The ocean was hungry. As soon as I thought that, I knew I was dreaming. That didn't change the fact that I could feel the turbulence, shifting currents and waves like a sixth sense pressing into my head. The dream was vivid. I was sprinting through the corpse of a city with my armor clinging to me like a second skin. It was raining. The fabric fluttered in the thick air. I could feel the drops of water pelt my hair and slide down my face just like I could feel the dull throb of a cut I had on my head. I raised my hand to it and felt the hard crystallized scab.

Good. I adjusted my grip on my spear. Blinking blood out of my eyes was always annoying. A shift in the current, and I leaned to the side. A flash seared past me, leaving behind the stink of ozone. The forms of people in power armor like most Tinkers only dreamed of were the vanguard. Swooping forms with wings, soldiers in hard crimson carapaces and squatter figures crawling shattered skyscrapers one moment, gone the next.

I watched the firing lines of men in Kevlar jackets wielding rifles that spat lasers shatter.

Straight through, I thought and that thought had a weight that pushed at the ocean. I felt, more than saw the nods of those at my back. A shift, again, and I leaped straight up already reaching. The low whine of a jet buffeted my ears and I gritted my teeth at the painful jerk as I caught on to the bottom of the jetbike.

The vehicle tilted, just enough. The bike's cannon shot. A hailstorm of razor sharp disks perforated the regrouping flank. Limbs, torsos, heads severed. A few of the shorter ones with large, bulbous modules on their backs and extra arms on their armor that made them look like bugs blinked in among the survivors.

My ear piece hummed. "No farseers on my bike. You're throwing off Anosil's aim."

That was a bold lie. I could feel the gunner's amusement as he easily adjusted, and fired at what he'd originally been aiming at. I snorted. "You're welcome."

Up here, the view was far from idyllic but I still felt a certain kind of peace. A heavy and decisive peace. The men in Kevlar uniforms were a stubborn holding action with a fraction of the numbers they might have had if we had waited. They would lose. Minimal deaths.

A knot of pandemonium caught my attention. A single man in Kevlar armor expertly wielding a thick saber in hand, pistol in the other was holding off two women in bone white armor, red plumes on the back of their helmets. I felt a frown tug at my lips and a note of dissatisfaction.

"Tomas Harkin," I sighed.

Shift, again.

I let go.

I woke up with a gasp. The air was uncomfortably warm and humid. No matter how many times I blinked, I still couldn't see anything. Up, down and diagonal were completely academic for one disorienting moment before I realized that my back was resting against something cool and smooth that I also felt beneath my feet. I reached out with my hands and barely two feet away, my palms hit another smooth wall. Trapped. And just like that, the memories of everything that had happened before I fell asleep came rushing back in terrible, vivid clarity.

I was still in the locker, was my first thought. My blood turned to ice and it suddenly became hard to breathe. I was suffocating.

I bucked like a wild animal and threw myself against the wall. My shoulder screamed as I bounced off it. I just went at it again with my hands. Clawing, pounding, kicking. I was dying. I was going to die if I did not get out!

The wall opened and I fell through the gap, sprawling out onto the school's linoleum floor and blinded by the light. I blinked the stars out of my eyes even as my stomach scrunched up so hard, I swore I was on the verge of throwing up. I could feel the floor on that bare skin of my thighs and hips. A glance down revealed the truth. I was on the floor in the middle of the school hallway as naked as the day I was born. Fuck. Shit. Mortified, I looked up.

Double fuck!

Staring at me wasn't a crowd of high school students, but two men in what was clearly PRT issue body armor behind a police line. The strip of bright yellow didn't bother me, they did. What the fuck were the PRT doing here? Why were they here? My heart lept into my throat as I imagined more people seeing me like this, after that.

PRT stands for Parahuman Response Team.

The one on the right lifted their hand and what was clearly a radio.


He froze as I scrambled backwards, fighting my own limbs to get onto my feet. I was not entirely sure what exactly I feared happening, but the facts were in front of my face. No one had gotten me out of that locker. The PRT blocked off the site, no one else around. I glanced to where I knew my locker was. What I saw instead was a protruding bone white growth, and the hole I had fallen out of.

