes seemed to have widened behind her mask. Any other time, Cassie might be vindictively pleased to see the smug bitch caught so ill-footed, practically gaping as she was, but here and now her focus was too solidly on The Commander for such a thing.

"What is our purpose?" she spoke again after a moment, voicing taking on a strange cadence, one that was echoed by her subordinates as they responded.

"To defend the innocent."

What is our cause?"

"To bring justice to evil."

"For humanity…"

"We will lay down our lives."

"To her enemies…"

"Swift death."

"Each of us according to our means."

"Without exception or hesitation."

"We are Humanity's Sword and Shield."

"We Are Those Who Stand Between."

"Always watching, always waiting. Semper Vigilo!."

"Semper Vigilo!"

The Commander faded away, and Cassie wondered why that speech, so short it could hardly be worthy of the name, seemed so much more than the long, fulsome diatribes that Kaiser was so fond of. Perhaps because some part of her instinctually resonated with it to a degree she never had with his. Perhaps it was because there was no voice in the back of her mind reminding her of everything she had seen and done for the Empire. Perhaps it was because it was a speech untainted by her own regrets.

Perhaps, even, it was because it did not feel hollow.

"Alright, girls." Archangel said briskly, the compartment turning to look at her as she addressed them while checking her weapons carefully. "The four of you are assigned to support, which means you'll be getting dropped off at the base camp and staying there. I don't care if you've been to Endbringer fights in the past, dusted up with rival gangs or the PRT, or anything like that. Your jobs are too help keep our side alive and stymie any sort of plan that these assholes have in place or try to come up with on the fly. Rune, your responsible for getting Othala and Panacea around to anyone that needs healing or buffing. Tattletale, you're getting handed over to Ops to help provide intel. Any questions?"

"Do we really think there is going to be much fighting? I mean, wasn't the point to kill them before they can actually do anything?" Othala asked, which Cassie thought was a bit optimistic given the Nine's reputations.

"We know that our alpha strike will cause significant damage, but the Nine haven't lasted this long by being easy to kill. Records and anecdotal evidence suggest that Bonesaw has modified her fellows heavily, though exactly to what extent isn't known, and she is well-known for using biological weapons. Speaking of which, can your gifted regeneration or invulnerability do anything about that?" came the response, and both Empire members shook their head firmly.

"It doesn't work on regular illnesses outside of mitigating symptoms." Othala explained, well aware that now was not the time to play things close to the vest and risk herself or others dying because people thought that she could do more than she could. "If someone has the flu, my regeneration will help settle their stomach, but it won't actually cure the illness or prevent them from getting it. Likewise, my invulnerability only effects external attacks that aren't using one of the natural pathways into the body, like the nose or mouth. If Bonesaw lets lose with some sort of plague, my powers are totally useless."

"Unfortunate, but understandable, given the limitations that powers so often seem to have." The sniper grunted, unhappy but understanding, and then she sighed and shrugged. "If nothing else, you'll be able to enhance the front-line folks against physical damage."

"Archangel, ETA is 2 minutes. Get ready to disembark, we're not going to be lingering at a visible altitude for long. Command is worried about someone recognizing the Skyrangers from civilian footage and putting two and two together." The pilot's voice crackled from the intercom, and the members of XCOM went into a smooth, organized flurry of motion, checking their own equipment and those of their comrades, sounding off one after the other. The four young parahumans just watched with varying degrees of awkwardness and interest, having little in the way of their own preparations to make and less in the way of people to trust in aiding them with any such preparations in the first place.

A faint tremor ran through the craft as it landed, settling down to earth once more, the hatch hissing open to allow fresh air to flow inside once more. The XCOM troopers, already on their feet, were the first to exit, followed by Panacea and the oddly-serious-still Tattletale. Othala and Rune exchanged long, nervous looks before following, stepping out into the natural light of the sun once more.

The first thing Rune noticed was the difference in the air. It had the same moisture to it as home, thanks to the two massive lakes she could see gleaming in the distance, but the air lacked the salt and seaweed of a coastal city. As strange, as insignificant as that might be under the circumstances, she found herself desperately missing that briny edge to the air. That comfortable, and comforting, scent of home.

The next thing was the city stretched out below them. They had landed on top of an office building on the far side of the city from the local PRT HQ, to keep a low profile she had been told. It made sense, she knew that the Empire had people keeping a careful eye on the PRT and Protectorate bases, and the ABB too probably, so unknown aircraft coming and going in the numbers required to drop of all the people involved in this mission would have quickly caught attention. At any rate, the reasons aside, the view was magnificent. It was obvious from the outset that South Beloit was nowhere near as badly-off as Brockton Bay was, even with the refugees flooding into the city after Madison had gotten Ziz'ed.

