Tonight, She Comes
By Alejandro Gonzalez
The car skidded to a halt. The narrow, one-way street stood blocked by a dumpster. Alan Barnes sped the car up to the dumpster, and hammered the gas pedal. The tires whirred and screamed as smoke billowed into the air. The receptacle would not budge. In the passenger seat, his daughter Emma began to hyperventilate. A van barricaded the other end of the alley. Asians of various age poured out; their insignia indicated membership in the ABB.
Emma clutched the phone to her chest as her labored breaths came more ragged and shallow. Her father shifted his gaze back and forth. "Oh god, no," she uttered, "this isn't supposed…"
On the other end of the phone, Taylor heard danger. The car running nowhere and making horrible screeching noises. Most importantly, though, Emma panicking. "Emma! Where are you?"
Emma's trembling gaze shifted from her father to the phone. "T-Taylor? I'm…I'm…"
Taylor grit her teeth. She would have to reveal her secret. "Emma!" she shouted. "Where are you!"
Taylor's sudden shout caught Emma's attention and snapped her, momentarily, to awareness. "T-The one-way street off of Fourth, and…" she began. Then, the line went silent.
Taylor had hung up.
Quickly, she fumbled the phone for nine-one-one. Her fingers wouldn't work. She jittered the phone back into place and went for it again.
Her passenger side window burst open. An attacker grabbed a handful of hair and her shoulder, and pulled. The belt held her firmly, and pain shot through her like a scalpel's cut. Another pair of hands grabbed her arms and pulled. The belt latch came free as the force of her assailants overcame and she came out the window, her jacket and jeans ripping on the remnants of the window. She saw the side of the building up ahead and her father screaming in sheer terror as multiple attackers converged with knives drawn.
"Turn over, ginger bitch," one female assailant said, kicking her in the ribs and flipping her over to see the sky overhead. Multiple figures crowded around, analyzing her worth and studying her fear closely. A distant sound of thunder erupted all around. If she hadn't been so afraid, she might have wondered why there were no storm clouds around.
"Who the hell are…" one attacker, out of Emma's sight shouted, right before being abruptly cut off and sent flying into the dumpster. This drew everyone's attention.
"Alright, little girl, fuck off already!" a young man with a metal bat shouted.
"No," A very familiar voice cried out. "How about you fuck off?"
Emma couldn't believe her ears. "Taylor!" What was the wet blanket doing here? The girl she spoke to on the phone moments earlier was as boring as can be. Now, she stood firm, with one possibly brain-damaged thug out of commission, apparently at her doing.
"Alright, fuck this," An older goon said, drawing a pistol from his jacket. He squeezed off a single shot. It disappeared into the hoodie and shirt Taylor wore, leaving a single hole. She nonchalantly walked straight ahead. He stared quizzically at the gun for a moment, then fired again. This time, her fist rose up and caught the slug, and it fell to the ground. A single bound forward allowed the girl to impact the thug with an open palm to the chest that sent him into the dumpster so hard it moved. He crumpled to the floor and was not getting up again. What happened next resembled a macabre cartoon rather than a fight. Someone would try to stab Taylor or hit her with a blunt object, and the girl would launch them into a wall or send them face first into the gravel. After the carnage, she took a breath and stood over Emma.
"Taylor…what…" Emma managed to say.
"Later," Taylor replied, holding out a hand. Emma took it and stumbled back to the car.
Both Emma and her father stared as the young girl effortlessly moved the dumpster out of the way, its wheel-less side making a scraping noise on the pavement. She sat in the back seat of the car and fastened a seat belt.
The Barnes's stared at her.
"Can the car still drive?" Taylor said. "Let's go."
Alan snapped out of it, scanning the bodies, and drove off.
After several uncomfortable minutes, Emma said, "You killed those men."
Taylor let out a ragged breath, wiping her eyes. "I know," she replied. "I'm not ok with it, but I did what had to be done."
"S-So, you're a cape?" Alan said.
"It was a secret," Taylor admitted. "But I wasn't going to let you die."
