Gregory Veder

Level 18 Armsmajor (11%)

HP: 632/575

MP: 1050/955

STR: 50+2

DEX: 50+2

VIT: 50+2

INT: 75

WIS: 16

CHA: 19+2

A Big Guy

A trait gained by one of truly mighty thew.

Melee attack damage increased by 10%

Physical damage reduced by level

Overexertion damage decreased by 5%

Carry load increased by 5%

Hyper Armour [low]

Gamer's Body

A trait gained by one with monstrous physicality.

HP increased by 10%

HP regeneration increased by 5%

Over-health is turned into [Regeneration]

Negative physical status effects reduced by 5%

Dynamo [low]

The months of effort, all that iron pumped and the endless hours of cardio. Now I could quit and dedicate myself properly to my eleven-hour patrol/eleven-hour healing split shift, which I absolutely wanted to be doing of course. Smile for the fuckin' cameras, you're Dark Smoke Puncher: Miracle Healing Cape! You wanted it, wouldn't have taken the fuckin' perks otherwise.

Mana Control II

Healing Manipulation Magic

Mind Manipulation Magic

It was also partly my insurance. If I could jack up my popularity so high that removing me would be more trouble than it would be worth they might just consider not doing it, and when I met one of Cauldron next I would hopefully have figured out how to read minds. The combination of these two factors should hopefully save my life. It was a bit of a bummer that I had to take Mind, there was an attractive looking Automatic Dodging perk in the Dexterity tree I wanted to take, but I needed to play the long game.

Alexandria said they weren't going to kill me, and yet, trust but verify. Or I suppose it was verify then trust in this case. I still wasn't sure if I was being paranoid or not.

Information superiority was key, I didn't know what kind of parahumans they fielded and with whatever access they had to the source it could only be assumed: whatever kind they wanted. If it were me I'd be up to the gills in precogs and Thinkers, kind of like WEDGDG…

Shit. I was just a rat in their cage.

I exhaled heavily, staring at myself in the gym mirror. Fine, whatever. Fine. There are things in life I couldn't control, rather than waste time worrying about them I had to focus on what I could. In time, my circle of influence would expand as I myself became more competent and I would be equipped to deal with this. It would happen. Just had to be calm.

The hair on the back of my neck prickled. I spat on the mirror and stood up, kicking a weight bench across the room into a rack of plates on my way out.

Calm my ass. This city needed to be fucking calm, with absurd crime rates. I look around and I just see stupid, quit joining the fucking Merchants! They're the fucking AIDS of gangs! You'd be better off joining the ABB, who've apparently stepped up their slavery operation to include everyone they can stuff a bomb into. But hey, silver lining, Kaiser almost died and we have three different Nazi factions vying to see who can commit the most hate crimes, with the winner presumably being in charge.

I stalked to the change rooms, took a quick shower, and changed into my uniform. I could hear someone moving around in the Wards common area, wincing every so often. I closed my eyes for a long moment, then entered.

Missy sat at the kitchenette bench, gripping a can of Wards Sponsored Diet Sprite in her good hand. Her other bandaged clumsily into a mitten shape. How had that dumb bitch gone and done that?

"Missy," I said, bustling forward in a matronly fashion. "Your hand! Let me have a look, I'll fix you up."

She didn't look up from her can.

"Thanks, Greg."

I gently unwrapped the huge wad of bandage, exposing two broken fingers. For a moment I was tempted to yank on them, hopefully instilling the lesson that she should just stick to console. Just for a moment though, the urge soon subsided.

I cast Mending, the only healing spell I'd figured out. It was a touch-based spell that increased the healing rate of the recipient in a localised area, which was mostly good until you realised bones could heal crooked and flesh could scar worse if you didn't treat them correctly. It meant I couldn't just tap and go, I had to go through the process like I normally would. But it did synergise extremely well with my Surgery skills, which also boosted a patients healing rate, and was getting a colossal workout this past week from constant use on the endless series of patients coming in, so healing her fingers didn't take too long.

I didn't have anything to reduce the pain, however, so she got to experience the uniquely uncomfortable feeling of her bones fixing in the space of a minute. I could have fixed her completely in a second with my ring, but I figured I should save it for emergencies and Missy's broken fingers just didn't make the cut.

"All done. Remember, you can call me any time if you get hurt and I'll be right there," I smiled, taking the seat next to her.

"Yeah, I will," she said, avoiding my eye. "Thanks."

I gave her another smile, which I hoped didn't make my gritted teeth too apparent and reached out into her mind-


-and it was just noise, like a hundred televisions blaring over each other in a borderline incomprehensible cacophony; just like every other time I'd tried. It was all just noise that didn't make any sense. Yet, anyway.

