Glory and Victory(a)
Gloria looked through the floor-to-ceiling window, observing the world outside like an evil overlord would observe their secret base.
Brockton Bay, shining jewel of the east coast. Trade hub, center for neo-colonization, and her hometown.
Sure, it had its bad parts. The northern half of the city had been torn away, the ruins that remained only beginning to be rebuild. The boat graveyard was there too, but that had quickly been transformed into what must have been the strangest harbor ever to exist. On the other hand, that had only happened because a Neo-Nazi gang had figured out that if they build new docks on their own, they would both control the city, and show a middle finger to Lung.
The docks, capable of holding two super freighters and several smaller ships, were mostly empty right now. A few fishing boats were visible on the horizon, and Gloria could almost see the tiny little dockworkers in the distance, building new warehouses with the limited tools they had on hand. Danny would have loved the revival of the dockworker's union, although he would have hated the empire presence.
Still, Kaiser was smart enough to know that killing half the dockworkers for not being white would wreak havoc on the city's economy, so it could at least be tolerated. And with the amount of wealth flowing through, the protection payments probably weren't a problem, besides the fact that they were protection payments of course.
On the other side of the city, in the east, stood the hub. And while the docks were marked by periods of massive activity whenever a new freighter came by, the hub's activity was constant, through rain or snow, or gloom of night.
In the middle, between the new docks and the hub, stood a long, wide thoroughfare, a street about as wide as you'd expect a city block to be. Paved with something akin to tinkertech cobblestone, it was here that trade was done, with hawkers peddling wares, shoppers shopping for goods, and petty criminals trying to make a buck out of it all. In honor of the time before, it was called the Lord's street, after the old Lord Street Market. Were she to smash the window and jump, she'd land in what she thought was a curry stand, selling Indian cuisine with who knew what kind of spices in it, certainly not the original blend.
"Sis! Come on we need to hurry, I don't want to be late on my first day!" her little sister yelled from the in-house balcony that allowed people to look out over the living room from the second floor.
Victoria turned around and looked at the girl.
She had tamed her long black curls with a midnight blue hairband, of a type she recognized from the uniform store. She was wearing a silver-white shirt, with a skirt in the same blue color as her hairband beneath it, with the silver-white of her socks just beneath it, showing the tiniest bit of skin. The ensemble was finished with a quickly finished tie with the Arcadia logo, something with which Annette had obviously helped her with.
"New look? Smile included?" she asked rhetorically. "I like it!"
"Thanks," Taylor replied. "I thought I'd get a new look for a new start."
For the past year or so, Vicky knew, her little sister had been bullied at school. People throwing spitballs at her, juicing her bag, stealing her homework and ripping pages out of her books. She'd wanted to help, but Vicky had already begun at Arcadia, being one year ahead of little Taytay. Going by how happy she was now, most of her bullies must not have been able to get into Arcadia, meaning they wouldn't be bothering her again.
"Well, let's get going then you lazy first-years!" Vicky said as she went for the door of the apartment.
"You were the one dawdling!" Taylor replied, running down the stairs to catch up to her.
The two of them made their way outside, walking down the walkway towards the elevators.
The apartment building was one of the first ones build after everything had changed. Similar to ancient Roman buildings, but much higher and with more security features, the building was build around a central plaza, which was covered with glass and doubled as a garden and a hydroponics area. Apparently the designs had been provided by some sort of architecture Tinker, and the specific way in which it was set-up allowed everyone to have a little hanging hydroponics garden. The Heberts used theirs to grow strawberries year round, which they sometimes traded with the neighbors for some variation.
"So, what's Arcadia like?" Taylor asked.
"Let's see… It's exactly the same as the last couple hundred times you asked me," Vicky replied.
"Yeah, but, what's it really like? During the tour, they pretended everything was just so perfect. What's the dirt? What are the secrets?" Taylor asked.
"Ahh, so you want to know what it's really like, my young padawan," Vicky said. "Well, for one thing, it's absolutely riddled with gang members."
"Really?" Taylor asked, not believing her.
"Only sort of. I mean, sure, technically they only take the smartest students, while everyone else starts working or doing an apprenticeship at fifteen. You know, dwindling resources and everything. Realistically however, people with influence tend to find a way to get their kids in," she explained.
"You mean mom…" Taylor asked.
"I don't think so. I mean, come on, you're obviously a massive bookworm."
"But my grades…" Taylor said, referring to her lack of academic ability in her previous year. The ones that had fallen like a rock due to the whole bullying thing.
"They gave you the test right? Trust me, like 80% of it is how you do on that test, because they can't really trust school records these days."
