For tonight's operation, I had two primary objectives and three secondary objectives:
Primary: Save and isolate Skitter from all possible influences except me. That included the Undersiders, the PRT, and her father. This objective would only be fully achieved after a follow-up operation, so tonight I was setting up the conditions.
Primary: Unlock Amelia's confidence and potential.
Secondary: Track the Undersiders to their base.
Secondary: Have a good debut for the official hero team I was forming.
Secondary: Get into a meeting with the PRT and sow confusion and the seeds of doubt with my intel.
On the way there, I ordered Agate to try and scan Lung's fire with everything that could be tried. I knew that his pyrokinesis could generate flames from nowhere so it must have had a dimensional aspect. I had already been trying to scan Amelia's Corona Pollentia but that didn't get anywhere. Agate's sensors didn't pick up anything there, but I was hopeful that with more samples and more dimensional effects, we would eventually get something useful. I had no delusion that I could replicate the actual generation of fire, but whatever means the shard was using to transport it here might help Agate.
We arrived just in time to see Lung on fire, already grown to eight feet, and jumping towards Taylor on the rooftop.
"Get ready!" I told Araliac.
"Yeah, I got it," she replied nonchalantly. Both of our voices had been distorted by voice changers in our helmets so we sounded like Sith Lords.
We were still almost thirty meters away. There were groaning ABB members on the ground and a few were picking themselves up. We sprayed them and they went down easily. I grabbed a couple of pistols from them before moving forward again. Araliac copied my actions.
Then I heard a scream, and I looked up to see Lung grabbing his face with one hand. That must be Taylor's pepper spray. Now he was blind, good.
I immediately took aim and started shooting.
The sound of three consecutive gunshots cracked through the air. None of them hit. Damn.
Lung turned and threw a wave of fire in my direction while still hanging off the roof with one hand. Too bad for him, his fire wasn't like a magic fireball, it dispersed long before it got to me.
I kept moving forward and shooting as fast as I could. Fifteen metres. "Surrender, lizard scum! Your reign of terror ends tonight!" I shouted. I had to grab his attention and stop him from going over the roof.
Araliac split off from me and moved closer to the building wall as she started shooting as well.
Lung roared in rage as he waved several more blasts of fire at both of us, but we were still far enough to avoid them easily.
When I ran out of bullets, I put away the pistols and I took the cap off one of my tin grenades and lit the fuse with a blowtorch.
"Lung you fucking coward, come down and face me like a man!" I screamed at the top of my lungs while dropping the grenade right on the ground underneath me. No I was not trying to commit suicide.
"I'll kill you!" He roared before kicking off the wall and flying right at me. I, of course, had already dodged to the right and lunged for the ground like one of those nice slow-mo scenes you see in movies right after the hero blows up a car.
As soon as he landed and turned towards me again preparing to follow my steps, the well-timed grenade went off, which was accompanied by jet of acid from Araliac. He screamed as the shrapnel, force slammed into his legs point blank and his back was burned by acid. He stumbled before dropping down on one knee.
I immediately took out my bow even as I rolled away, got up, and nocked an arrow. Before I could fire, he swiped his arm and a wave of flame surged out in a circle around him. Simultaneously, a jet of white vapour consumed his head. That must have been Araliac shooting her long range sprayer.
Unfortunately before I could see the results of that, Lung's fire actually hit me. I reflexively let go of the bowstring and the arrow went way off course before I dropped my burning bow and started screaming myself as my sleeves caught fire.
I twisted my backpack free and tried to maneuver the fire extinguisher but my fingers were not cooperating.
I fumbled with it for a while before it slipped and fell, rolling away from me. Panicking I stuck my arms into my backpack and tried to smother the whole thing with my body. Bad idea. It backfired on me as my pack started burning too and I had to swing it loose from my body.
Just as I resorted to rolling around on the ground, cursing my arrogance in trying to fight Lung up close, somebody sprayed me with a fire extinguisher.
As the foam cleared I got a look at my savior. Araliac.
"It's not so nice when you're the one getting burned, is it, Mr. I-carry-a-flamethrower-for-self-defense?" She snarked.
"Th-thanks!" I gasped as she put down the fire extinguisher and bent down to touch my now exposed arm.
The pain left me quickly as she healed the burns. My arms were still a charred mess on the surface but in a few short moments I felt as good as new.
