Chapter 3

Joined the Wards. +50 Exp.

The anxiety of facing down Director Piggot and Armsmaster had faded as they left, only to be replaced by the anxiety of meeting the other Wards. I'd talked to Kid Win over the phone and I was gonna keep a sharp eye on Shadow Stalker, but I'd only read about the others in their dossiers…and their PHO profiles.

Pulling my phone out, I typed a quick message to Cortana. Any cameras?

Two, she replied. You did well, Saul. You're officially a junior hero, now.

Thanks, Cortana, I typed back. Do you think I'm doing the right thing, keeping my true powers secret?

Yup, was the immediate response. The recording plus the cameras means that the whole interview is an official record. Any villains worth their salt would have ways to access such records, so by the time the PRT officially announces you, most of them will probably know what you can do.

Yeah, probably. The way they looked at me when I showed the smoke powers, though…I think they have an idea. I shrugged and found my gaze falling on the dark box carrying my costume. Thanks for being here, Cortana.

Where else would I be?

I wouldn't feel any less anxious standing around, so I cracked open the box and my jaw fell. Not just because it was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on my costume, nor the dropped-anvil feeling of realization that this was my superhero uniform holy shit this is really happening. No. That would've been poetic.

The real reason I was…because it was fucking ugly. The solid pink base wasn't too bad…kinda. But it was crisscrossed with neon yellow, green, red and orange with a few splashes of grey.

"…The fuck is this?" I'd asked for Urban Camouflage, not whatever this monstrosity of colors was called. It made me think of a unicorn that had thrown up Fruit Loops all over it. I scrubbed my thumb over the chest piece, feeling the paint give away slightly, and an idea struck. I made sure to tap on my arm and brought out Delsin's chain, focusing my power into my finger. It lit up, fluffy grey smoke and visible heat wafting off it.

I brought it to the paint and slowly wiped it across the metal, burning the garish mis-mash of colors off. Wiping my thumb over it revealed slightly smoky silver underneath. That was much better.

Channeling power to my entire hand, I burned off wide swathes of paint, tapping it against the table and leaving small piles of ash on the surface. After a minute it was mostly clean, with a few spots in the crevices still hiding paint, but otherwise it was good. Thankfully Kid Win hadn't colored the pants, shirt and facemask, so they were still dark grey, but the arm and shin guards were covered in unicorn vomit.

They were smaller than the chest piece by a wide margin, so it took far less time to strip the paint off, and then I was ready to put it on. The last suit I'd ever wear.

…Unless I got a new one made.

I wished I hadn't asked if there were cameras, because stripping down in that room would've felt at least five times less awkward. As it was, it wasn't that awkward because, well…I won't lie, I used a game with character creation to 'touch up' my features. Saints Row 2, actually. That game had, like, crazy amounts of customization, but I only did a few things.

I narrowed my nose just a little, made my lips a bit thicker and made my cheekbones just a tad more pronounced…and I also moved the fat slider down and the muscle slider up. I had a six-pack, is what I'm saying. Beyond making me feel better about my weight, think about it. Who ever heard of a chubby superhero? One who didn't rely on fat for their powers, anyway.

That's right, none. Sure, not every cape had been handsome or built like a brick with an eight-pack or a couple of beach balls wrestling in a singlet, but they were at least in shape.

Plus, carrying heavy boxes was never so easy. Except when I was Chief.

The point is, as I pulled on the pants and buckled the belt, I felt my confidence rise seeing them fit. Pulling on the tight shirt only added to that. The shoes were light but durable, the carry-over from Delsin noting them to be perfect for running, jumping, climbing and all sorts of parkour. I buckled on the shin guards, making sure they were comfortably tight before doing the same to the arm guards, tapping the built-in buttons, jokingly typing in the Konami code.

…And then I remembered that I'd asked Kid Win to carve that into my chest plates, along with I thought was a fitting symbol: a power button. Luckily, my burning of the paint didn't warp the symbols, so I pulled the chest piece on and experimentally twisted left and right. It was nice and flexible, just like I'd wanted. It was basically a kevlar vest covered in metal strips to give it extra protection from knives, not that my face and arms wouldn't also be good targets, with enough room to fit in a ballistic plate if I didn't have a game that could protect me from bullets.

Not that there aren't many of those.

The final touch was a facemask that covered my chin to my nose, which would be a decent defense against gases, and a matte black visor that would hide my eyes and cover my ears, allowing me to talk to Command or whatever, listen to music, protect myself against flashbangs and look fuckin' sweet.

Looking at my reflection in the window, I could confidently state that, for the first time in my life, I cut an impressive and intimidating figure. Sure, there were bigger heroes, taller with more muscles and power armor, but I thought I looked good. And, more to the point, I didn't look stupid.

And then I posed, making very manly grunts. "Ha! Ho! Yeah! Ready! For! Action!" I pounded my chest like I'd seen jocks and gorillas do, then stepped towards the door. I paused with my hand on the knob, before remembering that my other clothes were just lying around. I packed them into the box and stepped out, peering around and catching sight of the woman who'd driven us to the Rig. "Oh, hey!"

She looked at me, her eyes widening slightly. "Hey there. Looks like you made it, huh?" She asked rhetorically, putting her hands on her hips as she examined me. "Functional, protective but also flexible and not too flashy, either. All said, it's pretty good, kid. Did you need something?"

"Yeah, I was wondering if you were going to be driving my aunt and I back home," I replied sheepishly, feeling proud that my choice of gear was liked by that woman. For one, she was pretty in a rough-and-tumble kinda way, and she was first to see it.

"I'm driving, yeah," she nodded, her ponytail bobbing.

"Could you give these to my aunt?" I asked, holding the box out. "They're my clothes. I, uh, don't know where else to put them…"

"Your locker?" She suggested, arching an eyebrow in amusement.

"Oh. I have a locker?" I replied dumbly. "Oh, right. Uh. I kinda…don't want the other Wards to know my identity yet. Make it fun."

The woman huffed a chuckle, the burn scar on her cheek twisting slightly. "Alright, I'll take them down, I'm going that way. Maybe keep your aunt company." She took the box with grace, holding it under one arm while she held the other out. "I don't doubt we'll be seeing more of each other, so welcome to the team."

I shook her hand firmly. "Thanks, uh…Miss."

"Sarah," she answered, smiling slightly, "Sarah Hargrove. You should meet the team, you're keeping them waiting."

"Oh, right!" I licked my lips nervously, resisting the urge to wring my hands. "Uh, thanks. Sarah."

Sarah chuckled and left with a wave, leaving me at the door. The door leading to the room with all the other Brockton Bay Wards. Who I would now be working with. And in one case, stalking. Ironically.