"Taylor!" Danny Hebert cried out. "How was school?"
"Fine," she said, clearing her throat. "Emma's doing better since she took that self-defense class." She set her bag on the couch and headed towards the kitchen. "What's for dinner tonight?"
"Spaghetti madness," her father replied.
Her face lit up. "Alright! Now we're talking." She reached for a plate, but he shot her a look. "What?"
"Wash your hands," he admonished.
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure," she said, turning to the sink and using the dish soap. "Anyway, I love your cooking, dad, but that rice pilaf you made yesterday wasn't going to get you the Iron Chef."
He half-laughed during a glare. "I'll be sure to let the judges know," he said.
Her plate she filled with a heaping helping of noodles and several large meatballs. "So, any luck down at the docks?"
Danny tried to avoid sighing. "The union's doing the best they can," he explained. "Honestly, I think the industry's mostly gone and we're just going to have to deal with it. I've gotten some of the guys their jobs back."
"Nobody ships to this part of the coast anymore," she answered. Her fork speared a meatball and shoveled it into her mouth. "Mmm," she chewed faster as he glared at her for trying to speak. "Now that, is a good meatball."
Her father set his fork down, and she would have let out a sigh if he hadn't been looking straight at her. "Honey," he began. She set her fork down and looked him straight in the eye. "We really need to discuss this hero thing."
"Dad," Taylor protested, "I'm being careful."
Danny straightened his expression. "I know," he answered. "But what I'm saying is, you don't know if you're going to meet your…other."
This time, her exasperation escaped. "You can just say it," she said. "We're always made in pairs, and if I meet my other half, I lose my powers and become…normal."
"We've discussed this," Danny continued. "It isn't just that. Your mother died because she thought she could live her life in peace. When she trusted you to me, I honestly wondered if I could handle it, knowing that you might be in danger."
"Maybe I'm the last of my kind," Taylor protested.
"I wish I could honestly believe that," her father countered. "If that was the case, you'd live forever, and nothing would ever threaten you. But I know how these things work. Your mother loved me, but her other half was drawn to her. They happened to be together just long enough for her to get killed."
"I've heard this story," Taylor argued. "You guys hadn't even figured out what was going to happen before they both died."
Danny reached across the table and put his hands on her shoulders. "Taylor," he said. His eyes were wet. "I don't want to lose you. You can move buildings and stop freight trains but to me, I'm always worried something's going to happen to you."
"Dad," she said, holding his hands firm. "I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. This world needs me, and I'm not going to hide from another half I don't even know of." She smiled. "Mom was one of the greatest things this world ever had and I have to live up to her."
Danny wiped his eyes. "Yeah, that's definitely true," he said. "I can't stop you from trying to help, but please, be careful. I've seen how you like to play with the bad guys sometimes. I wish you wouldn't do that."
Taylor picked up her fork. "If they're mad," she explained, "they're focused on me, and that gives civilians an advantage."
Danny shrugged. "Wow," he admitted. "guess I can't argue with that."
She finished her spaghetti madness and retreated to the couch to do her homework. Her father plopped down next to her and set the television to low while she scribbled away at math and science homework with record speed. He looked at her furiously writing away and let out a whistle. "Slow down, kiddo," he advised. "You don't have to rush it. Besides, don't you have to check it?"
"I'm only graded on effort," she said. "I'll check it when I get home."
A lump caught in his throat as he heard those last words. "I see," he uttered. "You taking the hoodie?"
"I love the grey hoodie," she said. "And the beanie with the eagle on it? Amazing what you'll find in the dumpster."
"If you happen to 'find' any more clothes," he instructed, "please put them in the washer immediately."
She giggled a bit. "Sure."
Twenty minutes later, she'd finished her daily assignment and retreated to her room. Her stylish shirt, a gift from her mother, she slid off, and gingerly hung on the dress hanger. She pulled off her corduroy pants for school and put them on the headboard of her bed. The dress shoes she kicked off into the back by her chest of drawers. Her outfit for street activity—the same she always wore—consisted of old sneakers, jean shorts, a black undershirt, and a grey hoodie, all acquired from a dumpster outside an abandoned clothing store. Each of them were replaceable and that way, she didn't put any of her mother's clothes at risk. She took off her mother's glasses and put them in her desk drawer.
