Taylor Hebert looked around, and once again saw nothing she recognized. Her large eyes blinked as she looked through trees and more trees. The forest outside of Brockton Bay loomed big enough overhead that she had no idea which direction the mountains around the Bay lay, much less the waterfall for the morning's entertainment.
"Okay Taylor. Water flows downhill, so just follow a stream. Nothing wrong with that, I'm not really really really lost or anything."
She followed a burbling brook down a cut in the hill for an hour before she realized that she was still lost. It was then she spotted something that glinted brightly under the sun. Doe like eyes took in bright red and gold armor with wonder.
Could this be a lost armor of Hero? The Tinker who was one of the founding members of the Protectorate, and was killed by the Siberian.
The young girl sloshed down the rocky incline to stand in the middle of a weird crater that the brook cut through. She started to poke the bits and pieces of armor with a stick. She blinked as she turned over the helmet.
Not Hero? Not anyone she recognized either. The colors made her think a hero though. No villain lasted very long wearing red and gold unless they were powerful.
She lifted up the heavy helmet with both hands. "Huh, this is weird. Cool and scary, but weird." Taylor sloshed some water to get the last bit of mud out of it and held it up to get a better look. "Very cool looking." She took off her glasses and then slid the helmet on. "Oh, you can't see through it?"
Lights blipped on and ominous words appeared on the HUD. [Intruder]
"Uh oh. Please don't kill me!" the girl begged as she froze up.
[Brain Scan Initiated]
"Um, what?" Taylor managed to say before a wave of blinding pain knocked her out.
Friday verified wireless power from the Mark X ARC reactor, then turned back to the brain scan. Historical references popped up, causing the A.I. to continue to dig. Then it opened up a communication scanner. The 'dumb' A.I. verified the historical discrepancies.
No Anthony Edward Stark existed with any matching electronic fingerprint, voice match or facial features.
[Lazarus Protocol Engaged]
Algorithms and contingencies sorted through a dizzying array of choices.
[Memory Transfer Engaged]
[Error: Checksum Failure of 25% of Mental Model Data]
Taylor opened her eyes fifteen minutes later. "Ouchie." She started to pat her head to check for injuries as it throbbed in agonizing pain. A minute or two later, the pain subsided enough to allow for trying to get back to camp.
She blinked in surprise as she realized she knew it lay over that forbidding ridge and three miles through the dense forest. "Huh." Taylor looked around with blinking, brown eyes and frowned. No red and gold armor bits. Did she imagine it? She shrugged. She just wanted to go back to camp. Maybe call Emma.
It took her another hour, but she made it back to camp. And got yelled at.
She skipped down the dirt road to the Ranger's office and the really, really old pay phone. She plunked in two quarters and dialed a phone number by memory after waiting in line with all the other kids.
"Hey, Emma! Oh, you're with your dad? I have to tell you all about getting lost on the way to the waterfall. Where are you driving-" Taylor blinked as she heard Alan shout something staying in the car and the ABB. "Emma? EMMA?"
The line disconnected. Taylor stared at the handset as if she could not understand it.
"Hey, move it or lose it, chatterbox!" the girl behind her called out.
What could she do? She needed to do something. Tell the counselor? And then call the police? But she didn't know where Emma and her dad were. She needed a computer and a connection to the internet so she could hack the cell phone companies. No, still too long. Taylor started to stumble towards the nearest counselor.
She frowned as she kept walking. What did insufficient nanite structures even mean?
"Miss Zimmerman! I was on the phone with my friend who was driving with her dad when he started yelling about ABB and being cut off and then the phone disconnected and I'm really worried and I don't know what to do and I don't think-"
"Breathe, Taylor, breathe," Zimmerman said as she pulled out her cell phone. "I'm going to call the police and we are going to tell them everything you can remember."
An hour later, Taylor finally found out that Emma and her father were safe and sound after the ABB attack.
"Thank you, Anne! Tell your sister that I was worried and I'll see in a few days," Taylor said as she finished talking to the older sister. With a tap on the red phone button, he disconnected. "Thanks, Miss Z!"
"Would you like for me to call your dad to pick you up so you can be with your friend?" Zimmerman asked her gently.
Taylor opened her mouth to tell her no when she really thought about it. "That would be awesome and incredibly and thank you very very very much, Missus Zimmerman! I really appreciate it and oh my gosh I need to go pack and tell everyone in Cabin Four goodbye!"