I heard the sound of running footsteps just as Araliac helped me to my feet. I looked over to see Skitter coming around the corner of the building, and slowing to a stop as she looked back and forth between us and something behind us.
I could feel Araliac tensing through her grip on my arm.
"Holy shit! You guys took out Lung!" She suddenly blurted out.
I thought she'd be more subdued and shy. Didn't she give the Undersiders the silent treatment in canon? We weren't known heroes to her. Honestly we didn't even look like heroes at all. I could've sworn she should be wary, scared, and stressed right now. Or did we intervene early enough that she was still high on adrenaline? I did remember her feeling some kind of sadistic glee in the beginning of the fight. Or…maybe my taunts made me seem heroic for putting myself in danger to get Lung away from her?
"Wasn't just us. Your bug attacks played a big role too. Did you see how hurt he was from one grenade? Your venom was taxing his regeneration big time," I gave her rightful credit for her contribution.
"Really? Now that you mention it, he did go down pretty fast for someone who took on Leviathan solo…" She tilted her head thoughtfully.
Lung's power was to escalate. As he fought, he grew stronger in response to greater threats, and eventually turned into a dragon. When Leviathan hit Kyushu, he grew so much that their battle destroyed the entire island. Entire teams of Protectorate heroes fought Lung before and were defeated. The only way to really take him down is by forcing him to calm down via sedatives and overwork his regeneration with overwhelming damage before he got too big.
"That's right. We couldn't have done it without you, fellow superhero. I'm Polychromic. This is my partner Araliac," I introduced.
"Hi," Araliac said, and nothing else.
Taylor stood there awkwardly in silence for a few seconds. "I…uh…don't have a name picked yet."
Agate was still hidden and watching. I knew the Undersiders were on top of the building just further ahead watching us. They never got involved because we had the upper hand in this fight the whole time. I knew that even if Coil was never said to have been actively helping them this night in canon, he couldn't have been stupid enough to risk his assets in a fight against Lung and Oni Lee without some kind of insurance. That meant that he likely had one timeline keeping them holed up at base (either theirs or Coil's own base) hiding, and the other confronting the ABB. He was probably using this as a test to see if the Undersiders were combat-ready for the upcoming distraction operation for his attempt on Dinah.
The Undersiders were both a secondary objective for me to track, as well as my insurance for the fight. I berated myself for getting hit by Lung, but I was just being perfectionist. In reality I had determined that my chances of dying were quite low. As long as I didn't get my brain destroyed Araliac could revive me or at least stabilize me. And so when things went south, the Undersiders watching would step in. They helped Skitter in canon, and they would have likely helped me if we started really losing against Lung. That would be true whether it was Coil's, Tattletale's, or Grue's idea. Coil because he usually prefers carrot and saving us would get him an in. Tattletale because she wanted more pieces to recruit and turn against Coil. Even with cold reading, since I had totally ignored her she couldn't possibly know my enmity for her, and even if she did she was probably still arrogant enough to think that her powers would let her manipulate me. Finally, Grue was looking for firepower to add to his team, and there were three possible targets. He'd be thinking that at least one of us might be amenable to recruitment. Even with my "heroic" taunts, all of us looked like villains and in my and Araliac's cases, we actually looked like urban terrorists and we were willing to use guns.
I really wondered what Tattletale was actually thinking right now. Three new capes in one night, and they just happen to attack Lung when he was supposed to be going after them, what a stunning turn of events! Because Coil learned about me, he might attack me in a throwaway timeline soon. I was assuming for now that Coil's precognition worked perfectly on me and Agate. My counter was to move faster than he could react, and account for branching actions in my grand plan. I wouldn't be waiting for his attempt on Dinah like an idiot.
In an alternate timeline he might have ordered the Undersiders to approach us already. Unless it was because we had been losing and they came to save us, I would have stopped them pre-emptively. I would have attacked immediately regardless of what they said, telling Skitter that I recognized them as a criminal gang. I had told Amelia beforehand that in case the Undersiders tried to approach us for any reason other than to save us in the middle of a losing battle, she was to unleash a mass airborne sedative by sending out her organisms under her sleeves out directly. I had informed her of all their capabilities, and the necessity of a rapid mass area attack because Regent could control our bodies and Grue's darkness would make it impossible to aim. Coil would be an idiot to choose that timeline. And if Amelia didn't get them all fast enough because Tattletale stayed behind or something, I told Agate that she was to move into the air then accelerate to top speed at 500 mph in the physical world and smash Tattletale's face in, before dragging her dead body into Kaleidospace to dispose of it quietly. I didn't want anybody to know I had such a powerful tool for assassination but I couldn't hold back against Coil, and if Tattletale went missing he could only assume that I had more agents in position.