Exiting her bedroom window and descending to the ground with a plop, she began walking casually towards the docks. The boardwalk, lined with expensive shops and the familiar sight of vehicles costing more than her dad would make in a year, eventually trailed off. Walking west, the lights weren't always on, and if you paid close attention, all kinds of people congregated in the setting sun that folks who frequented the boardwalk shops would call undesirables could be seen.
Pimps who avoided the territory of one of the major gangs saw her and avoided her. Honestly, her underdeveloped teenage body wasn't quite worth their time. The abandoned warehouses that lined the streets and decrepit apartment buildings full of squatters and drug addicts had few lights on, and the smell of alcohol and urine mingled with the faint scent of blood. She took another sniff. Gunpowder registered itself to her nose. That didn't take long, she thought.
The sound of voices, a foreign language, made its way to her ears. She ascended to the roof of a building halfway down an alley from the sounds. Squinting, she saw the glow of a lighter. A crowd of gang members of various ages—some she recognized from her school—and various Asian ethnicities, gathered around a large man. She leaned in and looked closer. A man in an ornate mask, possibly steel, completely shirtless and adorned in tattoos of Chinese mythology, spoke in aggressive dialog with his group. She clenched her teeth. Dammit, she thought.
She stepped back a bit. "Doesn't matter that they're children," she heard him say in English. "You see one lying on the ground? You shoot the bitch twice, just to make sure. Understand?" Her fist clenched. Any apprehension she felt faded fast. "Now, let's get this fucking operation underway…"
A bang of concrete shattering caught his attention. The entire gang turned at once to see, emerging from the shadow of an alleyway, intermittently lit by failing streetlamps, a teenage girl in a ragged hoodie and a beanie with an eagle on the front. Her shoes had tears here and there and her underdeveloped figure correlated with her soft facial features to indicate an age of no more than fifteen. She seemed to step forward with confidence and a look of disapproval. A guy near the front pulled his gun. "Take a step closer, fucker!" he shouted.
"Careful," Taylor said, her eyes darting from one nearby building to another and back again. "You might accidentally kill one of these poor bastards who's just trying to sleep off a heroin high."
"Who the fuck are you?" Another shouted.
Her mother's prior name came to mind.
Laughter echoed. Only Lung strode forward, serious. "I've heard of you," his booming voice resounded. "You're the one who collapsed the Empire Eighty-Eight headquarters.
Taylor smirked. "I thought that one was funny," she admitted. "I suppose I can't ask you to walk away."
This time Lung let out a single sound of laughter. "You can't think you're strong enough to beat me, stupid cunt," he said.
She blinked several times and grit her teeth a moment. "You know," she said, tightening and releasing her fists, "I'm not too fond of that word."
One gang member strode forward, emboldened by his boss. "Oh, you've got sensitive ears?" he goaded. "Cunt!"
Taylor's expression darkened as she turned to face him and back to Lung. "Keep this up," she warned, "and his head is going up your ass."
Lung let out a roar. "Ah! Found a nerve!" he shouted. "The cunt thinks she's going to do something special!"
Taylor's eyes closed for a long few moments and opened slowly. "Call me a cunt…" Breathing exercises escaped her nose. "One more time."
Lung grinned beneath his mask. "Cu…"
Later, a gang member would emerge from a coma and say the last thing he saw was the girl move so fast she simply went poof, and there was, for a moment, a hole in the air where she was, and the next thing he knew the doctors were telling him he was out for two months.
Taylor shot forward and crashed into Lung with the kinetic energy of a shot fired from a railgun. The shockwave caused the group of about twenty closest to their boss to turn into a wave of bodies crashing against a concrete shore. The rest either stayed behind or ran. Lung felt two ribs break and his spine nearly bent like a V, as she launched high above the water with him in tow. She drew her fist and smashed his mask with a single punch, dislocating his jaw in the process. His skin began to turn as the color changed and flame erupted near his skin.