"If you say so," Taytay said.
The two of them made their way into the elevator, where they were soon joined by a rather nerdy looking boy in the male version of the Arcadia uniform, as well as a young man that wore the suit and tie like he usually wore far more formal clothing.
"Hey Taylor, you're going to Arcadia too?" the nerdy kid said, all cheery and happy. Taylor ignored him, but wasn't happy about the boy talking to her.
"Did you know there's like four hours of computer class each week? I even heard they have a connection to some school in Great New York!" the kid continued.
"Hi Greg," Taylor finally said.
They were rescued by the elevator stopping at ground floor, and Vicky grabbed her little sister by the arm, pulling her forwards.
"Is he bothering you?" she asked.
"No, it's just Greg…" Taylor replied, brushing off her sister's concerns.
The two girls, followed closely by the two young men, Greg now motor-mouthing at the other boy, made their way out of the building past the security guard, which nodded at them as they left.
Lord Street was, as always, completely filled with people. The collapse had destroyed the global economy, and multinationals had fallen in the chaos. General destruction, bandits and calamity triggers meant that trade and travel become a lot more difficult, and as a result, mass-produced goods had become more scarce. Clothes weren't mass-produced in third-world countries anymore, but tailored by people and then sold on the massive market. Butchers, Bakers and fruit merchants had replaced the massive grocery stores, and consumer electronics were hoarded like ancient artifacts until a ship containing them arrived.
More impressive however, were the creatures from earth Tav. Massive exotic wonders of evolution, they were the main source of export in Brockton Bay.
Vicky spotted a caravan, looking for a warehouse to place their goods and set up store, walking through the streets. Massive Mega-Aurochs, two-story tall beasts of burden, carrying cages with exotic pets, furs and hides, Ivory and other products from beyond the portal.
Someone waved at her from the top of the second beast in line. A boy she remembered from Middle School, Dennis had been crude but hilarious. A year in the colonies however, had turned him from a cute pasty idiot into a tanned hunk, the hard work and travelling making his body very interesting to look at.
Dennis jumped down from his position on the beast, and Vicky walked in his direction to talk to him, standing right next to the massive Auroch.
"Long time no see," the boy greeted her. "You're looking good!"
"Same," Vicky replied as she looked at the boy, guy, whatever. "How's life?"
"Pretty good," Dennis replied. "I mean, it's not perfect, but I'm getting by. Making enough money to help support my mom."
"Oh, right…" Vicky replied. She remembered Dennis's father being rather sick the last time they'd spoken. If Dennis was supporting his mother, then things must not have ended well.
"Anyway, who's this lovely lady?" Dennis asked as Taylor joined them.
" My lil' sis, Taylor," Vicky replied.
"Hi," Taylor greeted, halfway stuck between still being shy and getting her new start going.
"Hey Dynamite, eyes on the road!" someone yelled from the frond of the group. Vicky looked, and saw a rather sharp-featured woman with long black hair in a bun, wearing what looked like an unholy hybrid of riot gear and cowboy stuff, plating and leather combining for a rather strange look. The most striking however, was the armband she carried around her right arm, a golden dot surrounded by a circle, on a field of white. This woman had fought Scion in the Gold Morning, that much was clear. In other words, she was a parahuman.
"Gotta scram, see you when I'm done?" he asked.
"Sure," Vicky replied, taking a long look at the boy's glutes while he walked back to his Auroch.
"Fugly Bob's at four?" Dennis asked as he mounted the beast, his heels digging in to make the massive creature move forwards.
"Sure, but bring a friend!" Vicky yelled back.
"Will do!" Dennis yelled back, barely audible in the noise of the street.
"What just happened?" Taylor asked, as the two of them started walking in the direction of Arcadia High again.
"I just got you a date," Vicky replied.
"That was a date? Weren't you still in love with Dean?" Taylor asked.
"You have a lot to learn little T. See, the thing is, boyfriends are like purses, you can't have the same one for more than a year."
"That's shallow," Taylor replied.
"So's breaking up because I don't like the dress he bought me," Vicky said.
"I'm sure there was more to it than that," Taylor said.
There was, but she wasn't going to trouble her sister with the details.
Vicky looked around as they made their way through the busy street. It was still morning, but everyone was already up and about, selling their wares, or trying to find what they needed. Every here and there, she saw other children wearing the same uniform, those fortunate enough to be able to afford an education in these trying times.
Eventually, her eyes spotted someone climbing on top of an Auroch that had been parked somewhere, cutting at the cords that kept the owner's goods attached to the beast. Worse, the girl doing it seemed to be wearing some sort of mask.