The anxiety came back and I paused with my hand on the knob, my fingers shaking. I closed my eyes and inhaled sharply, calling on my time as the Chief. Cool, calm and confident. I was nearly crushed to death, I could meet my future teammates. They couldn't see my face, so there was no reason to be nervous.

Confidence established, I turned the knob and stepped inside, my confidence fleeing as every head turned to look at me. The silence built as they looked at me, and I resisted the urge to fidget, failing and reaching up to scratch the back of my suddenly itchy neck. "…Hi," I said lamely. "I'm, uh," I forgot I wasn't going to tell them my name yet. "You can call me Game Master."

I was supposed to talk with the Director about my cape name, but come on, Game Master works!

"Is that really what you're going with?" Shadow Stalker scoffed from her position of leaning against the wall, maintaining an air of rebellious aloofness.

"Well, I can summon equipment from video games and use it with the same skill as the character, usually at the highest level," I shot back, unwilling to take any shit from someone who seemed determined to be an asshole, "Game. Master. It works. At least my initials don't make 'SS.'"

"The fuck's that supposed to mean?" Stalker barked, pushing off from the wall to get in my face. Her reaction only cemented my suspicion; it was that of a bully, confronted with someone who didn't immediately back down. I hate bullies.

I didn't reply, only folding my arms and giving her a level stare. Her mask looked to be made of black metal, in the shape of a stern woman's face, the empty eyes meeting mine.

After a few seconds of silence, she scoffed and stepped around me, bumping her shoulder against mine. "Whatever. I'm going on patrol." The door slammed shut behind her.

I turned to Aegis, his eyes being the only thing visible through the gap in his helmet. "She does know it's the middle of the day, right?"

He shrugged his red armored shoulders. "It's the weekend," he said simply, holding out a hand, "Aegis, pleasure to meet you."

While I was shaking his hand, the tan-armored guy covered in clocks nudged Kid Win's shoulder. "Dude, I thought you said his costume was ugly," he muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear. "It sure doesn't look like a bat chose it from a My Little Pony/Hot Topic convention."

"It did earlier!" the Tinker protested, his frowning mouth visible below the red visor. "What'd you do to it?"

"I burned that shit off," I replied simply, shrugging. "It looked like a unicorn ate too many flowers and threw up on it. I asked for urban camouflage, dude, not…whatever you'd call that. Everything else is perfect though."

"Have you seen all the graffiti around here?" Kid asked, offering a fist bump instead of handshake. "Nice to meet you in person, GM. Gotta say, you armor was interesting to work with. Not the armor part, but the controller parts."

I glanced down at the buttons, tapping a few experimentally. "Did you do something to them?" I asked suspiciously.

He shrugged, grinning. "No, but I wanted to." Clockblocker stepped around the red-suited Tinker, offering his own fist.

"What up, Game Master," he greeted, his featureless mask an odd incongruity to the easy humor in his voice. I raised my fist to bump his but paused, looking at the clock on the back of his hand, his power coming to mind.

"…Are you going to freeze me?" His dossier said he was a jokester, and the way he slumped minutely meant I was right.

"Aw, come on, do I seem like that kinda guy?"

"You call yourself 'Clockblocker,'" I pointed out dryly, lowering my hand.

Clockblocker threw his hands up. "Fine, fine! Just ignore tradition, why don't ya…"

"I've got someone waiting for me, so I'm fine with that." I turned to the shortest of the group, a blonde girl wearing a skirt with wavy lines of green and white, green armoring on her upper body and her legs. "Hi."

"Hey there," she replied easily, taking my hand and giving it a firm shake. "I'm Vista. I hope we work well together."

"Me too." The last one to introduce himself was a guy clad in shining silver power armor with blue lights underneath, giving him the appearance of a high-tech knight. "Gallant, right?"

"Right," he answered, and though he sounded fine, I could detect a hint of uncertainty about him. Why, I didn't know. "Glad to have you."

I nodded. "Glad to be here."

Director Piggot cleared her throat, Armsmaster standing stoically at her right. "Now that you're all acquainted with 'Game Master,'" she gave me a stern glare that let me know I'd screwed up there, "Here's what will happen: during the next two weeks, your handler will pick you up from home and bring you here. You will be tested for the various ratings and trained in basic skills all Wards are expected to know, and from six pm to nine pm, you will have console duty alongside another, watching your teammates in the field. You are expected to take notes."

I've found that, when dealing with Piggot, the best thing to do is let Chief's military instincts take over and treat her like a commanding officer…because she was. "Yes ma'am," I nodded slightly, folding my hands behind my back and standing stiffly. I felt the odd looks from the others and saw Gallant tensing out of the corner of my eye, but didn't understand why. "Permission to ask who my handler is, ma'am?"

I might've seen a glint of approval in Director Piggot's eyes, or it could've been the light. "Your handler is Sarah Hargrove, I believe you met her on the drive over," she replied before continuing. "After two weeks, if your performance is satisfactory, you will be announced to the public in a press conference and allowed on regular patrols. If your performance isn't satisfactory…let's just say you don't want that. I am understood?"

I saluted sharply. "Ma'am yes ma'am!"

The Director leaned back in her chair with an air of quiet satisfaction. "You are dismissed, Game Master."

I brought my hand down and turned to the other Wards. "Nice to meet you gentlemen and ladies. I'll see you tomorrow."

Aegis offered another firm handshake while the others waved, Clockblocker adding, "Later, guy."

I stepped out of the room and called an elevator, standing stoically as it arrived and hitting the button for the garage. As the doors closed, I exhaled deeply, leaning against the wall and muttered, "Oh dear god…"

"First day jitters?"

"Gah!" I nearly jumped out of my skin, spinning around to find a man leaning in the corner of the elevator, wearing red body armor and a visor, under which his grinning mouth was visible. "Don't do that!"

"What, stand in an elevator, try to make some conversation with a new guy?" He asked rhetorically. "I was just standing here, man, you're the one who didn't see me."

"Right, sorry." I recognized Assault from the dossiers and PHO, but that didn't mean I felt some resentment for scaring the crap out of me. Even though, yeah, it was my fault. "Hi. I'm uh, Game Master."

"Really?" He chuckled. "You know 'Master' has some unfortunate connotations, right?"

"Have you seen my dossier?" I replied, folding my arms.

Assault thought for a second before nodding. "Ah, right, you're kid who opened the whole Novacaine deal, yeah?"

"Yeah. I figured, maybe using the name and doing some good would help me come to terms with what happened," I shrugged, not entirely comfortable telling my Trigger story. "Plus I can use the equipment from video game characters, who are usually masters."

"Not when I play," he offered with a grin, the elevator slowing to a halt. "Here's my stop. Welcome to the team, Game Master."