As they weren't doing anything, I would move forward with the operation.
"Don't worry about it. Let's call this in first, and secure the criminals. We can talk more after," I suggested. Skitter nodded.
I took out a burner phone and dialed in to the PRT hotline while walking towards Lung's unconscious body. Araliac and Skitter followed after me.
"PRT emergency hotline." a female voice on the other end said.
"This is Polychromic, independent hero. My team and a fellow hero have Lung and a group of unpowered ABB members in custody," I reported. "We need pickup for transport."
"Polychromic? I'm sorry I don't recognize that. What is your team name? Are you registered with the PRT?"
"Not yet. We just formed our team and don't have a name yet. We'll register at our earliest convenience," I replied.
"Alright. You're in the Docks area right? Miss Militia is already nearby and will be there shortly. She can coordinate once she arrives."
"Thank you, we'll wait until she gets here."
I hung up and put the phone away. Araliac was squatting down checking Lung's status again. Skitter just stood beside me waiting.
Araliac stood up. "He should be out for a few hours at least. Our anaesthetic is working a lot less efficiently than usual, but the venoms really did a number on him. He's stable now."
"Good. Let's round them up then," I bent down and started dragging Lung's body to a nearby wall.
Araliac and Skitter stated to helped with the rest of the ABB. I quickly took the opportunity to swipe all the guns and any ammo they had on them.
"Hey, bug girl, you want some of these?" I handed a pistol towards her. Now to test Skitter's personality. I needed to know the extent to which I could manipulate and predict her actions before enacting the next operation.
She looked at it for a moment. "A gun? But that's lethal."
"So are black widows," I said, shrugging. Heh. Complaining about lethality when I knew she threatened to kill everyone in that bank and still considered herself a hero.
Her head moved up as if staring at me. "But…isn't it a crime to possess firearms?"
"Just hide it well then. Or get a license. When you need firepower and your bugs aren't working, a gun might save your life," I suggested. That's right. I knew she had an internal monologue on this very issue in canon. When Lung was about to reach her, she realized she had pepper spray and chalk dust. This was the perfect moment to get her to loosen her resistance to using lethal weapons.
"I…alright. I do need better weapons," she relented, taking the gun. I gave her another one and a couple of cartridges for good measure.
"Make sure you learn how to use it properly. Keep the safety on at all times if you aren't planning to shoot and never point it at someone you don't want to get hit," I warned her as I showed her how to operate the gun. I had to keep up the act as the professional good guy.
Once we hauled up all the gangers up to the wall, since Miss Militia wasn't here yet, I patted them down and relieved them of their money too.
With seventeen gangers here, I was able to find $1400, and handed one third to Taylor. Lung himself didn't have anything on him sadly,
"Um…is this really okay? This doesn't feel right…" She said looking at the bills in her hand. Girl, I know you want it. You took $2000 from the Undersiders and didn't even think about giving it back.
Somehow I felt Araliac's rolling her eyes at me when I handed her share over.
"Vigilante laws were changed to allow heroes to take any stashes of money they found, but they're supposed to report it to the PRT and get it cleared first. Same with drugs or weapons, in which case the PRT gives a small reward when they're turned in. We're not supposed to take the money on their person and in their wallets though…but most of the time PRT just looks the other way when independent heroes take the spoils, unless they themselves start dealing the drugs and weapons they took," Araliac helpfully supplied.
She didn't protest my actions however, instead just stuffing the cash into a pocket. She knew we were hard pressed for funds from the disrepair of my apartment. Actually we weren't that hard pressed with all my winnings from poker, but I literally moved in a week ago. Aside from the various walls falling apart due to a neglectful landlord, it was also completely spartan for efficiency, so to her it must have looked like I was one step away from being homeless – which meant that she would also be homeless by extension.
Skitter looked at her and then back to me and then to the cash again. She stuffed it into her armor in the end. Good old peer pressure to clinch the deal. Although I was testing her, I didn't believe the outcome of this was ever in any doubt. Taylor desperately wanted to be a hero, but she was not a very principled person at heart. When she rescued Dinah she almost decided to turn around and keep her before Dinah called her out on it. I knew her weaknesses even better than Tattletale did at this point.