Evidently, she wasn't the only one to see it. The beast's owner yelled out, and the Auroch started roaring and moving around. When the owner, a rather obese Merchant, grabbed his gun however, the girl, half-mounted on a panicking Auroch suddenly started breathing fire at him.
"Taylor, we should get out of here. Meet you at school okay?" Vicky said, while she ran through the crowd, looking for a place to become Gloria.
"Vicky? Where are you going?" Taylor yelled, but Vicky kept running. One of these days, she would tell her sister about her powers, but it was her secret for now.
Rounding a corner, just barely out of sight of the rest of the people in the street, half of them panicking because of the cape, Vicky materialized her gear.
Almost immediately, a hardlight helmet covered her head, joined by what looked somewhat like a dress made out of plate-mail, with a short skirt of course. It wasn't like she needed it for Protection. The hardlight was rather brittle, and she had her forcefield for that. No, instead, the hardlight armor would serve as a shield to protect her family, and as a weapon, but in the more literal sense.
She flew upwards before returning to the street, trying to make it less obvious where she came from.
Down below her, in the street, she saw the cape she'd spotted earlier, now trying to keep the area around her clear by spitting fire into the air as a warning shot. It wasn't entirely a good idea, since her flames seemed to be based upon some sort of flammable liquid, which was falling to the street and sitting there in burning puddles.
Not needing another clue, Gloria flew forwards, diving straight in front of the villainess, and landing in a perfect three-point landing. Or at least mostly perfect, there were just a few cracks in the stones beneath her.
The fire-spitter stopped, obviously impressed with her amazing superhero landing.
"Stop right there you criminal scum!" Vicky said.
"The fuck are you?" the girl replied.
"Glora," Vicky said, striking a suitably intimidating pose.
"Dude, it doesn't really count if you call yourself glorious, I mean, you're a virtual unknown," the girl continued.
"And you're under arrest," Vicky replied, walking forwards menacingly.
The girl, obviously panicking about the appearance of a superhero so soon after starting her dastardly behavior, started spitting fire at Vicky like she was Tupac or something. Only instead of amazing lyrics, it was actual fire, which was the entire point of the metaphor after all.
"Vicky just stood there as the fire easily broke through her armor, the sticky liquid burning on her skin. Or rather, her near skin-tight forcefield, which luckily also covered her school uniform.
Covered in burning goop that would hopefully protect her secret identity, Vicky stepped forwards, utterly invincible.
You know, unless the villain had a gun or something, then she would be completely fucked, the bullet breaking her forcefield after which the flames would roast her alive. Sure, she could've dodged, but it was important to show criminals how amazing you were.
"Nice try, my turn," Vicky said, flying forwards, straight into the villain girl, who flew back before landing painfully on the ground, getting rashes and bruises all over her body in the process.
"Fuck you! You have no idea what you're doing," the girl yelled.
"You think so Kendrick? I saw you try to steal from that merchant," Vicky replied as the flammable liquid around her started burning up. When she started being able to see again, she reformed her armor, protecting her again.
"It was mine in the first place," the villainess argued.
"Yeah, right," Vicky said, and as the girl spit another fireball, Vicky dodged to the side, making the fireball crash into a stall someone had set up. Dodging further fire, Vicky weaved between the different stalls and carts, until she outmaneuvered the woman doing the Eminem impression, being able to get behind her, and pulling one hand around her stomach while holding her head in place with the other, stopping the villain from hitting her with flaming snot.
They stood there for a few seconds, rather awkwardly, when, out of nowhere, the ground beneath them started moving, twisting and circling around their legs. Vicky tried to escape, struggling against whatever was doing it, before she noticed it was trying to bind, not hurt. Within seconds, the two of them were both stuck to the ground, material from the stones of Lord's street having wound its way up their legs.
"Lemme fucking go," the villainess said.
"This isn't me you idiot," Vicky replied, as she looked around, trying to find the source of the effect.
"Seriously? I told you I wanted to foam them!" a girl called out from the crowd with an unnaturally high voice. When Vicky looked, she saw that it was a girl in the Arcadia uniform, with the addition of a harness holding several pieces of tinkertech, and a head-covering helmet, the front of which was made out of opaque glass, while the back was made out of some strange tinkertech material. The get-up made for an effective disguise, seeing how the uniform meant she could be confused with just about every teenage girl going to Arcadia. The most important part of her outfit however, was the white with gold armband she was wearing. Given that the girl looked to be about Taylor's age, that meant she'd barely been older than ten when she was called in to fight.