I rapped my knuckles twice on the countertop. "Well, I'm off. Catch you later, Missy."

She smiled tightly, glancing at my elbow. "Bye. Good luck."

What the fuck was her problem? All their problems. They were all back to treating me like this, but I was better now. I was pretty sure that was it, I was too much better than them and they hated it. I was making them all redundant, and would only continue to do so harder as the weeks went by. I was sure there were also some elements of them being weirded out by my facade of a perfect Ward, but fuck them. I was allowed to pretend I was happy. I had my mum back where I thought I might never, so I actually had some reason to be happy.

I wouldn't mope around. I refused to. I had to continue upwards, wherever that might lead.

I internally seethed across the room and out the door.

Skidmark, as it turned out, was smart. You'd think he'd be the kind of villain you could hammer out in an afternoon, but no. I'd been at it for three days so far, and I had powers. Bloody slippery fucker.

"Eh, mang," I projected my voice into my clone, making it scratch at the meth sores on its neck. "M'here to see Jerry. He said he'd be here."

The guy at the door hid a grimace at the stink wafting off of me.

"You're shitting me, right? You know Jer?"

"I met Eyepatch Stan the other night, hey," I sniffed, wiped my clone's nose, and it glanced down the street. "He said come see Jerry here, he knows me, man."

"Right, what's your name?"


He shut the door in my face and I heard the sound of his footsteps retreating. I put an ear to the door and closed my eyes. Footsteps echoed off the walls and ceiling, painting a picture in my brain of a long hallway with a room on the left. The voices from inside the room bounced back to me, three men in the room. They spoke, the words faintly recognisable.

I stepped back, waiting until the door opened again.


I followed the guy, Frank, into the house. In stark contrast to the draining humidity outside, inside it was cool, the hum of a portable air conditioner providing sweet relief. I slunk in after my clone, keeping the control thread low to the ground. The men in the room were average looking, in short sleeve buttoning shirts and khakis; people within actual Merchant ranks.

It was interesting to see just how sophisticated the set up was behind the smoke and mirrors of Skidmark and his rotten teeth. The set up was degenerating, true, but before Leviathan had demolished the bay Skidmark had quite the little hidden kingdom set up. Only a few could actually contact Skidmark himself, and they were hidden behind layers of lower-level dealers and contract criminals. If I couldn't cheat by being the nightmare combination of Thinker and Stranger it probably would have taken me weeks to get to this point.

The oldest of the men in the room, Jerry, didn't bother to stand or even hide his disgust.

"Out with it, then," he barked.

"What about the gear, though," I snivelled. "Don't back out on givin' me my fuckin' gear."

Jerry snorted and waved at Frank who headed over to a safe sitting on a side table to spin in the combination which I memorised.

"Aw, bro," I said, making my clone wipe it's nose again. "Thanks, bro. I was hiding when I heard it, what I told Stan last night. See, I was at Moneros and I heard some brass sayin' they knew some shit and-"

I could see his eyes start to glaze over as I went into a rambling story full of minor inconsistencies and irrelevant factoids detailing that the police might know where Mush's safe house was.

"-and if you don't believe me, give him a call, man."

I moved behind Jerry who sighed and pulled out his phone, one just new enough to need a pass-code which he tapped in, and flicked through his contacts. I forced a smile over his shoulder.

He confirmed my story was absolute bullshit, then kicked my skinny, smelly clone out the door without even giving him the drugs and shut the door, leaving me still inside. From memory, I walked the clone to where it could sit and disconnected the cord.

My feet were utterly silent as I walked back into the room, hidden behind Cuttlefish Skin and Hidden Movement.

"-s that dickhead thinking, sending us that tweaker?"

"No idea, Jer. Think we might have to demote him?"

"Definitely," Jerry said as I stole in behind him again. "Damn idiot."

He shook his head and went back to his spreadsheets.

Delicately I eased a finger into his pants pocket, inventorying his phone, then slipped back out into the hall and quietly out the door. I reconnected with my clone, walking it into an alley where I could dismiss it, then ran up the alley wall and hopped onto the adjacent roof and took off.

My heart didn't pound, I wasn't excited or even worked up. I thought I should have been, but this felt like doing paperwork. Mindnumbing.

I dropped off the rooftops a few blocks away, landing softly in front of Armsmaster and dropped my invisibility.

I didn't really want to go out without it these days, Coil had snipers.

The suspension on his bike flexed silently as he swung his leg over and dismounted. I tossed the phone to him and he connected it to a lead coming out of his wrist.

"Password's One Zero Seven Seven."