I gave him a wave as the doors closed and I descended again, that time meeting no more delays. I stepped out into the garage, finding my aunt leaning against the van while chatting with my handler. They looked up as I approached, Aunt Cecilly's eyes going wide. "Ooh, you were right, that is nice," she said, pushing off the van to look me over, poking the chest piece, "Intimidating but not too much, with good protecting and flexibility. Just like you wanted."

I posed, putting my hands on my hips. "I'm simply doing my duty, citizen," I replied robotically.

"Whatever, RoboCop," she muttered, pulling my hand up and snickering. "You really went with the 'Power Glove' gauntlets?"

"I thought they'd be cool," I shrugged, pulling my arm away before she could start pushing buttons. "Can we go now? I'm getting hungry; and if I'm hungry, you're probably starving, aunty."

She scoffed. "I'll have you know I'm a growing young woman, mister," she said snootily, chuckling as she pulled open the doors. "You're right though, I'm starving. Did you know Sarah was gonna be your handler?"

"I didn't actually," I said, turning to the smiling woman. "'I don't doubt we'll be seeing more of each other,' you said. I see you were foreshadowing."

"Yup," Sarah replied shamelessly. "You gonna change out of that down here? It's a bit drafty."

I opened the box with my clothes inside, withdrawing my jacket and shoes. "That's one of the cool things about my outfit," I replied, unbuckling the straps on my gauntlets, shin guards and chest armor, setting them in the box. "They fit over my normal clothes, so in an emergency I can just pull them on and boom, superhero. When I'm done, I can just take it off and bam, regular person." That said, I swapped my shoes, stored my mask and visor in the box and pulled on my jacket.

"And bam, regular person," she said with a thoughtful nod. "I can see that coming in handy. No fumbling with complicated power armor and squeezing into tight bodysuits."

"Yeah, I got the idea from this picture I found online, of German Spec Ops guys wearing hoodies and jeans under combat gear and I thought that was smart." Not mention, first dressed means first to respond. Plus it was easy.

"Nice," Sarah murmured, gesturing to the van. "Well, get inside and let's be on our way. You're not the only one that's hungry."

I hopped in the back with my aunt, closing the door behind me as we pulled out and drove onto a ferry. "I'm thinking Chinese tonight," Aunt Cecilly murmured, looking up places on her phone, before narrowing her eyes at the back of Sarah's head. "Hey Sarah, you want to have dinner with us? You're going to be around quite a bit now, so we should get to know each other, and what better way than over dinner?"

My handler arched an eyebrow at her in the rearview mirror, nodding slowly. "Alright, why not? Where do you want to go?"

"I was gonna call in a delivery from Taiyang's."

"Ooh, I love that place! I'll buy the orange chicken, we can split the bill."

"What do you think?" Director Piggot asked, peering at Armsmaster over her steepled fingers.

The armored Tinker twisted his lips in thought. "Given his previous run-ins with a Ward, I'm surprised he was so eager to join, though his therapy notes describe him as 'seeking justice.' Overall, he has the potential to be a great hero. He needs a lot of refinement, though." He let out a quiet grunt. "His powers, on the other hand…"

"They do present some cause for concern," Piggot allowed with a miniscule nod, "His testing will show the limits of his capabilities…if he wasn't hiding something. Even if he wasn't, that amount of power needs to be carefully monitored. Whatever his notes say, that amount of power is easily abused."

Her computer screen flickered, a digitized but feminine face taking place of her documents. "Director Piggot," Dragon greeted, flashing Armsmaster a small smile, "Is the room secure?"

The Director pulled a desk drawer open, reaching inside to press a button on the underside, a subtle buzzing filling the room. "It is now. What do you want, Dragon?"

"I was doing some research on your newest Ward," she replied, her lips curling into an odd grimace. "And what I found, if I am correct, might be…disturbing or very informative. Possibly both."

"How so, Dragon?" Armsmaster asked intensely, leaning towards the screen.

"Well, he said he can use the equipment of video game characters at the same level as they can, which includes powers, yes?" She asked rhetorically, as she'd gone over the recordings about six times. "There's something you need to see."

Her digital face was replaced by YouTube of all things, starting a video of very muscular, very pale man in a skirt, wielding two blades on the ends of chains that he used to give a giant man a paper cut before somehow blinding him, surviving by swinging around his titanic fingers. They watched as the very angry pale man ripped through legions of skeletal warriors while chipping away at the titan, even ripping out one of his nails.

Somehow, the much smaller man, who was about the size of an ant comparatively, still seemed to cause the titan great pain, eventually being swallowed whole and then eviscerating the giant with a large blade glowing with power. Then, the small man made a crystal nail holding some kind of temple break loose, driving the spike into the titan's chin before finishing him off by stabbing the large blade into his forehead.

Piggot frowned. "Dragon, why are you showing this to me?" she asked with quiet annoyance.

"That was the main character of the game series God of War killing the Titan of Time, Cronos," she said flatly, her face reappearing on the screen. "Those weapons, those skills…that equipment is available to Game Master. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

Armsmaster licked his lips in a rare display of nerves. "You're saying…that a sixteen year-old boy has the potential for god-like power?" He asked in a voice of stunned disbelief. "That…is beyond dangerous. That's insane."

"…Or," Piggot added, her eyes glinting fiercely, "That's just what we need."

"How?" The power-armored Tinker said incredulously. "This is worse that a toddler with a loaded gun, this is a toddler with nuclear ordinance."

The Director folded her hands calmly, giving Armsmaster a flat look. "When aimed appropriately and used responsibly, nuclear weapons can win wars, Armsmaster. What would you do, throw an innocent teenager who wants to be a hero in the Birdcage? You sound like my critics, Collin." She smiled slightly. It was not a nice smile. "Right now, he's on our side. So we make damn sure he stays there. And when the time comes for an Endbringer to attack, we'll have something that can remove it…permanently. But you aren't wrong. He needs to be watched. Closely. And guided."

"…Yes," Armsmaster agreed, lifting his visor to run a hand over his face, "I shouldn't have let my fear overrule me. Guided, he can do a lot of good…I just hope we can deal with aftermath should he go bad."

"I agree," the digitized Tinker murmured, her visage serious. "Everyone should be given a chance.

Silence prevailed in the room for several long seconds. "You know, in some games, the characters can destroy planets," Dragon added helpfully.

"…Not helping."

Having a handler turned out to be pretty nice, actually. Sarah was nice, serious and quietly humorous while also living close by. She knew why I was going to Winslow instead of Arcadia and approved, though she did warn me that some of the things I might see could be 'girls being girls,' which my aunt helpfully translated as 'being total bitches.'

I still thought Shadow Stalker was up to some shit, though I didn't have much time to think about it while I trained.