"EMMA!" the incredibly skinny girl shouted as she tackled her best friend with far too much strength.
"I need to breathe, Taylor," the redhead whined, although the smile on her face said otherwise.
Taylor checked over her face and limbs for any wounds. "Oh, your hair! We should get your mom to take us to the hairdresser and maybe look at tinting your hair and there was this really neat shorter hair style I think you would look good for your next photoshoot at Charlie's, who I still think is kind of creepy because he only has teen models-"
"Sure, Taylor," Emma interjected to stop the tide of Taylor babble.
"Mrs. Barnes!" Taylor shouted as she grabbed her friend's hand and dragged her out of her bedroom. "We need to go to the hairdresser now and fix Emma's hair so that she quits being twitchy!"
"Taylor, I have an appointment for tomorrow," Zoe Barnes said at the breakfast table as she looked up from her newspaper. She frowned as she looked at her youngest daughter. "But I think you might be right."
"Zoe-Mobile!" Taylor called out while pointing away towards the car. "Come on Emma, I call shotgun!" With that she took off in a sprint, but took the long way.
Emma slid into the front seat and stuck her tongue out at her friend. "Too slow!" She gave a tentative smile to her friend.
Half an hour later, Taylor sighed as the hair dryer lowered into place about Emma's head. She looked at the dryer for the next seat. "Why is the power switch taped over? Is it broken and you are waiting for a repairman? Or do you have to send it someplace, because that sounds expensive, especially with the Boat Graveyard and the state of the trainyard-"
Amber interjected with, "Yes, well, it's going to be a few months before we can afford to have the warranty serviceman come in."
"Do you mind if I look? I've been interested in electronics a little bit, my... mom actually encouraged that and gave me one of those do it yourself kits and I just want to see if I have any idea and what isn't working anymore? Does it still turn on, but doesn't blow or doesn't have any heat?" Taylor asked in a breathless rush.
"It doesn't ever warm up. There's a toolbox in that closet over there," Amber said idly as she waited for Emma's hair to dry.
Taylor returned with the little toolbox. She first verified and unplugged the device, then she took it apart with deft, sure movements. The girl absently tried to push her glasses further up her nose. "Ah! Found it! Looks like the circuit board has a burned out resistor. It's like a half cent part, but they'll probably just replace the board." She memorized the part number, and then put it back together and returned the tools. "Let me write the number down and we are set. You might even be able to buy the part for dirt cheap." Taylor gave her a wide grin.
"My, what a little Tinker you are. Although I heard a rumor they can't fix normal tech to specification," Amber said with a grin as she patted Taylor's shoulder. "Say, would you like to earn a little extra money if I can get the part?"
"Sure! You have my phone number on file, right?" she replied.
Zoe raised an eyebrow at Taylor. If she remembered correctly, her deceased friend gave that to Taylor for her tenth birthday and Taylor had barely used it. "So are you thinking about getting into an electronics class at Winslow, Taylor?"
"That's not a bad idea at all. I'll have to talk to Dad about that. Thanks, Mrs. Barnes!"
An hour later, Taylor and Emma walked home from the ice cream store near their houses. Up ahead, they both tensed up at the sight of a girl standing in the shade of a tree in Emma's yard. The dark skinned girl studied Emma and then Taylor with cool, indifferent eyes.
"You bounced back fast after that ABB attack," she said mysteriously. "I expected that of a fighter like you."
"Who are you?" Emma asked in confusion.
Taylor blinked as she analyzed the situation. "Well, she's not you or your dad and she doesn't look like she's ABB, so that leaves an onlooker or that black wearing hero. And you mentioned that all the onlookers ran away when the cape showed up." Taylor studied her closely and wondered at her self composure.
"You don't do that. There are rules and outing a cape's ID is a bad idea." The new girl glared at her.
"Hey! You were the one that came here and dropped the sly hint. It's not our fault if we figured it out. Why are you here?" Emma called out and unconsciously stepped up to defend her friend like she always did.
"Hah. I knew you were a fighter," the girl said. She turned to Taylor and then suddenly side stepped Emma and went to trip the gawky girl to the ground. The world spun around and then she found herself spitting out grass. "Wow, that was cool. How did you do that?"
"Huh," Taylor said as she stared at her hands. "It's, uh, all about leverage?"
The girl stuck her hand out to be pulled up off the ground. "I totally thought you were some little weakingly. Man, I did not see that coming. Your friend was pretty badass in that alley, too! I'm Sophia, by the way. You guys are going to Winslow?"