I rested myself against the wall as I spoke up again, "So, about your cape name, how does Skitter sound?"
"Huh? It's not bad, but it sounds a bit villainous…there are so few names related to bugs that don't make me sound like a supervillain or a complete dork," Taylor said with a hint of frustration.
"Does it matter? Soon enough everyone will know that you're one of the heroes that took down the strongest villain in Brocton Bay who the entire local Protectorate branch lost against. People will have no choice but to take you seriously."
She was silent for a moment. These pauses were getting pretty frequent in our conversation.
"You're right. We did something amazing tonight, didn't we? I'm a real hero now…" She trailed off and looked at Lung's unconscious body again. The best hero. Don't ever doubt it Khepri. You are the hero to end all heroes. I crack myself up sometimes. No this was bad. Arrogance was hubris, the downfall of far too many successful tragic heroes. I would be better than that. No matter how good it felt.
'Make sure you remind me of this if I forget it Agate. Arrogance is hubris, and it will end me if I indulge myself.'
'Really? But you gloat all the time,' she responded.
'Yes, you should remember this too. Never be complacent. Never assume you've won until you've won. Never assume that there's nobody stronger. I've been intoxicated by my recent successes, and this can't be allowed to continue.'
'Alright, I'll remind you then.'
"Skitter…I am the hero Skitter," Taylor repeated to herself.
"This is odd, what's taking Miss Militia so long? I thought she was in the area already," I remarked suddenly. It had already been almost five minutes.
The Undersiders were leaving. The original plan was to tail them to their base…I knew what their warehouse generally looked like and what one of the signs read, but finding it when there were so many similar warehouses was not an easy effort. It would probably be easier to find Coil's base underground.
But something about this situation spooked me and I kept Agate with me to be safe. A good general knows when to sacrifice and let go. My primary objectives had already been achieved. It wasn't a big loss to let the Undersiders go for now. I had to consolidate my gains and secure my position before going on the offensive again. Overextension was the death of empires.
"Should we call again? I'd like to get some sleep tonight," Araliac commented. I'm sure she was still tired from last night.
Then I heard the sound of a distant explosion. And another one. Then gunfire, and more explosions.
"Sounds like another fight," I said.
"If that's Miss Militia, we should help!" Skitter declared. I would be the one to decide that. Not her. I had to rein her in and show her why I was the proper leader here.
"We can't just leave Lung alone here. All our hard work today would be wasted if the ABB got him back before he's locked up," Araliac reminded. Oh? I should not be surprised by this. Amelia had always been the one to hold Vicky back. Unlike Skitter, whose first reaction after a victory was to go bigger and harder, Araliac must want to ensure that she would get the credit for taking down Lung. Show New Wave how effective she could be.
"Hold on. Let me see what's going on," I ordered Agate to move in the direction of the sounds and held a couple of fingers to the front of my helmet in a meaningless pose. If anybody was spying on me, they might be tricked into thinking I had to do that for my "power" to work.
'Already on it!' Agate informed me.
"What? What are you doing?" Skitter asked curiously.
"I've got a Thinker power. Lets me project my senses and move them wherever I want. It's how we found you so quickly earlier," I explained.
Through Agate's senses I quickly located the source of the explosions.
Skitter gasped. "I think I found them! They just entered in range of my bugs two blocks southeast of here but I can't make them out clearly."
"Oni Lee and Protectorate forces. He's trying to retreat in our direction, but Velocity's hounding him and Miss Militia's supporting from behind! A couple of PRT vans are further south, in a shootout with unpowered ABB," I reported in more detail.
What was going on? First Armsmaster didn't show up, instead it's Miss Militia, and now fighting against Oni Lee? If I remembered correctly Oni Lee should've escaped from the Undersiders a while ago, why was he still in action?
"We've got to help!" Skitter urged, her body language shifting as if preparing to run off immediately. Sigh. It would take some time to stop her impulsiveness. If she had just taken the time to really think through her actions instead of deciding to go undercover as a villain after a ten minute conversation with no training or preparation whatsoever, she might not have become a true villain and had such a tragic ending in the original story.
"At this rate, they'll come here themselves in less than two minutes. I think Oni Lee's retreating this way on purpose…could he be coming for Lung?" I analyzed quickly.
It would make sense for Oni Lee to try and find his missing leader and follow the source of the explosion earlier. One of the unpowered ABB we captured might have also given him info earlier before we arrived.