A guttural roar escaped his mouth as he slugged a fire-coated fist into her face. His bone structure altered as his body became more beast-like in response to her fighting him. Claws that adorned his longer fingers scraped at her torso, ripping fabric aside, but not marring the skin. She delivered a headbutt that shattered teeth and shot him into the water. She impacted the water and wrapped both hands around his neck. His newly-formed wings beat against the surf and he clawed at her eyes and punched at her throat, but she held firm. He beat his head against hers and she pushed him further down. Fire turned water to steam and she struggled against his claws and teeth. The shoreline thrashed as violent waves crashed over barricades and battered vehicles parked too close.
Fuck, this guy will not go down! Taylor thought as she kicked and punched, against the weight of the water and the persistence of Lung. He emitted several long, loud utterances against the gurgling of water, scraping, clawing and biting against his foe as she battered him like few had before. Not since fighting an Endbringer had he experienced such a struggle. The constant transforming of his internal structure to suit the combat, could not seem to keep up with the water rushing into his lungs.
Her hands wrapped around his neck and she pushed ever downward, smashing against the floor of the bay, kicking up silt and irritating her eyes. Unlike him, however, she did not need to breathe, and the water more annoyed her eyes than hurt them. She would persist, and as time progressed, his clawing and biting became less and less intense as time passed, and he blasted her with fire, more water flashing to steam, and she headbutted him a few times. Finally, his jaw went slack and his eyes glazed over. From there, a short jaunt took them to the surface.
She deposited the body of Lung onto the pavement. A few seconds passed, and he began coughing up water. Before he could become too full of life, a dart hit him in the neck and he went limp again. The sound of a motorcycle not far away piqued her attention. She noticed Lung's capture and the properly suited hero stepping up to her. "Hey, you're one of those Protectorate guys, right?" Taylor said.
"Armsmaster," he stated, flatly, his halberd at his side. "And you're…?"
"Hancock," Taylor replied, restating her mother's old name.
Armsmaster's head moved a bit, telling her of his thought process. "Huh," he thought out loud. "In any case, I appreciate your defeat of Lung, that'll help the PRT and the crime rate enormously."
She nodded. "Your welcome."
"I would have appreciated it more, if you hadn't left so many broken bodies," he admonished. "I don't believe there are any fatalities, but a lot of these gang members can't be arrested until they receive major medical attention."
"Ah, well," she shrugged. "He pushed my button."
"I'd recommend joining the Wards." He unraveled a section of cable from his belt and began tying Lung's arms and legs together. A series of lights blinked on his visor, leading Taylor to believe the other Capes had been signaled to come. "From what we saw of your fight—couldn't see under the water, obviously—it seems you rely on your brute force to win a fight. There's very little in the way of finesse."
The harsh criticism bit into Taylor even deeper because she found she could not deny it. Despite her brave face, she felt two inches tall. "Yeah…well, I'll consider it," she stammered. A piece of advice from her father came to mind. Thank the ones who tell you what's wrong. "I appreciate the tip."
"Is there anything else you need to report?"
Taylor had heard voices and footsteps nearby when she hoisted Lung from the water but chose to ignore it. "No," she said, shaking her head.
"I'm glad I have your support," he admitted, attaching Lung to his motorcycle. "To fight someone like this guy, and only come out with wrecked clothes, you're a hell of an asset. I owe you one."
"What does that mean?" she said, as he drove out of earshot. She knew, though, even as the words escaped her mouth. He would be taking credit for the victory. It rubbed her the wrong way. Still, for a member of the PRT to owe her one, that could be a big deal. She looked down. Wrecked clothes had been a proper diagnosis indeed. Her shoes had come physically apart when she took off towards her foe. One foot stood bare, while half a ripped, wet sock hung to another. Huge holes dotted her undershirt, shorts, and the fringes of each hole bore clear scorch marks. Everything was soaked. Except her gray hoodie, which she had somehow flown out of. She flew towards the more abandoned areas outside the shopping district and found a familiar dumpster outside what once was a clothing store. Fishing inside revealed several dark gray shirts, one almost black. She pulled the wreckage of her shirt off and draped the new gun metal gray shirt over her torso. It had another pair of the same jeans as she had before, and she replaced those as well.