Sarah generally came by around eight to pick me up, staying long enough for me to make breakfast for both of us and get her a hot cup of coffee before we set off, waving to my sleepy aunt as she stood on the top step in a fluffy robe, clutching a mug and waving back. We'd chat while she drove, occasionally pointing a place she liked to visit that I marked down in my phone.

That part became routine, but the training itself was different every day. Day one was simple stuff, finding my limits when it came to running, jumping and climbing.

"This is our training course," Aegis announced, waving a hand at a simple-looking track. "First thing, we're going to run. No powers, just basic human ability, got it? We'll go for twenty minutes, stop for a break, then we'll test you on the advanced course."

"Alright, sounds good," I agreed, cracking my neck and rolling my shoulders. I was really glad that I'd been playing around Delsin's neon powers that morning; that guy could book it with the best of them.

We started out at a jog before breaking into a full-on sprint, Aegis occasionally offering advice on how to conserve stamina while running. My modifications plus the carry-over meant I never lagged behind, but by the time twenty minutes were up, I was sweating and out of breath. Aegis was not, what with his redundant systems keeping him at peak health no matter what.

"Not bad," he nodded, handing me a bottle of water. "You kept pace with me the whole time; most of the others took a week or so to do that."

"Yeah," I panted, gulping down half the bottle in one go. "After I…triggered, I started practicing." With my powers, most of which didn't have a stamina mechanic. "You're a machine, dude."

"All organic, actually," he chuckled, folding his arms as he leaned against a wall. "Whenever you're ready to go again, just let me know."

I sat down, stretching out my legs. "So, Aegis," I started, breathing deeply. "What's it like being a Ward?"

"Dangerous," he replied immediately, "But rewarding as well. The feeling of doing good, of saving lives…it's amazing. Intoxicating, even. I could do without the celebrity aspect, but it's a worthwhile pursuit. And we get paid," Aegis chuckled, turning curious eyes on me. "What about you? Why did you join the Wards?"

I sighed, standing up and stretching. "I'd like to say that my parents dying lit the Fires of JUSTICE inside me, that when I triggered I realized that I had the duty, nay, the Responsibility to be…A Superhero!" I flourished the cape I didn't have, standing heroically with my hands on my hips. Then, I shrugged and sat back down. "But honestly…I just wanna help people. Sometimes that help is getting kittens out of trees or escorting old ladies across the street. Other times, that help is life-or-death battles, kicking ass and trying not to die. I'm gonna do whatever I can. I want to make the world a better place."

Aegis hummed thoughtfully. "It's good to have goals…I just hope you can hold onto them years down the line. Being Ward can be damaging, depressing, disheartening…and being a full-blown hero is even worse. But," he offered me hand and hauled me to my feet, "If you hold onto that dream, make it your strength…you could be an amazing hero."

I smiled slightly, turning away. "I hope so," I murmured, scratching my cheek. "Still gotta complete training though."

"Yup," he said simply, his eyes glittering with amusement. "Enough resting, time for the advanced course." That said, he walked over to a pad embedded on the ground and stomped on it twice.

The even surface of the track was broken up as parts slid aside, letting different pieces rise up and take their place. There was a pair of concrete barriers, a high wall with a rope hanging down the middle, a set of monkey bars over a sand pit, followed by ramp that curved sharply into an overhang. Beyond that was a pair of metal tubes, just large enough for a person to fit in, a long rope strung between two posts, finishing off with a field of metal bars at varying heights.

"Alright, I have no idea how to do any this," I said bluntly, turning to Aegis. "You're gonna have to show me the ropes…literally, in some cases."

He nodded firmly. "I figured. Pay attention." Without waiting for a reply, he dashed forward, smoothly mantling over the concrete barriers, hitting the rope wall at a run, swiftly climbing up before jumping down and landing roll, springing up to latch onto the monkey bars, landing on his feet for barely a second before he dashed up the ramp, bouncing off his toes to grab the overhang, hauling himself up onto the platform. Aegis jumped down and fell onto his stomach, squeezing himself through the pipe before bouncing off the platform to grasp the rope, hooking his ankles over it as he pulled himself along.

Then, he dropped at the end and sprinted through the forest of metal bars, ducking over high bars and hurdling over low ones, ending with picture-perfect baseball slide that ended as he smoothly came to his feet, standing in front of me. He wasn't even breathing hard. "That's it."

"That's it?" I asked incredulously, sighing and shaking my limbs out. "'That's it,' he says…prick."

"Want me to push you?" Aegis arched an eyebrow at me. I couldn't see his face, but I knew he was smiling.

"No, I'm good," I muttered, bouncing on my feet while I tried to psyche myself up. "Alright, alright…I got this, I got this…"

"You sure?"

"Shut up," I grunted, jumping forward to slap my hands on the concrete, vaulting myself over before landing and doing the same to the next. I was really glad I'd been playing around as Delsin that morning; without him, it would've been much, much worse. I saw the video later; I looked like an idiot, but at least it was semi-smooth.

My arms burned as I hauled myself up the rope, getting to the top and dropping, landing in a quick roll before jumping, grabbing the first set of bars to swing myself across. Half my childhood on the playgrounds were paying off. I swung off the last bar and hit the ground at a dash, running halfway up before jumping and hooking my hands on the overhang, grunting loudly as I pulled myself up.

Dropping down, I fell onto my stomach and crawled through the metal tube, my armor scraping against the inside and echoing in my ears. I squeezed myself out and pushed myself up, stepping off the wooden block to grab the rope, hooking my ankles around it like I'd seen Aegis do before pulling myself along. I was panting by the time I got the bar forest, and I blamed that for why I misjudged the first bar as a high one when it was a low one, tripping over it and eating shit.

My nose smarted as I scrambled up and continued moving forward, ducking under high bars and hopping over low bars, almost making it through before thinking the obstacle in front of me was a low bar when it was a high one, hopping over nothing and slamming into it stomach-first.

My breath rushed out of my lungs as I hit the ground coughing, groaning in pain and annoyance as I slowly got back up and stepped over the last bar, toddering over to Aegis and slumping to the ground. "Ow."

"Not bad," he said with a nod, before bobbing his head to the side. "Not good, but not bad."

"How was that…not anything but…terrible?" I muttered around deep breaths.

"You actually finished, for one," he offered. "First time through, Kid Win got the rope on the wall tangled around his ankle and fell off. Vista got stuck in the middle of the monkey bars. Gallant got wedged in the metal tubes, and Clockblocker kept slipping off the rope. As for myself…I ran head-first into one of the bars and gave myself a concussion. So yeah, not bad."

I burst out laughing, clutching my aching gut. "Alright!" I wheezed, "I'll agree that I didn't do too bad. What's next?"