Emma frowned and then smoothed out her face almost automatically. "We start there next month."
Taylor stepped back as she felt really suspicious for the first time in her life. She narrowed her eyes at Sophia. Her eyes widened as she realized something. "You watched her being threatened and nearly maimed!" She glared at the girl.
"And showed she was a fighter and worth saving-"
"You can leave," Taylor said in a strong voice. "You're no hero. Heroes protect the weak and the innocent. Do you even know how to hero?"
"What did you say, bitch?" Sophia said as she moved closer to fail to loom over the taller girl.
"A hero wouldn't watch to see if someone would fight back before they save them," Taylor declared.
Emma stared at them, then nodded. "We won't say anything about this, but you aren't welcome here, Sophia. At least not with that attitude."
"Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!" Sophia said as she stomped off.
Emma pulled Taylor into her bedroom and slammed the door. She whirled around. "Okay, what the hell was that?"
"I-I don't know! I thought it was just a dream yesterday when I found this Hero armor and then I tried on the helmet and it popped up Intruder and I was all like uh oh and then my head really hurt and when I woke up all the Hero armor was gone and I was still lost but I could figure out where the camp was and I walked all the way back and Mrs. Bradley yelled at me for getting lost so I was all upset for a few hours and I thought it was all a dream then I called you and started to tell you about getting lost when the ABB attacked you and your dad and I was so scared but I had to do something so I ran over to Miss Zimmerman and called the police and finally found out from Anne that you were alright and did I mention I was so scared and I don't know what is going on and I think I might have super powers?"
Her best friend parsed through the babble. "Super powers? Really?"
"I think so? Because all of a sudden I understand everything electronics. I mean like how to build it. I'm pretty sure if I had the right tools I could have just fixed that hair dryer. I mean by fixing the circuit board which I didn't even know you could do and then I did that judo flip and I've never done judo before so I don't even know how I know it's judo." Taylor took a deep breath. "I don't understand this at all."
"That's your excuse for getting contacts and not needing glasses?" Emma asked skeptically.
Her raven haired friend looked confused for a second and then started to fumble around on her face looking for her glasses. "I'm not wearing glasses? This is what having good eyesight is like? This is like all sorts of clear and neat, like those HD TVs that-"
"Stop. Taylor... You think you really have powers? That you're a Tinker?" She still sounded skeptical.
"Yeah! Well, I think so. I mean, should I think about trying to make a weapon and oh my god I can suddenly build missiles, guns, repulsors and flame throwers which are totally illegal and against the Geneva conventions and HOW DO I KNOW ALL THIS?" she screamed out in a panic.
"That sounds like a Tinker alright," the redhead said with wide eyes. "What's a repulsor?"
"It's a weapon and a flight thruster. And I can probably make one out of basic parts. Which is cool. Because that means I can make something that flies." Taylor turned to her friend. "Do you think your dad will mind if we use his tools in the garage?"
"Um, we'll need to clean up, but I don't see why not," Emma replied.
Alan Barnes pulled into his driveway at half past one o'clock. It had taken him a few hours to make sure that the other partners could take over his workload for a week or two as his boss had agreed to the family leave.
The garage door opened and Alan found himself staring at his daughter and her best friend working on something on his workbench. He pulled in halfway, stopped and waved back to his daughter. He had to wiggle out of his car.
"So, what did you break?" he asked in a teasing voice.
"Nothing, Dad! Jeez, you always think the worst of me," Emma replied in a tart voice. "Taylor's just seeing if she can make something. And she is making something."
"Done!" Taylor said. "Just need to figure out a power source. It needs a lot power, but I can at least warm it up with current from the wall." She started splicing a power cord to the metal bits and bobs in front of her. Then she plugged it into the wall.
Her hand slipped through the hoops with a loop around her hand and a large, round piece in the palm of it. She then twisted a slide-level slowly, with a whine of power matching her action. With a whirring 'toom' sound she started to slide across the ground as light shot out from the palm of her hand.
"It works!" Taylor exclaimed happily. Then she got a befuddled look on her face. "So what did that armor do to me?"
"That not-Hero armor you said you found and lost in the woods?" Emma asked as she leaned against the wall.
"Ahem. Taylor, unplug that and go inside. I'm going to call Danny and have him come over so we can talk," Alan ordered a bit nervously.