She found her gray hoodie just lying on the ground, covered in concrete dust but otherwise only a bit worse for wear. Draping it over herself, she prepared to take off, when she heard footsteps behind her. The sight of the young team behind her gave her a moment's pause. These were likely villains of some sort, she just had a feeling of it, and they didn't seem primed for a fight. It occurred to her that these were the "kids" that Lung and the ABB were going to kill.
"You don't fight like a member of the Wards or the PRT," a dark figure at the front said, his voice a deep resonant bass.
"That's because she's not," A blonde in a domino mask said. Her smile soon faded into a puzzled and stern look. "Huh, I'm not getting anything much."
This caused one of them, wearing what looked like Renaissance clothing, to jerk his head over in shock. "What?" He then regarded Taylor with a great deal more curiosity.
"Name's Hancock," Taylor said. "I just kicked Lung's ass. He said a word I don't appreciate. Who are you guys?"
"We're the Undersiders," the man with the deep voice said. "and regardless of what you do, I wanted to thank you. We're alive because of you and thank you."
"I'm Regent," the renaissance-dressed youth said, "and this is Tattletale," he pointed to the blonde, "and Grue," he pointed to the dark, tall man, "and Bitch is somewhere over there." Behind them stood a younger woman with a rough, stout face and an angry dog mask hanging from her neck. Behind her were a trio of dogs.
"By the way," Tattletale said, "Hancock was your mother's name, right?"
"Y…yeah," Taylor said, her voice becoming suspicious. "From a prior relationship, how did…?" Tattletale pointed twice to her temple. "Ah, I get it." A thought came to her. "Wait, Undersiders? I've heard of you." She tilted her head, thinking. "A little of you."
Grue asked the obvious question. "So, what's going to happen now? Are you going to fight us?"
Taylor shrugged. "And ruin the clothes I just found?" she asked. "No thank you."
She took off, leaving them stewing in the implications of a hyper-powerful being having ignored the fact that they were villains. Tattletale turned to Grue and voiced the obvious. "She was at least an Alexandria package," she told him, "and she left us alone."
"This is the luckiest night ever," Regent commented.
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Topic: Lung gets his ass kicked?
In: Boards ►News ► Events ► America ► Brockton Bay
VideoSkunky (Original Poster)(Veteran Member)
Posted on April 12th, 2011:
Alright, I think half the city of Brockton Bay heard that fucking explosion in the ghettos outside the shopping district. Well, I was probably the closest (my house is like five minutes away), and I saw what had to be the strangest sight ever. Lung and his goons getting gathered up by the PRT and about twenty-five ambulances.
Somebody fucked up the ABB big time. Had to be thirty people hospitalized at least. Man, did they call in the big guns or what? Anybody got any intel?
ConjunctionJunction (Veteran Member) (Cape son)
My dad was one of the officers tending to the wounded. Guys were all over the place, some had broken half the bones in their body, it looked to him like someone had dropped a bomb in the middle of a crowd. Nobody was missing limbs, but there was blood everywhere. Apparently they don't think anyone is going to die, although no thanks to the Cape for that. He said Armsmaster was pissed off at someone, but didn't want to say it to the Cape's face.
FlipperyWhenWet (New Member)
Anyone else got a name? I'd love to know who could scare or piss off a high-ranking dude like Armsmaster like that.
DancingBabii (Veteran Member) (Confirmed PRT)
All I can say is that they're talking about someone named "Hancock." Couldn't get anyone to tell me more than that.
Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Ok, that's something. I don't have much data on "Hancock." Apparently, the only references I can find are that there was a guy named "Hancock" who fought in Los Angeles for a few months until he was forced to stop being a cape for causing a lot of collateral damage when he did stuff. Then he and his wife died. This was about fourteen years ago.