"Welcome to Illinois, Ladies. My name is Revel, Second in Command of Protectorate Department 4, up in Chicago." An Asian woman with a painted face, wearing those strange robe-dresses Asians wear when they're trying to be fancy and carrying a lantern, greeted them after a moment, and Cassie twitched slightly in surprise. She had been so focused on everything else that she hadn't even noticed the woman was there. The hero appraised them all for a long moment before turning away with a sweeping gesture of invitation. "Come on, then. Your two groups are the last ones to arrive. We'll take the elevators all the way down and head for the command center by car. The sooner we can kill these bastards, the better."

That was certainly true, and she had no qualms about admitting it, no matter from whose mouth the words were coming. And regardless of her race, Revel had survived multiple Endbringer fights and (from what Cassie remembered) at least two previous clashes with the Nine, so she probably had some valuable advice to offer as well. At least, that was what Cassie told herself when she started tentatively peppering the older woman with questions. It was what she would tell her cousin, later, and anyone her cousin mentioned it to.

After all, the idea that a member of the Herren clan could respect, never mind admire, a member of a lesser race was so fundamentally absurd that it didn't even bare thinking on. Cassie certainly didn't let herself think about it, because if she did she might find herself having questions again, and the last time that had happened Purity had almost died because she had hesitated.

Doubts were something only those with nothing and no one to lose could afford to have, she had learned.

Doubts were for people who could do something other than stay the course.

Doubts were for people who could choose.

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In relation to the Gauss Weapons, there are no solid numbers on XCOM Gauss Weapon muzzle velocities, but I figured that since the modern Barrett M82 .50 caliber anti-material rifle clocks in at just under 3k feet per second, I figure its not unreasonable to assume that the Gauss Weapon sniper rifle can do just about double that.

I have several projects that are approaching the point where I would be considering the idea of starting to post them. There is a poll up on my (Pat-reon dot com/historicalhijinks) that is open to the public (in other words, you don't have to be paying me money to vote) to provide me some guidance on what people would want to see as a new project the most. This poll will be up until June 10th.

The projects are as follows:

Forsaken: A rewrite of my old, old, old story The Exiles. A PJO story based on a challenge by whitetigerwolf, wherein Artemis turns Percy into a girl and Percy ends up going rogue to force the gods to behave themselves while still stopping Kronos. Basically, a third faction during the events of the books series. Note that Percy will still like women, and will not suddenly like dicks because Artemis took hers away.

Brighter Side of Grey: Tomb Raider (Survivor Timeline, the SquareEnix 2013 series) and Lost Girl crossover. Basically, knowing his wife is struggling with her pregnancy, Richard Croft decides to take some of that mythological knowledge he obsesses over and everyone mocks him for to make a deal with the faeries to protect his wife and child, and it turns out that the fae are quite different from what he thought they were. Featuring Bo-As-Lara thanks to magical womb-swapping faery fuckery. Yuri harem.

Shadows and Dust: Mass Effect/Marvel. After being shattered in Earth-616, the Pheonix Force reconstitutes in the Mass Effect universe during the era of the Inusannon. Deciding that it really doesn't like the Reapers and their perverted, monstrous mockery of a 'cycle', it decides to get involved once it finds the perfect host. Tens of millenia later, Hannah Shepard is miscarrying her future daughter due to an eezo explosion, and the Pheonix finds in her womb the host it has been waiting for. FemShep/YuriHarem.

Sun and Moon: Sailor Moon (mixed manga and anime/Yu-Gi-Oh (mixed manga and anime). Zorc is actually the true power behind the Dark Dimension. After Queen Serenity sacrifices her life to during the Silver Millenium, it takes him millenia to regain his power. Unfortunatly for him, he promptly runs straight into a young pharoah named Atem. Millenia after that, two very separate dynasties and their most loyal friends and followers have been reborn once again to destroy him once and for all. Yugi/Harem

Deviant: Harry Potter/World of Warcraft crossover. A rewrite of my old, old story The Mists of Avalon. Alleria Windrunner ends up on Earth during Order of the Pheonix instead of Argus, and everything changes from there. Harry/Harem.

An Oath, Timeless (And Forged Between Souls): EOS V: Skyrim. When Saint Alessia forged her agreement with Akatosh, it was to free mankind from the yoke and threat of an elven empire. Eras later, man and all its works once more struggle to survive against the xenophobic tide of an elven kingdom. An oath between souls exists beyond time, beyond space, beyond death itself. Saint Alessia returns as The Last Dragonborn (even if she doesn't have any idea who she is yet). YuriHarem

Feel free to ask me questions, on any platform ( included) if you want further details before casting your vote!