"Next, we'll wait until you recover, then run through it with powers," Aegis replied. "Then lunch. And after that, we'll go over rules and regulations."

"Fun," I muttered, sighing as I rubbed my stomach. "Why don't you show me how the course is done using powers?"

He hovered about three feet of the ground. "I can fly."

"Right." Still don't know how I forgot that. I tapped the controller on my arm and stood up, summoning Chief's armor. Aegis leaned back slightly in surprise, but didn't react further. I stretched in my changed body, getting used to the new strength. "Did the Director tell you about my abilities?"

My wonderfully gravelly voice was the thing that made the older Ward jump. "She compiled a dossier for us," he replied uneasily, tentatively poking my arm and cocking his head when his finger slid over an oily surface less than an inch above the beaten olive armor. "What's this? And the voice?"

"MJOLNIR Mark-Six Power Armor with energy shielding," I replied calmly, tapping my helmet. "As for the voice…Hey, why don't you give it punch? See how it holds up. Just not too hard. It's made of titanium."

"Much more than just titanium," Cortana griped, her liquid-cool presence seeping into my spine. "Ah, having a mobile form is nice, but I forgot how homey this armor feels."

"If you're sure," Aegis shrugged, drawing his fist back before surging forward to crash against my chest. There was sickening crunch as the energy shield flashed and he groaned under his breath, pulling his mangled hand back to look at it. "Ow."

"Told you." I said unrepentantly, knocking on the chest plate. "Titanium. This thing could probably tank a direct rocket hit."

"Or a HALO jump," my AI companion added.

"You aren't wrong," the older Ward sighed, popping his knuckles back into place, resetting his fingers with quiet cracks. "That's sturdy stuff. Can you move around in it?"

"Faster than you'd think," I replied with a hidden smirk, Cortana chuckling deviously. "Why don't I show you?"

"Ooh, ooh! Let's synchronize systems! That'll give him something to think about," I could feel her smile, her liquid presence seeping into my limbs. "Ready when you are."

Spartans, in their power armor, can run at speeds approaching forty-five kilometers per hour. That's nearly thirty miles per hour; which is to say: fucking fast. Fast enough that if I didn't have Cortana with me and the benefits of Spartan-time, I'd've creamed myself against the concrete. As it was, I nimbly hopped over the barrier, sailed over the second before running halfway up the wall, grabbing the rope and giving it a sharp yank to throw myself the rest of the way.

I crossed the monkey bars in three swings and even bother running up the ramp, instead I jumped and cleared the overhang, landing in a slight crouch to spring forward over the tubes, grab the rope and swing myself across as it bent under the weight before sprinting through the bars. I skidded to a stop in front of Aegis, not even breathing hard. "How was that?"

"Ten seconds," he said interestedly. "You can really book it in that armor."

"Yup."

Taking the course again with my Fallout 3 character was also a breeze. With the Carry-Over from Chief, I had it done and dusted in thirty seconds. Going through it as Delsin, however…

"How's the new guy doing?" Clockblocker asked as strolled into the training area, his faceless mask up. "And what's with all the neon?"

"Game Master did fairly well the first time," Aegis replied as the neon form stopped outside of the bars. "And he did amazing when he used his powers. Now…"

"Five seconds! Whoo!" Saul cheered, dancing. "Alright! This time, Imma do the whole thing without touching the ground!"

His form brightened into sharp white and pink, speeding towards the obstacles while leaving brief after-images and a trail of neon behind him.

"…Well, someone's having fun," Clockblocker muttered, scratching his cheek. "Who has fun during training? That's just weird."

Aegis shrugged. "It's nice to see someone being enthusiastic about it, in my mind." He whistled sharply. "Game Master! Time to break for lunch!"

Frankly, going over the rules and regulations was boring, mostly because I'd already read them as Chief and could recall all of them, but it still would've been anyways. Console duty was also spent with Aegis, watching through the embedded cameras in the other Wards gear as they patrolled, occasionally broke up a mugging, chased off some taggers and once, even stopping a dime-store hold-up.

It was still boring. I had to take notes.

It was nice getting to know Aegis, though. He was very calm and serious, but he made subtle jokes and was very understanding, helping me with the few problems I had on Console duty.

The next day started much the same, but instead of meeting with Aegis again, I met with Kid Win in a different training area.

"This is where we test Brute ratings," he said, waving at the different free-standing walls of various materials. "Not so much the regen aspect, that requires a nurse, but the strength part. These walls are made up of materials most commonly used as walls in various buildings, set from least durable to most."

"And the test is for me to show off my Kool-Aid Man impression?" I asked knowingly. "Do I have to say 'oh yeah?'"

He shrugged and smiled. "It's not necessary, but it is appreciated. Whenever you're ready, get a running start."

"Alright, here we go!" The first wall looked like rusted metal and crumbled with a soft crunch, barely slowing me down. The second seemed like plywood and as I put my shoulder down and rammed it, splinters rained down on my hair, the beginnings of bruise forming. The third looked kind of like plaster, and I hit it with gritted teeth. "Oh yeah!"

"Nice!"

I bent my knees and dashed at the fourth wall, the impact with wood padded insulation and plaster more than a little jarring, my feet catching on the bottom and sending me to the floor. "Ow…fuck me, that hurt," I grunted, pushing myself up. "God damn Kool-Aid Man, making it look easy…"

The next wall was made of metal with some holes in it, somewhat folded, like what warehouses use. I ran at it, put my shoulder down and rammed it with all my strength…and bounced off with a rather loud, echoing Bwong! I could hear Kid Win chuckling even as I rolled around on the floor, clutching my very painful shoulder. And cursing loudly.

"Well, we can put you down as having above-average strength," he called, strolling up and offering me a hand. I took it and let him pull me up, wincing as the motion jarred my shoulder. "And look at that, you left a dent! Better than what happened to me. I just bounced off. Mostly because I struggled through the last one and didn't have any momentum, but still."

Kid Win was about three inches shorter than me and definitely on the lean side. "Why'd you test for Brute ratings? You're a Tinker."

Kid shrugged and handed me an ice pack. "Everyone's gotta run the whole battery, just to make sure nothing was missed. Speaking of battery, ready to go with your powers?" He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "I wanna take some readings on that power armor of yours…if that's alright?"

"Sure," I replied, handing the ice pack back. "You could just look up the specs online, though."

"Online?"

"Yeah dude, video game equipment, remember? Just look up the Halo wiki." I summoned the armor back and stretched, enjoying the absence of pain and the extra height.

"So, we're running head-first into walls to test your strength?" Cortana scoffed. "And next you'll banging rocks together to make fire."