FlipperyWhenWet (New Member)
Soooo…both he and his wife died, and now they fought Lung? Fascinating story. :P
Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
I can PM you the newspaper articles from when they died if you don't believe me. There's no report about whether or not they had a child, but if they did, maybe their kid took their name and is fighting crime. Is it really that unbelievable?
FluoridatedWaiter29 (Veteran Member)
I was a kid in LA in the 90s (God, I'm old ). I remember Hancock, he was a black guy, wore a gray hoodie and he drank a lot. Like, a lot. Then he went to prison for awhile (this was before the birdcage existed) because he was a pretty awful cape. I mean, he was good at fighting crime, but I think that was just because he was so rough around the edges he scared the shit out of everyone. He'd wreck shit when he saved lives. It stopped when he married his wife and retired.
EastOfBurden (New Member) (Confirmed Cape)
We got camera video! It's grainy, but it's on Youtube, and here it is! [Click Here to view link]
FluoridatedWaiter29 (Veteran Member)
Christ, look at that! Gray hoodie, jean shorts and cheap shoes! Same look! But, wait, the person looks…I hate to sound racist…white?
Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)[Edited]
Awesome! I'm going to see what I can get out of this.
*Edit: I found a guy who works on cellphone videos and he managed to enhance the video. Don't tell me this CSI shit isn't possible, take a gander at this! [Click Here to view link]
WilliamFatner (New Member)
0_o I thought it was just a short guy, but, holy shit, it looks like a girl! And she's only about my daughter's age!
GirlzWithGuitarz (New Member) (Cape daughter)
I've seen her around town a few times! She goes to Winslow High! I don't know her name, but if you put glasses on her, she'd be her!
Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Now we just have to get a name to go with the face. I want to know who this person is.
VideoSkunky (Original Poster)(Veteran Member)
Considering how much power she showed (I mean, FUCK), everyone's going to want to put a name to go with the face. Shit. Fucked up the ABB, wasn't wearing a mask. Either this person doesn't worry about the safety of their family and themselves, or they're just so sure of themselves. Either way, shit.
(End of Page) (1)
Armsmaster sat at the meeting table, feeling relieved to have several feet of mahogany between himself and Director Piggot. Miss Militia had taken a red-eye to be here, and the three of them looked at the images shown on the screen in the front of the room. Dragon came in a moment later. This young girl, worn-out clothes and all, standing unharmed in a crowd of bodies strewn in every which direction, talking to Colin. His video feed had proven pivotal in locating the identity.
"So," Piggot began, "Dragon says this person has been positively identified?"
"Since she's not wearing a mask," Dragon explained, "facial recognition was a trivial matter."
"I'd comment on how arrogant that is," Miss Militia quipped, "but honestly, with power like that, I don't think it's necessary."
"The grainy cellphone video is not the best resolution, and it's jittery," Dragon went on, "but I corrected it as best I could, and I saw this." She played the video and drew attention to one segment. "The audio was too saturated to be able to do much with, so we really don't know what she said to Lung, but watch this." After Lung said something, the girl and Lung suddenly disappeared from the picture, and the instant they did, bodies were thrown in every which direction.
"What the fuck?" Armsmaster said, leaning forward. "I hadn't seen that part."
"Christ," Miss Militia exclaimed.
"Considering this video is about thirty frames per second," Dragon went on, "and we know she at least the distance between herself and Lung, and the force of the shockwave by how the bodies were thrown, we can give a low estimate of her speed at four to five hundred miles per hour."
"So what you're saying," Armsmaster replied, "is that it's largely by luck that nobody was killed?"
Dragon nodded. "That's likely the case."
"What mainly bothers me about this," Piggot interjected, "isn't that she is powerful enough to defeat Lung, which, I assure you, does bother me, but rather, that she shows little regard for her surroundings."
"She fights with no finesse," Miss Militia examined, "relying on strength and brute force to win fights."