"Well done, well done…" Armsmaster muttered, distracted as his suit downloaded everything on the phone. "Damn shame you're leaving, we make a good team."

"There's still nearly three months, which gang do you want to knock off next?"

Armsmaster chuckled, focusing his gaze on me. "You really are wasted in the Wards. I was almost demoted, you know, but between my nano-thorns up Leviathan's ass and this? They might even give me a raise."

"You could phrase that less like I'm your promotion ticket."

He grinned at me, shark-like. "Mutually beneficial. I still have connections, and there's an internal program, nomination only, to groom the next line of Protectorate leaders; it'll be your in-road to the Triumvirate. The originals are getting old, even I'm going to have to retire to a backline position within the next ten or twenty years. You interested in the title of Youngest Protectorate Team Leader?"

That must have been what Alexandria was talking about.

"I might as well be."

"Ah," Armsmaster's grin slid off his face and he stepped in to put a hand on my shoulder. "Chin up, eh? We'll find him, and in the meantime, we'll do what we do best."

"I think the ABB has him."

Armsmaster nodded, "it's probable. And if they do, the first thing we'll do is take them out. I promise."

"And why couldn't we have done that ages ago and saved ourselves the trouble?"

"Regs," Armsmaster gave my shoulder a squeeze and removed his hand. "Bloody regs. But it's all come crashing down now, hasn't it?"

He smiled, somehow even more predatory than before.

"Wards on extended combat shifts, unsanctioned operations, paperwork ignored; we're finally in the perfect spot to get things going. You might think I'm being selfish or opportunistic, but think about how much more I can do for this city being in charge rather than just being another one of Myrddin's fucking lackeys."

I grunted.

"I know it's hard, this post-Leviathan shit, but it'll all be worth it soon," he tossed me the burner phone. "Inventory that until we can destroy it. We gottem'."

After a few hours of stakeout, he arrived. Adam Mustain, aka. Skidmark.

I broke cover, flitting invisibly across the street and slipping in after him before he shut the door on his safehouse. Inside the first door was another door, this one locked with a keypad and heavy bolts. I wrinkled my nose as the rancid smell of his sweat mixed with cigarettes and other rotten things wafted over me.

I made sure to step away as I followed him into the main room, but the smell wasn't great in here either. The place was a sty; mouldy pizza boxes stacked in one corner, a carpet the colour and texture of an ashtray, a grimy toilet just visible behind a side door and all hotboxed by the boarded-up windows.

Skidmark made for the toilet and I took a moment to snoop around, picking through cupboards and listening for hollowed-out walls. A bad side effect of enhanced hearing was that I had to listen in to Skidmark dropping a fat log into the shitter through the toilet door he hadn't bothered to properly close, which further intensified the stench. I held my breath and wandered into the other rooms.

One tiny room had a desk and a laptop, which Armsmaster would no doubt be all over in a few minutes, and then there was just a dilapidated shower room and the bedroom.

The bedroom somehow smelled even worse than the toilet and may as well have been an ashtray given the number of butts littering the floor. How could somebody live like this? A big stack of unwashed dishes, sure, but this? High Intelligence apparently wasn't a predictor of cleanliness.

I picked through the bedroom, grimacing at the big purple dildo in the bedside table drawer, turning my nose up at the stained underpants beneath the bed itself. It was a little amazing that he'd managed to run even the pathetic gang the Merchants had been before Leviathan, let alone grow it as he had afterwards. Maybe that was the point of his being 'Skidmark' though, even if his Observe bio didn't explicitly say so.

I lightly tapped the walls, keeping one ear out for Skidmark who had just flushed the toilet and was flopping down on the ratty couch. Good. I'd just heard something interesting, an empty space behind a framed Metallica poster. Best to make sure I wasn't interrupted.

I padded back out to Skidmark and tapped a finger to his head.

Paralysis Collar.

He went limp, the blue collar around his neck glowing faintly with the colour of my electricity. I gently turned him so he was face down against the armrest and went back into the bedroom.

The poster wasn't trapped, so I slid it off its hook, revealing a quite expensive biometric tinkertech safe. Observe indicated that this wasn't trapped either and would take even a plasma cutter without breaking open. I inventoried it, heading back out to Skidmark.

Screw Armsmaster, he wanted my help for illegal operations? Well, this was my price.

I lifted Skidmarks hand up, taking the safe out and balancing it in my other hand, slotting his thumb into the scanner. After a few seconds, a light went green and it clicked open. I dropped his hand and turned the safe to face me, flicking it open. Inside there was a single black metal briefcase, the kind you'd use to carry medical samples. I took it out and undid the latches.

Inside, five vials of coloured, metallic liquid lay nestled in velvet settings.