"I'd like very much not to arrive late on the first day of the school year, and I don't think your father would want you to miss your first day either," her partner answered.
Taller than the girl with the helmet, the second speaker was also quite obviously a cape, but instead of wearing a costume, she just looked like she was somehow made out of metal, the bronze of her armor moving with flowing movements, rather than with the rigidity of the kind of thing Armsmaster wore. That was because this girl wasn't a Tinker wearing power armor. Instead, Vicky knew that this girl used some form of molecular control to make the metal flow around her like a second skin. The outfit was bronze, with a stylized T on the torso, and Vicky thought it must have been ridiculously hot and sweaty inside, especially during the summer. Then again, maybe the wearer had some sort of power that countered that.
"Snugglepuss woulda let me foam her," the smaller girl retorted.
"Cirrata, not Snugglepuss," the tall one said. "Maybe if you could bring forth some professionalism for once…" she ended her sentence with a sigh.
"Look Talos, we're already running late, I don't think this is the time for a discussion about which of us is more professional,"
"Look, I know you're in a hurry, but I kind of caught a criminal here," Vicky said, still stuck awkwardly hugging the villainess from behind.
"Fuck off, dude stole that shit from me and tried to shoot me when I took it back."
"Lemme guess, he stole it from you because the very notion of property itself is theft?" the smaller girl said.
"That doesn't sound like a very consistent philosophy," Vicky added in.
"Well, if everything is theft, nothing is, so it's kind of useful," the girl retorted.
"We're supposed to follow the protocols Gadget," Talos said.
"And I was supposed to be able to foam them, leading to a long and silly misunderstanding with miss Christmas tree there that would make sure I missed math class," Gadget replied.
"It's less shiny in the mirror," Vicky defended herself. "Wait, you mean the only reason you guys are keeping me locked up here is because you don't like math class?"
"Only reason? You say that like it's a small thing! Seriously, I checked the books, they barely even cover four-dimensional differential equations. I'd die of boredom!" Gadget said.
Talos, in the meantime, had taken refuge in repairing the surface of the street, cleaning up the places that had been half-molten, as well as the area that had been cracked by Vicky's landing.
"Anyway, I've got my sister telling me to as you for your name," Gadget said. "Cape name that is, not your real one."
"Gloria," Vicky replied.
"And going by your socks, you find math class abhorrently boring too?" she replied, glancing down at the only visible part of Vicky's school uniform.
"No, I just wanted to stop a criminal," Vicky replied.
"Ohhhhh that's a good excuse, I'll have to remember that one," the girl told her while she was putting handcuffs around the firespitter's hands.
"You mind letting me go?" Vicky asked.
"Talos?" Gadget asked.
Talos, who was busy helping someone restore his cart, turned around and mumbled something. Someone somewhere must have heard her and replied, because Talos's body language suddenly changed, and became a little shy.
"No ma'am, I'm not asking her that that's… No, it's…"
"Ahh, that must have been a good one, haven't seen Talos this flustered since that whole beach monster thing, sis must've got her good," Gadget said.
"You have a sister? I though you were, like, Armsmaster's lost daughter or something," Vicky said.
"She's adopted," Gadget replied. "Cool gal tough, as long as she's targeted at someone else."
Then, she turned to her ally. "Talos, we've got someone here that actually wants to go to school for some reason, you mind letting her out?"
Talos however, was still focused on her earpiece, and whatever the girl behind it had said.
"Anyway, I gotta scram or my lil' sis will get worried. You gals have this under control?" Vicky asked as she used her enhanced strength to break her legs free. The material had been strong, but it had imprisoned her with the idea that she wouldn't be able to get any leverage if she was packed in tight. However, her flight and strength were part of the same package, and her ability to destroy stuff had very little to do with her muscles or leverage, given the way she could maneuver in mid-air.
"Sure thing. I mean, protocol demands that we ask you all sorts of questions and shit, but, if you actually want to go to school…" Gadget replied, barely fazed by the fact that she'd torn free of the ground.
That was when Talos turned around, having noticed that Vicky had broken free of her bonds. She seemed to be mildly annoyed at the fact, and when Vicky saw the ground beneath her move again, she made her way upwards quickly, moving out of the cape's range.
Below her, she could just barely make out their argument, with Talos being annoyed that Gadget let her go, while seemingly being afraid to really start yelling at her boss's daughter.
Idly, Vicky wondered if this was what the old Wards had been like, before the collapse. Back when they'd been an official team being babysat by the government. Back when there had been a government.