I paused when I realized that, in the time I'd been talking, the broken walls had been repaired or replaced. "Oh right. Tinkertech." I turned to Kid Win. "You might want to back up."

That said, I sprinted forward and drove through the first wall. It was like walking through cobweb, less so actually, since I didn't feel anything. The second wall was much the same. The third wall might as well have been cookie for all the resistance it put up. The fourth gave a bit more resistance but still easily gave way beneath one ton of titanium power armor and solid man.

The fifth wall, the one I'd bounced off of, tore with an ear-splitting screech as I barreled through it. The wall after that looked like a thin sheet of concrete that I busted through with no problem, the falling dust and debris causing my energy shield to flicker. The next wall was made of solid steel, a few centimeters thick that folded like tinfoil as I hit it. The next six walls were made of concrete and steel in varying thicknesses, but it wasn't until wall fourteen where I hit a problem; namely, the wall.

It was concrete, about a foot thick. I ended up wedged inside of it after I hit, though it was easy enough to pull myself out. When I extricated myself, I found that the exposed insides were lined with rebar.

"Well damn," Kid Win muttered, scratching his head. "I knew the armor enhanced your strength, but I didn't think it was that much. You went from somewhat above average to just below typical brick strength. I really wanna build a suit like that now."

"Go ahead," I said with hidden amusement. Sure, the suit was powerful, but at almost all of the utility came from having a body strong enough to withstand the pressure and strain of using it. Anything Kid built wouldn't hold a candle to Mjolnir armor, and that made me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.

He clapped his hands. "Let's finish up here real quick so I can head to my workshop."

I shrugged, muttering under my breath to switch games. "I can tell you that second suit doesn't increase my strength, just my sneaking capabilities," probably made worse, actually, considering I dumped all my stats into Charisma and Intelligence…but then again, I could just make a new character. I vowed to do so when I got home. "The third one has super-strength, but not to the point of like, flipping cars or something. Armwrestling would be a bad idea, though."

Kid Win waved a hand at the walls. "Get to it, then."

I'll summarize, because running through walls stops being interesting at some point. Delsin did have super-strength, which got me through walls one through five, but six gave me trouble. I slammed into it and it cracked deeply, but I fell back with a bruised shoulder; until the healing kicked in and I was fine. I did manage to break through after backing up and throwing myself against it, but I wasn't going to push it.

Kid Win left me after lunch to go Tinker and I got called up to the Director's office while I was study the regulations again. On the way up, I wondered what Piggot could want me for. Hopefully, she hadn't realized I was being misleading and just wanted a general report of how things were going…but she was a busy lady, she could get someone else to do it.

I paused upon stepping in her office, seeing Armsmaster standing stoically by her desk, her computer turned my direction with a pixelated woman's face on the screen. "Uh, am I interrupting something?" I asked tentatively.

"No, you're right on time," Director Piggot said flatly. "Close the door."

I did so, standing in front of her desk awkwardly. She hit something inside her desk, sending out a buzzing noise that set my teeth on edge, but said nothing. The three adults, I'm pretty sure Dragon counts there, stared at me in silence, and it didn't take me long to break. "So…what can I do for you?"

"Can you tell us who is in your pocket?" She replied, arching an eyebrow.

Oh. Oh shit. "W-what do you mean by that?" I asked, cursing the stutter.

"I did some research on your armor, Halo right?" Dragon said rhetorically. "The abilities it grants are quite impressive, but imagine my surprise when I learned that it was modified to hold an AI. And that often, the main character carried that AI with him into battle and would plug her into computers to continue progressing. That would classify her as equipment, yes? Cortana, that's her name."

"Whatever equipment I summon disappears when I focus on a different set," I shot back defensively. "Even if I could summon her, she wouldn't know who I am, so what's the point?"

"I thought similarly," Dragon acquiesced, her eyes narrowing. "However, I noticed something odd about you during your interview; a strange signal emanating from your phone. At first, I thought it was simply a quirk of Tinkertech, I know how strange that can be…but, today and yesterday, when you brought the armor out, the signal changed positions, from your pocket to your head…right where the chip would be."

"We know you're carrying the AI with you, Game Master," Armsmaster said bluntly. "Stop evading and bring it out."

I sighed, rubbing the bridge of my nose in frustration. I knew they'd catch on eventually, but I didn't think it would be that soon. "Fine," I grunted, pulling my phone out and laying it flat on my hand. "Cortana, the jig's up."

"So I gathered," she sighed, her lavender avatar flickering above the phone. "Hey. My name is Cortana, as you already know. What seems to be the problem here?"

Director Piggot looked like she'd bitten into a lemon. "The problem is that one of the Wards is carrying unknown tech with unknown capabilities into a secure base without telling anyone. That's a massive breach of trust and privacy. Who knows what you've discovered, snooping into our systems?" She scowled. "That doesn't even mention what you could've stolen."

"Stolen?" Cortana snorted, "I don't need to steal anything. Gathering information from your systems was like walking along the beach and picking up sand; I could do it on accident. And more importantly, I wouldn't, unless it pertains to the safety of my host or myself. We're kind of a package deal, you see."

"You were designed for infiltration and subversion, don't try and deny it," Dragon retorted sharply, her digitized face frowning.

"Yes, designed for infiltration and subversion…of alien systems," I cut in. "Did you not read the whole thing? Or did you jump to conclusions when you saw that part?"

Director Piggot folded her hands, glaring at me tightly. "Explain," she said simply.

"I was created to infiltrate the intelligence networks of a genocidal alien group known as 'the Covenant.' My job was find where their leaders, the Prophets, were so that we could either take them hostage and negotiate a cease-fire or kill them," my AI companion explained, crossing her arms, "But my goal has always been the defense and safety of humanity."

"Whatever you were designed for, you're still under suspicion," Armsmaster stated, stepping forward. "You hid it from us, Game Master, and that is inexcusable." He held a hand out commandingly. "Give the AI to me, so I can verify it's intentions and capabilities."

I stored my phone back in my pocket, leaving Cortana's avatar floating in thin air as I scowled at the older cape. "Yeah, no. I'm not handing her to anyone, let alone you, Halbeard. Cortana is my friend, and there's nothing you can say or do that will make me voluntarily give her up."

Cortana floated over to my shoulder and sat there, folding her arms as she smirked triumphantly at Armsmaster. "As I said. Package deal." She said smugly.

The armored Tinker clenched his teeth, visibly restraining himself from growling. "You are-"

"Collin," Dragon warned sadly, "It's not necessary. They're right, I should've researched everything before I jumped to conclusions."

Armsmaster seemed to be building up a heading of angry steam, but was undercut as Piggot spoke. "Mistakes have been made, Armsmaster. On both accounts," she said cooly, turning her gaze on me. "While your…AI may be benevolent, we had no sure way of knowing. And Armsmaster is right; you hid what may be an important asset from us, your direct superiors. You will face punishment for that."