"Oh, right. Yeah, Dad is going to be so mad, especially since I didn't tell him first. But I didn't know for sure and I thought I was just nuts and then I realized I didn't need to wear glasses-" Taylor started in on her babble as Emma sighed and dragged her inside.
"Come on 'Hero'," Emma said with a roll of her eyes and a grin.
Half an hour later, Danny stared at the changeling that looked like his daughter. "You're a Tinker?"
"I mean, I guess? Or that armor did something to me, but it disappeared and it was so cool looking and now I've got ideas for armor. Like really cool armor. Some even made of a swarm of nanobots powered by a sort of clean fusion generator!" she said as she bounced in her seat.
"Oh, lord." The balding man rubbed his forehead. "I don't suppose you have any way to monetize that, do you? Because funding a Tinker sounds really expensive."
Alan patted his friend on his back. "There there."
Emma started to laugh and actually felt her traumatic attack fading in her mind a little.
"Smart phones? No, too much overhead and requires too much headway. Just need one technology that I can improve." Taylor muttered to herself. Suddenly her eyes lit up. "Batteries!" She exclaimed.
"Huh?" Emma asked.
"He asked what I could make that we could turn into a money maker. Batteries are something that I can build. I can even improve them and patent it," she exclaimed happily.
"They don't let Tinkers patent their 'inventions' because only a Tinker could build it." Alan gave her a shrug.
"Why? I'm sure I could teach Emma to make one that's at least twice as good as what we have with the tools on hand." Wide, brown eyes blinked and looked between the two adults.
"If you can do that, you'll be the most unique Tinker in the world," Danny said with a smile. "So what's this about an armor?"
"I don't know," Taylor shrugged. "I just found it while following a stream because I got lost on the way to the waterfall and there was this not-Hero helmet that I tried on. I think that's when I lost my glasses." Taylor took a breath and then let it out. "I think it did something, because it talked about a brain scan."
"I think we should try to find this armor. Do you think you could take us back to where you found it?" Danny asked.
"I think so?"
Four hours later, Emma started to wonder about her sanity. And her friend's. And their parent's. At least they had shade to help slightly with the heat of the summer day.
"There," Taylor pointed. "That's the stream, and I recognize that big rock and that's the crater." She hopped from rock to rock to get to the location in the middle of the stream. "My glasses! I can't believe I didn't even notice." She pulled the square frames out of the water. "Oh, busted. Good thing I don't need them anymore."
Danny looked around, but did not spot any red or gold metal. "Hmm."
"Let me check with my metal detector. This is more fun than just using it for a hobby, anyways." Alan wiped his brow and flicked the power switch on the metal detector he had carried from his car. Better than looking for coins on the beach, at least.
Eventually they found a few pieces of metal and even a full armored finger. Taylor stuck her finger in it and tried to bend it. "Bigger hands that are probably about your dad's size, Emma. Here, Mr. Barnes, why don't you try it?"
Alan did not look happy at that idea, but did put it on and flexed it. "So the not-Hero armor was real. Did someone come and take it back?"
"How are 'we' supposed to know?" Emma asked.
"By looking, of course. There aren't any footprints other than our own," Danny said as he finished walking around the group at about ten to fifteen paces out. "So unless they flew or teleported, no one else walked out." He blinked as the other three people stared at him. With a sigh, he continued. "I learned tracking as a Boy Scout and from my grandfather before he died. He liked to hunt, even if he was too old for it by the time I turned ten."
That caused Taylor to blink and her thoughts drifted to her departed mother. For seconds, she just stood there and then she tried to move past it. "So, nothing?"
"Not nothing," Alan said. He waggled the armored finger at them. "We know the the armor exists, and it is red and gold like Taylor told us, so we have information showing her memory wasn't tampered with. We may want to have her checked out to make sure that some villain didn't tamper with her head."
"Oh, that would be bad, wouldn't it?" Taylor said as her friend's eyes widened almost comically.
"I'll have to see what my insurance covers," Danny said with a frown.
"Or get the PRT to check." Alan frowned at that. "If they find out she's a parahuman, they'll try to get her to join the Wards."
Taylor blinked as she looked between the two of them.
"We'll look into that. I'd rather keep Taylor out of that, even if she isn't much younger than most of them." Danny looked away, lost in his own thoughts of his departed wife.
"Can we go back to the car?" Emma complained. "There's a reason I didn't want to go to a summer camp that doesn't include air conditioning."
That got the three others to laugh at her, which even managed to get her to smile a bit.