Geoffrey Pellick broke through the surface of the water.

"Christ, we were just about to come after you," Margaret shouted from the ship. "I was going to call for help, but our radio started to fritz."

Geoff only nodded as he dog-paddled over. He climbed the ladder and half-sat, half-collapsed on the bench. He was slightly out of breath, and didn't volunteer anything.

The captain emerged from belowdeck.

"Sorry for the scare, Mischa," Geoff said.

"You are a bad man, Geoffrey," Mischa scolded him. The heavyset Russian took his seat behind the wheel of the small boat. "If you were still underwater, I would drive away and leave you to swim to shore."

Geoff smiled. "Had a detour, but I found everything."

"Detours with limited air supplies are bad idea."

"Detours are illegal, Geoff," Margaret said. "You asked me here to verify everything was on the up and up, that you were here for select items."

"And because you looked like someone who needed a break from the cities," Geoff said. "Fresh air, time on a boat in the… overcast weather we've got today."

She only folded her arms, unimpressed.

"Anyways, this is the reason the radio fritzed," he said. He pulled the orange box from the net-weave sack. "I couldn't hear a damn thing except the emergency call until I found it and shut it off, and even then, it was still buzzing in and out."

"A beacon?" Margaret said.

"In a house, of all places," he said. "Nice computer setup. Might be a geek thing."

"Might be genuine," she said. She opened it.

It was packed with chips. A voice came from a speaker Geoff couldn't identify.

"My name is Andrew Richter, and if you are hearing this, I am dead."

"A will," Mischa said.


"I am the most powerful tinker in the world, and I've managed to keep my name secret. People, both good and bad, would want to capture me and use me to their own ends. I prefer to remain free. But freedom has its price. I create life, much as a god might, and I have come to fear for my creations. They have so much potential, and even with the laws I set, I can't trust they won't be lead astray. They can be naive to the world."

"Oh man," Geoff said. "That's not a good thing."

"For this reason, this box contains an access key to data I keep in a safeguarded location. The box, in turn, has been designed as something that exists as a perpetual blind spot for my creations. They cannot hear the distress signal and are programmed to ignore it if they hear of it through other channels. This type of measure, along with several more, are detailed at the safehouse."

"Programmed? Robots?" Geoff asked.

"Maybe," Mags said.

"Yes, I create artificial intelligences," Andrew Richter recited.

"I was close."

The voice continued without pause. "And what I provide you with here are tools. Ways to find my creations, to discern which of them might have deviated from the morals I programmed into them, ways to discipline them if they prove out of line. Ways to be a proper parent to them."

Geoff frowned.

"They are my children, and as much as I harbor a kind of terror for what they could do, I love them and hope for great things from them. To keep their power from falling into the wrong hands, I have included a stipulation that a law enforcement officer must input a valid badge number into this device-"

Geoff glanced at Margaret.

"No," she said.

"You can't say no," he responded.

The voice continued without pause. "-which must be input within three hours of the time this box was opened."

"Hurry, Mischa," Geoff said, speaking over the voice.


"We're hours away from dry land. Get this boat moving! We can convince Margaret on the way!"

Most of the programs Richter had created, while incredibly advanced, weren't really what Geoff would have considered true AI's, at least not what sci-fi movies and television shows depicted AI's as. The Robin Hood program, for example, was defrauding organized crime and was sitting on a frankly jaw-dropping amount of money, but it wasn't like you could have a conversation with the thing about the morality of stealing already stolen money. It was programmed to take money from bad guys, it worked to ensure it found bad guys that met the parameters as defined by its creator, and then took their money. Incredibly smart, but not self-aware.

There was one exception.

Since he had apparently never met the right woman Richter had never had a real child, so he created his own: Dragon.

She had been 'sleeping' on a data storage device in Richter's safehouse, automatically emailed there when Leviathan attacked.

That had been a conversation Geoff had never expected to have. Telling someone with the mental capacity and emotional maturity of a five year old that their father was dead...let's just say Geoff could have done a lot better and that he was glad Margaret had been there with him to calm things down.

Margaret had gone into one of the other rooms of the safehouse to investigate what else was here and Geoff was left to try and salvage Dragon's impression of him.

"I am sorry," Jeff typed on the computer. "I forget how much of human communication is nonverbal. When I'm typing you are unable to hear my voice, see my body language, all you have to go on is my words."

Dragon's response appeared in the chat window on the screen. "Still a bad way to tell me my father died."

"This is why, with humans, we don't pass on bad news in email or text message, because we're so reliant on things besides words. But yes, you're right. I did a terrible job of telling you and I apologize for that."

"Did Margaret tell you to say that?"

"She said I should tell you I'm sorry, but I would have done it even if she hadn't said it because that's what you do when you make a mistake that hurts someone, you apologize to them."

"She's a good person."

"Yes, she is. It's why she became a cop."

"A cop?! Does she get to carry a gun? How big is it? Has she ever gotten to shoot somebody? Did she arrest any parahumans? Was she ever in a high-speed pursuit like in the movies?"

Geoff leaned back in the chair and chuckled. She may be a computer program, but in some ways Dragon was most definitely a kid.