"That was a clusterfuck of a clean-up," Armsmaster added. "So, if she's truly 'Hancock,' she's certainly living up to her father's namesake."
"We can't confirm positively that she is, in fact, the child of the man known as John Hancock," Dragon explained. "So far, she's demonstrated the classic Alexandria package. Hancock was known to be considered a public nuisance in the greater Los Angeles area until he stopped drinking. So far, she hasn't demonstrated his ability to affect the weather."
Piggot shot forward in her chair. "Wait," she countered. "When did he demonstrate that?"
"An accidental skirmish with a female member of his kind," Dragon clarified. "They're both dead now, and they only fought once, to my knowledge. Records don't even show if she was the one he married."
"Hold on," Armsmaster said. "You're losing me. How is this possible?"
"Neither of their powers behaved like traditional capes," Dragon said. "Honestly, we don't know why or how. They had a weakness unique to however they got their powers. In each other's presence, they slowly became vulnerable."
"We're getting off-track," Piggot said, waving her arms. "Forget that for a moment. It'll be safer if we just assume she operates under the same principles, and that she might demonstrate powers unique to what we've seen. Anyway, give me the name."
Dragon nodded. "Yes ma'am," she said. With a gesture, on screen, appeared the public records of one Taylor Hebert. "Taylor Anne Hebert is the daughter of Danny and Annette Hebert. Mother is deceased, father is alive, works for the Dockworkers' Association. Goes to Winslow High School. We believe she became active six to eight months ago."
Miss Militia did the math. "Six to eight months ago?" she asked. "Do you think she was the one who demolished the old Empire Eighty-Eight headquarters?"
"Very likely," Dragon stated. "So far, based on what we can tell, power characteristics include flight at a minimum of sub-sonic speeds, possibly supersonic speeds. Strength that surpasses that of Lung, seeing as she was able to hold him underwater, and also lifting building rubble off herself. Durability that includes resistance to drowning, the building impact, and fire resistance. Armsmaster, did you see any wounds on her?"
Armsmaster shook his head. "No," he said. "I mean, I can't imagine Lung not using his claws and pyrokinesis on her."
"In any case," Piggot said, "we have to push the Wards hard. We can't have this kind of bullshit recklessness in our city!"
"I agree," Armsmaster replied. "Based on my experience, she throws herself into battle relying on her powers to protect her."
"By the way, just a word of advice," Piggot said to him, "don't shoot your mouth off about how mad you are at someone. You know there are people who work here that post on those damned message boards."
He bowed his head. "Sorry. I'll keep my anger in check."
"So, what should we do next?" Miss Militia asked.
Piggot thought about it. "Let's see what she does next," she advised. "We need to get a better idea of what she's capable of. Dragon, you need to get me stats."
"Will do, ma'am," Dragon said.
"Alright," Piggot said. "That's all. Observe, report. We have to know what we're dealing with." The other two agreed and went their separate ways.
Taylor returned home and strode through the door, plopping down on the couch and kicking her shoes off. Ah shit, she thought. I lost the fucking beanie. She stretched and leaned back. Danny came in from the kitchen. He reached to her right and clicked the remote. The evening news came on, showing the grainy phone video of Lung getting beaten up. "Looks like you made quite an impact," he said.
She shrugged. "I know it isn't the most careful thing to do," she said, "but he was going to kill kids, and I wasn't about to let that happen." She rested her hands behind her head.
"Also, I got a call from someone from the PRT suggesting you join the Wards," he admitted.
She turned around. "I told Armsmaster I would consider it," she told him. "If he calls again, let him know I'm not convinced."
Danny almost choked. "Armsmaster!" he almost shouted. "You met Armsmaster and you only told him you'd consider it?"
She shrugged. "Hey, I thanked him," she said.
"Hey, maybe the Wards would be good for you," he argued.
She shrugged. "Maybe," she agreed. "I haven't given it enough thought yet."
"No problem." He ruffled her hair. "I trust you. I just want you to be safe."
"I love you, dad," she said, grabbing her shoes and heading up to her room.