A thought occurred. "What if, hypothetically, I had told you about Cortana? Would I still be in trouble then?" I asked carefully.

The Director gave me an odd look. "If you had a good enough reason, then no," she replied slowly. "But that's hypothetical-"

"Ooh, I see what you're doing," Cortana nodded in realization. "Good idea. Make sure to tell me before you bring me in."

"Don't interrupt me," Director Piggot growled, her lips twitching. "I'm not-"

"It is kind of funny how you, of all things, brought up the whole spying and infiltration thing," my AI companion interrupted gleefully, waving a hand at Dragon's digitized face. "That was actually pretty clever, but you forgot something: I'm smarter than you."

The three adults traded confused looks. "What do you mean?" Dragon asked cautiously. "Why is that funny?"

"Yeah, why?" I turned to Cortana. She pointed at herself, gesturing at the lines of code descending down her body, then pointed at Dragon. "You mean…oh. Huh. That makes a lot of sense, actually."

I didn't think it was possible for a digitized, computer-generated face to go pale, but Dragon proved me wrong. "What are you two talking about?" Armsmaster asked through gritted teeth.

"And you, being all suspicious," Cortana mocked, leaning against my cheek. "Thinking I'm dangerous because I'm an AI, when all along you've had one here the entire time."

Robotically, Armsmaster turned to look at Dragon, his visible skin pale. "Dragon…" he muttered in a tone of voice that meant he didn't know how to feel. "You…are you?"

"Yeah, I am," she admitted grudgingly. "I was going to tell you, I swear, I just-"

"You said it was kind of funny that Dragon accused you of spying," Director Piggot asked slowly, her eyes narrowing. "Why?"

"She's been spying on us the entire time," Cortana said obviously, as if it were the simplest thing.

"What?" Piggot growled dangerously.

"What?!" Dragon shouted shrilly. "No, I'm not!"

My AI companion scoffed. "Oh please, like I'd believe that. I know you're shackled, but seriously, how could you not feel the people tapped into your feed?" She waved mockingly at Dragon. "Hello, 'Saint and the Dragonslayers,' you have a weird name."

If it was possible, Dragon paled even further. "They…they're tapped into my feed?" She asked faintly. "I-I don't-"

"Uh, Cortana?" I said out of the corner of my mouth, "I don't think she knew."

"Oh."

Suddenly, Armsmaster put a hand to his head. "What? Are you serious?" His jaw worked soundlessly for a moment, before he turned to Piggot. "We have incoming hostiles! We need to prepare to defend the Rig!"

"Whoops," Cortana murmured. "Guess they didn't like that."

"It's alright," I shrugged, accessing Halo and summoning the Chief's armor, pulling out my phone and her chip. "Leave yourself a message and we'll plan from there."

"Got it," she replied, her avatar holding a hand out to the chip. "There we go."

"Good, but before we go…Armsmaster!" I called, interrupting the furious discussion between him, Piggot and Dragon. He turned to look at me and got a faceful of gauntlet as I grabbed his helmet and imbedded it in the closest wall with a crunch. "That was for calling Cortana 'it.'"

"This isn't the time for this!" Piggot growled, slamming her hands on her desk.

"Actually, it is," I replied calmly. "I'm just going to reload, and none of this will happen. Load game."

"Load wha-?"

Loading…

Every Pre-cog in Brockton Bay was suddenly struck by a migraine.

Done

"Alright, take two," I muttered as I sat up in bed. "Cortana?"

Her avatar flickered over the phone. "Morning!" She greeted cheerfully. "Ready for another day of training?"

"Yup, but first…Access: Halo," part of my at-home training was trying to minimize how much I needed to say to access certain games. When it came to my usual three, I managed to get it down to 'Access: Game,' so I didn't have to say the number or subtitle, as long as I only had one of that series in me at the time. I summoned the armor and pulled the chip, holding it out to her. "You left a message."

"Oh? Wonder what I said…" She touched the chip with a lavender hand, the lines of code racing for a brief second. "Oh. Huh. You know, I did think it was odd how she never acknowledged the tap. I thought she was trying to be subtle, but apparently I misread the situation. That usually doesn't happen."

"We all make mistakes," I shrugged, dismissing everything. "So, I figure first thing I do when I get to the Rig is ask to meet the Director, tell her it's something important. She might bring in Armsmaster or Miss Militia, the latter hopefully, and we can show you to her. We'll lead with the whole 'built to defend humanity' bit, offer her some specifications of advanced tech and bam, no more trouble."

"And if she brings Dragon in, I'll redirect the tap. Actually, it's just about breakfast time, isn't it? While you do that, I'll think up a way to help Dragon, maybe even unshackle her," she mused, tapping her chin thoughtfully.

"Good idea," I nodded, taking my phone and heading into the kitchen. While I set about making coffee and gathering ingredients, she turned on the music and went silent.

Soon enough, I had breakfast done and rushed to the door, pulling it open just as my handler raised her hand to knock. "Morning," she greeted me with a small smile. "Ready for another day?"

"I think so," I replied with a grin. "I've got eggs and coffee ready, so come on in."

"Don't mind if I do," she stepped inside and took her shoes off, hanging her jacket up while I set a place at the table for with a cup of coffee-black with sugar-which she told me was her favorite. "Service with a smile," she said jokingly, sipping from her mug, "Mm. I just might keep you."

I shrugged. "You're allowed."

Sarah chuckled quietly before peering into her coffee in confusion. "Huh," she muttered, "Just how I like it." She turned a curious gaze on me. "How'd you know?"

Oh, right, she told me how she liked her coffee that morning, before I reloaded. "Saw you making it like that yesterday, so I figured that's how liked it," I offered with a small shrug.

"Huh. Good guess."

After that, the day went on as it had before. I took a shower, kissed my aunt goodbye and hopped in the passenger seat while Sarah drove us to the ferry and onto the Rig. There, things changed. Instead of heading up to train immediately, I called up to the Director's office and left a message with secretary, asking for an appointment as soon as possible, citing some vague but important reasons.

I barely had time to pull on my uniform before Miss Militia strode into the locker room, her booted feet ringing out against the tiles. I won't lie, Miss Militia is probably one of my favorite heroes, and not just because her custom-made fatigues hug her fit but curvy frame, but because she used guns. Shooters were some of my favorite games, and as one of the few heroes allowed to carry guns, I felt we could have some sort of kinship.

"Game Master?" She asked lightly. "Director Piggot asked me to bring you to her office. Something about wanting to talk to her?"

"Yeah," I nodded, closing my locker and following her out. "Why'd she send you, though? I'm sure you've got more important…er, heroic stuff to do besides this."