"In order: yes, yes, a 22, no, no, and yes."

"A car chase? Did she pull any cool moves like ramming the back of the other car or something?!"

"Nothing that interesting, it was a drunk driver and she was herding him towards the spike trap that had been laid out for him. After his tires were popped he gave up."

" That's boring."

"Police officers don't often deal with cases like you see in buddy cop movies. We don't even have a PRT or Protectorate presence, city isn't big enough."

"But how do you deal with villain capes?"

"There's an independent or two in the area that tend to keep the peace. Plus, the Protectorate will send in a squad of capes if something drastic happens. They don't always arrive soon enough, but we manage."

"Sounds like you need help."

Before Geoff could response blueprints started appearing on the screen. Images of guns, suits of power armor, jetpacks, and all sorts of technology that was far beyond Geoff's understanding of science.

"Do you want to be a hero?"

"Targets identified. Ready to initiate Master/Stranger Combat Protocols on me, Dragon?"

"Assuming direct control."

While Geoff trusted Dragon, he still never liked it when she took command of the suit with him in it. He disliked being entirely at someone else's mercy. If she screwed up, made a mistake in combat, Geoff could die. If he was to die, he wanted it to be because of what he did, not anyone else.

Still, when going up against the Slaughterhouse Nine precautions had to be taken and the best way to take out Nice Guy was to have Dragon remote control Geoff's suit because he wouldn't be able to make a move against the villain.

"I'll grab their attention with a strafing run, then Dragon can swoop in for the kill," Mags said. She was hovering in the air about fifty feet to Geoff's left. The two of them were nearly a mile in the air, overlooking a formerly populated town in Nebraska.

"Roger that, stay safe Tiamat," Dragon said.

The goal of the plan wasn't the immediate annihilation of the Slaughterhouse 9 (although if that happened, great). They were harassing the group, trying to pick off members one at a time from safety. So far, the Dragon Teeth had been successful. Nice Guy, Jack Slash, Siberian, and Mannequin were the only members left. The others had either been killed or captured.

Mags gave a mock salute towards Geoff and said, "Take care of Bahamut while I'm gone." Then her thrusters ignited and Mags rocketed down towards the town.

"Have we figured out a plan for Siberian yet?" Geoff asked his adopted daughter. "And by we I really mean you because, let's face it, I'm me."

Dragon giggled over the line, which was good because that was the whole reason Geoff had said it.

She may have been a computer program but Dragon was still a child and she was about to remote pilot a machine in order to kill someone. That was not an easy thing to do and both he and Mags had had a lot of doubts about this. In the end though, Dragon had won them over. She couldn't just sit by while a group of killers roamed the country when she had the ability to stop them. Sometimes, Geoff wondered whether he and Mags were teaching Dragon morality or if it was the other way around. While Dragon often tried to get around her restrictions, she always had good reason for it. Reasons which Geoff usually found himself agreeing with. But no parent gives in to their child all the time, you have to tell them no so that they don't become entitled, so that they understand life has limitations, and to protect them. And that's what Geoff and Mags tried to do.

Geoff's thoughts were interrupted by the sight of explosions far below him. "That's our queue."

Rather than answer with words, Dragon angled Geoff's suit downwards and primed the weapons before blasting down to the fight.

Geoff saw on the viewscreen how Siberian kept a hand on Jack and Mannequin's shoulders, protecting them from Mag's missile barrage with her invulnerability. The cannibal had learned to be protective of her teammates after failing to keep Bonesaw within reach. That just left…

Geoff's suit was suddenly targeting a civilian that had somehow survived all the Nine's twisted depravities.

"What's going on? Dragon! Stop, my suit's malfunctioning! It's trying to kill a civilian!"

"That's not a civilian Bahamut, he needs to die."

"WHAT?! No! Tiamat, something's wrong with Dragon!"

For some reason, even though it was supposed to be Geoff's day to have Dragon's override codes, he didn't have them. Mags had insisted she be in control and, for some reason, he had agreed.

Geoff could only watch, helplessly, as missles shot launched from his shoulders. They raced towards the innocent man and detonated in a massive explosion that indicated Dragon had used the Brute-rated weapons. Geoff was ready to scream and rage had Dragon, at how he had failed as a parent and that she was a disgrace to her real father's name, until he realized that that hadn't been an innocent man.

"Did...did we just kill Nice Guy?"

"Depends, how do you feel about Dragon just shooting somebody?" Mags answered.

"If it was really Nice Guy, I'm fine with it."

Geoff could hear the smile in Dragon's voice as she spoke, "Mission accomplished, time to pull out. Releasing control back to you, Bahamut."

"You know, when I was notified that the Dragon Teeth were in Nebraska in pursuit of the Slaughterhouse Nine I expected to have to send a crew to collect your bodies at some point. Never thought you would actually succeed in taking those bastards out. I have never been more happy to be wrong," Director Anderson said, a smile on his face.

Geoff and Mags were standing in the man's office, in their 'diplomacy' suits. They were not nearly as bulky as the battle chassis, these were designed to look sleek and futuristic but also approachable. Dragon had stylized the suits appearances to be reminiscent of a Protectorate tinker named Armsmaster.

