"You both had heart attacks," Panacea was saying. "I told Eric that the formula wasn't ready, but he didn't listen to me."
"It was never going to be safe," my grandfather said. "And there wasn't time to tweak it until it met some hypothetical point of approval. One can't simply increase powers without there being a price."
"You both almost died," Panacea said. She leaned forward. "An ordinary hospital would not have saved you. I can't emphasize it enough."
We were both lying in hospital beds, in a place I did not recognize. Cauldron had undoubtedly supplied them, which meant this might not even be on my Earth.
That was probably for the best considering that neither I nor my grandfather could use our powers at the moment. Apparently the strain of what we'd done had been too much, and they'd simply shut down.
Panacea assured us they would return in time, but even with her abilities it wasn't going to happen immediately.
In the meantime we would be vulnerable to every crackpot and villain who held a grudge, from former Empire 88 members, to ABB members who resented me supplanting Lung as top dog, to others who simply thought I might be a threat someday.
After all, we'd just changed the dynamic for the entire world.
Villains were tolerated in part because the Endbringers needed bodies thrown at them, and because they outnumbered the heroes three or four to one. That was over now, and I suspected that a lot of villains would have a rude awakening when they discovered that the revolving door from prison was suddenly closed.
Some people were likely to resent that and blame me.
Others would undoubtedly want to take me hostage, try to get control over me while I was still weak. They'd use masters or other powers, maybe try to brainwash me.
That was the argument the lady in the hat used, although I suspected that Cauldron wanted to use us for their own ends.
The thing was, I had the strangest feeling that Cauldron wasn't sure what those were. After all, they'd spent decades sacrificing their lives and morality to the cause of preserving the human race. Now that they'd accomplished it, what else was left?
I saw the uncertainty and confusion on the faces of Legend and Eidolon. Alexandria was better at hiding it, but I knew it was there.
Once I was well enough, I planned on telling them what I thought they should do with the power they'd accumulated.
First, reversing the damage that they themselves had done. Find ways to heal and restore the Case 53's, something I had no doubt my grandfather might be able to help with, although even on his own world there had been a noted Case 53 who hadn't been curable permanently by their world's greatest Tinker.
Second, reversing the damage that the Endbringers and Scion had done to the world. Helping economies, encouraging Tinkers who had devices that could actually make life better to come forward and actually change the world.
Third, helping us develop our defenses so that the next time a creature like that came back we would be ready. My grandfather's world had been attacked by aliens almost on a daily basis. We'd been ridiculously lucky on our world.
It was possible that the death of Scion might have sent out an alert to other members of his species. While I had no reason to believe that, I didn't have any reason not to, and we couldn't afford to assume that it wouldn't have happened.
The same trick was unlikely to work again, so we needed every technology that we could find, with help from mutant minds to break parahuman technology down and get rid of the artificially imposed limits the Entities used to protect themselves.
We needed to work on interstellar travel, so that even if the Earth and all its iterations should be destroyed humanity would continue to exist somewhere.
Looking into exploring other universes and borrowing whatever technology humans had created there to make our world safer seemed like the only smart thing. We'd only won because my grandfather's world had stolen technology from aliens and turned it into something even better.
"Neither one of you are listening to me," Panacea said, staring at us. "It's like I'm talking to the same person. Why do I even bother?"
I fought not to smile. I felt fine except for my lack of powers.
She stood up. "I'd like to say not to expect me to help you again, but we all know that would be a lie. Next time, though, I'm going to charge you some real money."
My grandfather chuckled. "I can't think of any better use for it."
She scowled and without saying anything turned and left.
"I'm proud of you," my grandfather said.
"You're an ass."
He hadn't shared a quarter of his plans with me, which meant that he hadn't trusted me. Of course, it was possible that he'd known that I was spending the last few weeks plotting against him, which probably hadn't made trusting any easier.
He shrugged. "Sometimes I am. I like to think that the things I have done are justified by the circumstances I have been in, but I'm sure that not everyone would agree."
"So what now?" I asked. "Are you planning to take over the world?"
"I don't see why I should, as long as the world is moving along an appropriate course."
A course that he approved of, he meant. I wondered if he realized just how arrogant he sounded. Was that what power inevitably led to?
I was glad that unlike him I was totally reasonable and open minded.
"And what would that course be?"
"Acceptance of our people," he said. "A lack of bigotry and hatred even among humans. A future that will lead humanity to the stars."
"That sounds nice and all, but it sounds a little unrealistic."
"It won't happen in a generation," he said. "Even though your world doesn't have a quarter of the prejudices mine did. The Protectorate has done a fine job of promoting the idea that people with powers are heroes."
I stared at the bed sheet.
"Do you think they'll keep doing that now that the Endbringers are gone?"
"That's why we have to work as advocates. Your team is an important part of that, convincing people that mutants are heroes too."
He was silent for a moment. "I think that was one of our mistakes. We allowed prejudice and bigotry to make us insular. We focused inward, which allowed people to hate unrestrained."
From what I'd seen in his memories, his people had done a lot more fighting of each other than they had actually helping people. That probably hadn't helped.
Of course, some of the terrorism my grandfather had enacted hadn't helped either.