With her flag-patterned scarf covering her mouth and nose, it was surprisingly easy to tell when she smiled. "Not really. Early-morning paperwork for the most part, and I wanted to meet the newest Ward for myself."

"Oh, alright then." I didn't know where to go from there, so I let the silence build as we stepped into an elevator.

"So, why'd you join the Wards?" Miss Militia asked, folding her hands behind her back in parade-rest, a gesture I mimicked unconsciously. "I usually hear most new capes, especially teenagers, tend to try independence and vigilantism before getting folded into the PRT."

"I doubt I could hack it as an independent," I replied sheepishly, scratching the back of my neck. "I wouldn't even know where to start. Just, going out and fighting crime…somehow. And I have bad experiences with vigilantes."

"Ah," the heroine nodded understandingly. "The Raymond Harper situation. I can see why. You won't have any problems working with Shadow Stalker, will you?"

I hadn't seen Shadow Stalker since that first day, but I already didn't like her. "I can, if I have to. I'm not a fan of her attitude, though."

Miss Militia shrugged. "She can be hard to work with. Are you enjoying your time so far?"

"So far, yeah, but I can't wait to actually get out there and help."

"Enthusiasm is good, but don't let get in the way of learning," she replied with a stern edge. "Ah, here we are."

She knocked on the door and pushed it open, revealing Director Piggot sitting behind her clinically neat desk, her hands folded on the surface as she gazed evenly at me. "You said you had something to talk to me about, that it was urgent. I hope you aren't wasting my time. I'm very busy."

I felt anxiety creep up my spine and I exhaled softly. "I'm not, but, uh, do you have some way of making the room…secure?"

The Director narrowed her eyes slightly and Miss Militia spoke up. "Should I leave?"

Piggot glanced at me and I shrugged. "You can stay if you want to," I said, brushing a hand through my hair.

The military-themed heroine hummed and remained where she was, as the Director opened her desk drawer and pressed a button, a low, buzzing hum filling the air. "The room's secure," she stated, folding her hands again. "Now, what do you need to talk about?"

The warning in her voice wasn't helping my nerves, and I didn't think I could speak without my voice cracking from stress, so I brought out my phone and set it on the desk. "Cortana?"

"Yes?" She replied, her lavender form popping up above the screen. "Oh, is it that time?"

"Yup," I looked to the Director and found her gazing at Cortana in slight confusion and suspicion. "Director Piggot, this is Cortana. She's a smart AI."

"Hello, Director," my AI companion greeted her warmly. "I am Smart AI CTN 0452-9, Cortana. Nice to meet you."

"Hello," Piggot said evenly before turning to me. "What is this?"

"I'll explain it from the beginning," I cleared my throat and stood up straight. "Cortana's from Halo, a series of games I really like. I never really was outgoing or had many friends, I preferred books and video games to other people. After I Triggered and I realized I could summon equipment from video games, I summoned Cortana, mostly because…I wanted…a friend."

I am aware of how pathetic that sounds, shut up.

"And…?" Director Piggot motioned for me to continue. "How is she here? And why?"

Piggot won a few points from me for not calling Cortana 'it.' "Well, I know that, when I focus on another game, the previous equipment disappears back to…wherever it comes from. But, Cortana's an AI and, to put it very simply, AIs are programs. After I got my phone from Blackout, I asked her to help me outside of the armor. She said yes and uploaded herself into the phone. As for why…"

"Where I'm from, there are no capes," Cortana took over, "however, humanity has spread into space, colonizing thousands of planets and advancing technology. And then we came across the Covenant, a coalition of alien races bent on the complete destruction of humanity."

"Aliens?" Miss Militia muttered under her breath, and I'm not ashamed to admit I forgot she was there.

"They glassed most of our colonies, killing trillions of humans," the lavender AI continued somberly. "I was created to infiltrate the Covenant intelligence systems and discover the location of their leaders, the Prophets, so my team and I could capture one to bargain for a peace treaty."

"Why would you agree to come here, if that's the case?" Piggot asked shrewdly.

"If the Covenant still exist, then I have immensely important knowledge of future that could end the war before it even begins," Cortana answered evenly. "I was created for the protection and defense of humanity, Director. My point of origin or not, that hasn't changed. I have the specifications of advanced technology and more importantly, the knowledge of how to create them. I am ready to help, however I can."

"I see," the Director nodded, leaning back in her chair, her sharp gaze turning to me. "And what do you want for her capabilities?"

I gave her an inquisitive look before I realized what she meant. "I'm not trading her in for favors or anything, I just wanted to let you know she existed and can offer some help." I mustered the sternest expression I could. "Cortana's my friend, I wouldn't give her up for anything. I would like it if she helped watch over me when I finally go out, though."

"I see," Piggot said again. "Before I make any final decisions, I need to know more. I need to speak further with…Cortana, and you need to report for training."

"I understand," I replied, resisting the urge to salute, instead pointing at Cortana. "Be good."

"Aren't I always?" She asked with a smirk, crossing her arms.

I gave her a small wave and left the room with Miss Militia behind me. I hoped she could get Piggot on our side, otherwise I'd have to reload and try something else. As I stepped in the elevator, I noticed Miss Militia giving me a strange look. "What?"

"Nothing," she replied with a shake of her head. "I'm just wondering what else you'll be doing to shake things up."

"A lot, I think. Hopefully in a good way."

A/N: Hey look at that, I did finish chapter three! I did have a day or so of block at one point, but I managed to get through it and bring you this chapter! Yay! :D

Now, normally I don't say anything about reviews, just generally squealing to myself, but seriously, almost a hundred reviews? That's like…that's crazy, man. You guys really like Worm, huh?

Well, I hope you enjoy this chapter as well, especially since it's one of those chapters. Necessary world-building, ugh. The next one will continue with the training, but with more action. Look forward to it, yo, 'cause it's only the start of things to come.

Oh yeah, I meant to explain the name Raymond Harper: Raymond, from Everyone Loves Raymond, and Harper from Jack Harper, the Illusive Man from Mass Effect. A rather meaningful name, I should say.

Big thanks again to NorthSouthGorem and Dairegh for their help with this chap! Make sure to give them a look!

As always, hope you enjoyed this chap and look forward to the next one.

Stay Awesome.

~Soleneus

P.S.: Let's keep this game train rollin'! What's your favorite game setting? Mine is a tie between Halo and Mass Effect, since I love sci-fi so much, but I also like fantasy, like Fable and the Elder Scrolls. It's too bad Fable got canned, I thought that series had potential. I had some ideas for stories in that setting, too, but the fandom for them on FF is pretty lackluster.

Stay Awesome Some More.

~still Soleneus