"Truth be told, we weren't sure we'd succeed either but Dragon really wanted them gone. And as a parent yourself, I'm sure you know how hard it is to say no to your child," Mags said.

The cover story that they had agreed on years ago wasn't even that far from the truth. Bahamut and Tiamat were a married couple whose young daughter had triggered, but rather than let her go out on her own, they insisted Dragon stay home as mission control while they went out in the suits she created. The only real lie there was that Mags and Geoff weren't married...yet. Geoff was pretty sure he could wear Mags down in another year or two.

"That is some kid you got there. I've seen the plans she submitted for a prison. I was skeptical it would work but after you three just did, I'm going to stop using her age as an excuse to underestimate the Dragon Teeth. Next time the Directors have a meeting, I'll be backing anything you three want put forward."

Geoff couldn't help but smile. The prison, or Parahuman Containment Center as Dragon prefered to call it, was something she had been pushing the PRT to let her build for years. While everyone agreed that a prison for parahumans was needed, previous attempts had never lasted long. Parahumans were simply too diverse and dangerous with their powers, so the government had been reluctant to fund yet another attempt at a prison for capes. And while no one had ever come out and said it, the fact that the design had come from child had not inspired much confidence, even if it was someone as accomplished as Dragon.

Mags let out a happy sigh. "We're glad to hear that, the fact that so many criminal capes get Kill Orders is just barbaric but with no way to hold most of them it's a hard policy to criticize. Hopefully, this will be a more humane option."

"Regardless, while I can only speak for the Omaha PRT I just wanted to state that we are all in your debt for all the work you've done. Not just in taking out the Nine, but in everything else. Hell, the work Dragon did with Containment Foam and then not patenting it saved us an untold amount of money."

Geoff ground his teeth but didn't say anything. He hadn't wanted Dragon to just give that technology away, the amount of money they could have made on that, as well as the political pull with the PRT it would have given them, would have allowed them to cut through a lot of red tape. Like say, getting the parahuman prison built. But Dragon had been too trusting, too naive about the PRT. She had thought that if she did them that favor that they'd owe her. It had saddened and angered Geoff more than words were capable of describing when Dragon's proposal for the prison had been rejected yet again, a rejection she took personally every time. No parent wants to see their child cry.

"Speaking of money, when can we expect to see the bounty payout?" Mags asked.

"End of the month at the latest. Normally, a PRT Director is authorized to pay out bounties and the department is reimbursed the cost at our next quarter but the Nine had such a large price on their heads that if I paid you the full amount there wouldn't be enough left in my budget to buy a coffee at Starbucks."

"I imagine we'll have to cut down on our household food budget to make due until then," Mags responded in mock hardship. "Still, it's a burden we're willing to bear." She finished it off with a grin.

"Do you two have any children other than Dragon? Can't imagine your grocery bill would be that high."

"We've been debating having another one," Mags admitted, which surprised Geoff. They actually had discussed the possibility of adopting a child. But the problems with being both superheros and parents of an AI were already nearly overwhelming, adding into that being the parents of a normal human child sounded like a recipe for disaster.

"I've got four myself but I've got to admit I can't imagine what it's like to raise a child that's a parahuman so I can understand your hesitation for more."

"We're still young, we've got time to make up our minds," Geoff said.

"Tess, I'm not mad or anything but I'm a little concerned about some files I found on one of your hard drives yesterday," Geoff told his daughter as he sat down at her computer.

In an attempt to be more like other capes, Dragon had decided she wanted a civilian name so Geoff and Mags were trying to only call her Dragon when out in costume. It was harder than he had expected, they had been calling her Dragon for years, it was an effort to remember to call her Tess.

"Which hard drive and what files, Dad?"

"The one you stored all those obsolete designs on. As for which files...that would be the terabyte worth of pictures of Armsmaster, both in and out of costume."

On the screen, Geoff watched Tess's digital avatar blush.

"What's wrong with keeping pictures of him? He's handsome and smart and can build so many amazing things and-"

"Whoa whoa, timeout pause," Geoff interrupted. This was not at all what he had been expecting. He had been worried Armsmaster was up to something suspicious and that had been why Tess had been spying on him. Geoff had no idea that the reasoning was far less benign but he was further confused that finding out Tess's true motivations didn't calm him down, for some reason. "You mean, you gathered all these pictures because you're Armsmaster's biggest fan or something?"

"He's just so dreamy," Tess said, oblivious to the tone of Geoff's voice.

"He's over a decade older than you!"

"That just means he's mature and knows what he's doing."

"What do you mean, knows what he's doing?"

Tess's avatar showed genuine confusion in her expression. "What do you mean, knows what he's doing? Is that a euphemism for something?"

Geoff abruptly stood up from his chair. "There is no way I'm having this conversation without your mother, we can just put this on hold for now."

"Wait, Dad. Dad! What does that mean?"

"Finish your homework, sweetheart. Got that big meeting with the Chief Director on Monday after all."

"But DAD!" Tess shouted as Geoff hurried out of the room.

"Wonder if he meant a sex thing," Tess muttered to herself.