But how did he get into a fight with Miss Militia and Velocity? Miss Militia and Velocity…what an interesting combination. If they were looking to track down Panacea, that might be one of the better field matchups. Perfect memory recall and high speed chaser. If Protectorate forces were tracked Panacea's scent to the boardwalk, and fanned out from there looking for clues, it wasn't a big stretch to think that perhaps Oni Lee's retreat was cut off somehow. It was quite close to the Docks after all.
Hmm…it would be a good opportunity regardless.
"We'll ambush him here. Skitter, get some bugs on him ASAP! When he teleports, everything on his body gets duplicated along with him, including your bugs. We'll use Lung as bait. Once I've distracted him, use your bugs to cover his eyes, he teleports by line of sight only!" I instructed authoritatively.
"Okay, I can do that," Skitter said nodding. Good, she saw the logic in my plan. As I was the one with all the intel, she ought to be deferring to me.
"Both of you, hide and support from range. I'll stay in the open and keep Lung hostage," I continued.
They hesitated only for a moment looking at me. "Don't worry, I'll be fine. Go."
If anything, I'd be in the least danger. Oni Lee couldn't just teleport and suicide bomb me if it would kill Lung. But they weren't familiar with Oni Lee's tactics yet. Keeping distance was almost worthless with line-of-sight teleportation. Nor were they familiar with Oni Lee's personality. He got spooked and ran away at the mere realization that Lung didn't show up. He would be much more stressed if his leader was flat out defeated and helpless.
Skitter looked like she wanted to say something, but Araliac started moving, and Skitter followed her example shortly after.
O O O
Oni Lee appeared around the corner and looked at the devastation and in the area. Velocity was hot on his heels and shot a spray of containment foam.
Another Oni Lee appeared a few metres away, and that was my cue.
"Don't move or Lung gets it!" I shouted.
Both Velocity and Oni Lee turned to see me holding an unconscious Lung, my right hand holding a gun to his head.
They both froze.
"Hey…let's calm down. Lung's a criminal but you can't just kill him—" Velocity tried to mediate but he was interrupted.
"I'm perfectly calm! Oni Lee, get on your fucking knees or he dies!" I snarled while deliberately shaking my hand holding the gun as if spazzing out in contradiction to my assertion of being calm.
Then Oni Lee clutched his face with a scream and stumbled. A copy of him appeared only a few feet away, and then another, and another until he suddenly dropped on his knees.
That was when a jet of vapour blasted into him from the rooftop.
I removed my gun from Lung's head. Suddenly something was holding my arm and pulling me away from Lung. I barely had time to process it before I was sprayed by containment foam.
"Wait! Fellow hero here!" I yelled as my arms and legs were captured in foam, pretending to be surprised and betrayed. Perfect. He took the bait.
I dropped to the ground to see a huge swarm of bugs descending on Velocity, who blurred away but seemed to trip and fell face forward. Another jet of incapacitating vapour blasted into Velocity before he could get up. Velocity could speed himself up something like 100 times faster, so he was tricky to deal with. Skitter must have gotten some bugs on him when he was standing still and had them bite his foot or something to make him trip.
"Stop! Stop! Everybody stand down!" I yelled.
Inside I was thinking the opposite. I was disappointed.
Velocity dropped on the ground and lay unmoving, unconscious. Damn, get up you weakling! Show Skitter and Araliac how unreasonable the authorities are!
Miss Militia drove in on a motorbike just then.
"Velocity!" She cried. Miss Militia was the understanding type. She followed orders and went by the book, rarely doing anything on emotion or self-interest. She was also a veteran in real war. I wouldn't be able to rile her up without coming off as unreasonable myself. Even if I said nothing to de-escalate she would be too wary to just attack. She would see Lung, Oni Lee, and Velocity all down. If my call to PRT earlier was a trick to ambush her, she had to be thinking that this was a huge trap, what kind of insane firepower did we have to defeat all these powerful capes so fast? Velocity and Oni Lee went down in like 10 seconds.
Oh well, it would be arrogant to think that every plan would go perfectly. Getting Skitter and Araliac to take the initiative to attack PRT on my behalf was good enough. Moreover, this was just an on-the-fly plan I cooked up to adapt to the changing situation; the main plan was still in motion. The moment Skitter took a gun in her hand, I knew that the follow-up operation would be viable. After all, if she would take a gun, she would definitely take a "non-lethal" stun baton.
But first, it was finally time to meet the PRT.