"I love you, kiddo," he said. He recalled the day he'd met her and her mother.
The day had been an everyday at the docks for a much younger Daniel Hebert.
Danny hated buying dinner from the grocery store.
As he looked up and down the frozen foods section, his pay from the docks in his pocket, he attempted to heed his doctor's advice to eat out less often. Still, there were two kinds of pre-made meals he liked from the microwave—and they were both sold out. Opening the freezer, he extracted a lasagna meal and a fried chicken meal. He passed the Salisbury steak immediately. It would not even be considered.
"Shit," he muttered under his breath. Neither looked too appetizing, and he wasn't much of a cook. He didn't want to cook spaghetti again. He didn't want to feel like he was still in community college.
"Need some help?"
Danny looked up to see a woman and a very small child standing next to him. He regarded them with bewilderment. Something about her struck him. Words failed to form in his mind to describe it. She didn't seem…normal. Somehow, she seemed imposing to him, just by being there. Her beauty wasn't in your face, and yet, she struck him as the most beautiful he'd ever seen. "Uh," he managed.
"Need some help?"
He shook the stupor out of his head with her repeated statement. "Uh, yes," he said. "I'm a terrible cook, and they're out of both things I like. Any suggestions?"
This woman blinked a few times. "Well, I've never really eaten TV dinners before," she admitted, "so, I can't say I know anything about what tastes good."
He coughed awkwardly. "Oh, wow," he uttered, surprised. "Thank you, though." Something popped into his mind. "You're not from around here, are you? I haven't seen you before."
His question caught her off-guard. "Oh, uh, no," she said. "I just got here."
"Daniel Hebert," he said, sticking out his hand.
She shook his hand. "Annette Hancock."
He realized his own awkwardness. "Nice to meet you," he said. "Your daughter is pretty, and so are you." He blinked a long moment; the cheesiness of his statement occurred to him even as the words left his mouth.
A laugh escaped. "Really? Why thank you," Annette said.
"I won't keep you from your dinner date," he said, turning to leave.
She turned slightly and paused. "Wait," she said. He turned, incredulity painted on his face. She put on a radiant smile. "Why don't you have dinner with us?"
He almost went bug-eyed at her forwardness. "Really?" His voice very nearly cracked from his disbelief. "You're not worried about…"
She cut him off. "Oh, no," she admonished. "I'm not worried." You being a threat is hilarious, she thought. Trying to imagine him as a legitimate threat to a woman gave her a silent laugh. Honestly, he looked like someone brought a teddy bear to life in the form of an awkward bachelor.
"If you'll have me for dinner," he said. His words caused him to imagine a macabre horror movie scene. He chuckled.
She chuckled. "No, but I'll have you as a guest for dinner," she said, having apparently figured out what he thought.
Danny knelt next to the young girl. "What's your name?"
"Taylor," the girl half-squeaked. She held up five fingers. "I'm three."
"I bet you're the sweetest," he said, brushing her nose with the tip of his finger.
"Mommy gets mad when I break things," Taylor said.
"Well, try not to break anything your mommy doesn't want broken," Danny said.
Taylor pondered this world-shattering philosophy. "Uh-huh."
Danny followed them. "Oh, I can't thank you enough. I'm such a terrible cook."
She lightly smacked his shoulder. "Don't discourage yourself before you even start," she advised.
"I'll try," he said, chuckling a bit.
We were married eleven months later, he remembered, placing the photo back on the mantle.
The sweet memory brought to mind the horror of the day he lost her. It had started when her ex-husband showed up to help her fight an Endbringer.
"No," he said, slapping himself. Now was not the time. He would not go down this road tonight. He went upstairs and creaked the door open just a bit. Taylor had sprawled out on her bed, asleep face down on the bed. She hadn't even taken her clothes off. He turned her onto her back as gently as he could. "Night, kiddo," he whispered, shutting the door.
He swallowed some melatonin, crawled into bed, downed it with some water, and went to sleep. That night, he dreamed of her. She appeared to him and the dream seemed like a warning, but he wouldn't remember it in the morning.