"You scare me sometimes," I admitted. "I've seen inside your head, and you need help. As powerful as both of us were... and will be again, neither of us can afford to be anything less than completely sane."
He stared at me, then chuckled. "No one is completely sane. Allow an old man a few failings."
"I mean it," I said, forcing myself to sit up in bed. "You've got all the power that I have, which is bad enough, but you also have all that Tinker knowledge from your world. You've got things in your head that could wipe out countries."
"Entire universes," he admitted softly.
"So don't just laugh it off. People like us don't get to be crazy. The world can't afford for us to be."
"Why do you think that I pushed you to form your own group?" he asked softly.
"What?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
"You think I don't know that there might be a time when I need to be stopped? Who in this entire world can I trust to do it?"
"I don't think I can," I admitted. "You've got all the experience in the world, and I'm just a fifteen year old kid."
"You held Scion off without any help from me," my grandfather said. "Do you think I would have trusted you with that if I didn't think you were capable?"
"It might have been nice to have gotten a little more warning."
"Would it have helped, really?" he asked. "Or would your own anxiety have crippled you?"
He didn't even notice when he was making plans for other people without consulting them. He just assumed that he knew better.
While I was fairly sure that I wasn't like that, I'd have to work to keep from getting that way.
"We're going to have to be ready in case more like Scion come back," I said. "That's going to take technology."
"It's actually a project I'm planning that's going to keep me too busy to take over the world," my grandfather said. "Building star ships to take mutant kind off this planet."
"Humanity will benefit from all the subsidiary technologies involved," my grandfather said. "And once all of us have a foothold to other worlds, the odds that we will go extinct will be much less."
Hopefully having saved humanity would keep all the lawsuits to a minimum. Somehow when money was on the line people lost track of the big picture.
The door opened suddenly, and my Dad stepped into the room. He looked haggard and broken, as though he hadn't shaved in a week. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked as though he'd been crying.
"Taylor!" he said. "Are you all right?"
I nodded. "Thanks for all the help. If you hadn't done the things with the bugs I'd probably be dead right now."
He stopped suddenly, his shoulders slumped.
"It's gone," he said. "All of it."
"What?" I asked.
I'd heard a lot of people had survived in the rural part of Australia, even if the major cities were gone.
"My powers," he said. "I can't feel any of them."
I was quiet for a minute. My own powers weren't particularly up to snuff at the moment.
"Do you have any idea what it was like to control every pweron on the whole planet all at once?" he asked. "It was like being God. I knew everything and I was everyone."
He hadn't known me. I couldn't help but think that it was a good thing that he'd lost his powers. He hadn't exactly been very involved before he'd gotten his powers, but afterwards he'd been a shell of a man. It had almost been like an addiction for him.
"Maybe it'll come back," I said lamely.
He shook his head. "These people... Cauldron told me that I drained every last bit out of it. It's not coming back."
They'd studied powers more than anyone, so they'd know. I struggled to keep my relief off my face. Maybe this meant that I would actually get my Dad back.
"Is that such a bad thing?" I asked. "It's been a while since we've just been Taylor and her Dad."
He was quiet for a moment, and then he sighed. "I haven't been the best father, have I?"
"I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of you," I admitted. "I'm going to need help when I start to put the city back together."
He nodded. "Well, at least you'll never have to go back to Winslow."
Now that it was a crater in the ground, nobody was.
"I've got plans for the world," I said. I glanced over at my grandfather. "We both do. I think we'll need all the help we can get, and I'd love for you to be part of it."
He sighed and sat down next to my bed.
"I'll do what I can."
There was going to be an unending list of things to do. Hopefully I still had a super team to lead, assuming that thing with Scion and losing Stone hadn't scared them off. There was all the work that putting the city, and the country and the world back together, to bringing people's lives to a place where they weren't defeated all of the time.
My grandfather's ideas about reaching for the stars seemed almost unimaginable, but his people had stolen that knowledge from aliens.
With a little luck it would only be a matter of time before we were reaching out to other species in the universe, warning them about the Entities and helping them build up their own defenses.
Furthermore, we couldn't just explore the other planets on our universe. We had an infinity of other universes on our own world to explore. It was going to be a massive undertaking, more than enough for a hundred lifetimes.
I likely wouldn't ever get to see the end result of what my grandfather and I were planning, unless he had some kind of longevity tech or a time machine or something.
Even so, incremental change was enough.
People needed hope; throughout my entire life it had been a unspoken understanding that the Endbringers were going to end things, that hope did not exist.
People had lost their way, and sometimes that meant they needed something to follow, a guiding star. While I hardly thought I was worthy of something like that, no one else seemed ready to pick up that mantle.
I'd have to do my best.
Watching my grandfather, using my team to actually help people, advising Cauldron... even if I didn't go back to Arcadia my plate was going to be very full for the foreseeable future.
Somehow, though it didn't bother me. I actually felt optimistic that things might actually get better.
It took me a moment to recognize the feeling I was experiencing as my father clasped my hand and I looked over at my grandfather, my family as complete as it had been in a long time.
I had my family, and I had a purpose in life. I had a chance of actually accomplishing my goals. For once, life didn't feel like a storm waiting to rain on my parade.
Was this what happiness felt like?
If it wasn't, it was close enough.