Not me, that wasn't me, my mind gibbered almost hysterically, almost willing them to believe me. More than having no clothing, I felt exposed like I never had before. I needed to not be here, so without even thinking about the consequences I turned and ducked under the police line. I ran.

The end of the hallway came up a lot faster that I thought it would. I slammed through the door and took a moment to breathe. The lights were off here, but still enough for me to see clearly. I listened for any hint of being followed and heard nothing but the low droning from the nearby radiator. Heating was still on, explained why I wasn't currently freezing my ass off.

I quickly skirted through the halls with hands over my chest and privates. This must have been what Greg felt like when the other guys stole his clothes after gym and made him run for it. I really, really, didn't want to see any of the janitors right now. The way my heart was pounding in my chest, I felt like I might literally die of embarrassment.

My first destination was the gym for my other locker. The small one that held my gym clothes. I didn't make a habit of stashing underwear, but pants and a shirt sounded like a good idea. I crept in, electing not to turn on the lights. I could still see perfectly. All the lights would do was tell someone I was in here. I spun my combination lock once before I finally took a good look at my hands.

Clean. How was I clean after all that filth? The second thing that I noticed was the length of my fingers. These were not my hands. I dropped the lock to run for the bathroom and the mirror above the sink in it. Two steps into the room and I saw my reflection. I gasped, grabbing onto the sink as my legs threatened to give out. The door fell back on itself with a bang, but I found it hard to even care about the noise.

That was not my face.

I'd never been a particularly pretty girl but the face in the mirror was pretty in a way that made my skin crawl. She had cat eyes, large and almond shaped on a slant that matched her cheekbones. There was a sharp chin, small mouth and straight brown hair that did nothing to hide the pointed ears rising from the sides of her head. The girl in the mirror raised a hand to them, and I felt my fingers brush the tip. The only thing I recognized was my father's green eyes. I choked on the cry.

I was a motherfucking elf.

I ran back to the locker room and just, tried not to think about anything but getting clothes and getting out of the school. I spun through my combination and breathed a small sigh of relief as I pulled my gym pants and T-shirt out. No socks, but I had my other sneakers. I had to squeeze into my shirt as other differences made themselves known. My shoulders were a bit broader and my chest, by that I mean my rib cage, wasn't quite as thin? Not barrel chested, but different and I think I went up a cup size.

My pants didn't fit on me like I was used to but at least they were the right length. The unfortunate belly I had was completely gone. I pulled the strings tight. At least, some good was coming out of this mess. My feet were smaller, but not so much that my sneakers were uncomfortable. Alright, now to get out of here.

I went to the gym doors and put a hand on the push handle of the metal double doors that led out to the parking lot. I stopped as my stomach dipped a little. I pulled back. What had I been thinking? The PRT was definitely parked in front of the building and were probably watching all of the main exits if they weren't already scouring the school for me. There were only so many places I could go.

I could turn myself in. I should turn myself in. I didn't exactly make the best first impression, but elf. All they had to do was ask whose locker just got covered in bone, and they had me. What else was I going to do? Go home looking like this? The fuck was I going to tell my Dad?

Shit, Dad. How long had I been trapped? Hours? Days?

Had there been an investigation? Did the PRT know who did it? It should have been obvious to anyone that I didn't shove myself in the fucking locker, but I came out of it like this. There was only one explanation and the reason why the PRT was here. I was a parahuman. I had powers.

Being an elf wasn't the greatest power in the world. Maybe I could change shape? I stood there for a few minutes, eyes closed, and thinking of what I used to look like. Wide mouth, lanky, a bit of a long nose and my hair had a curl to it. I spared a moment to think of my vanished glasses, but when I opened my eyes one look at my hands told me nothing had changed. I couldn't hide.


No good options, only less bad. I let out a shaky sigh and pushed open the door. Light blinded me again, but in a few seconds of blinking my view cleared. Fast. Another difference. The parking lot was home to two of the white PRT vans and four people in body armor approached me cautiously, large guns with large barrels up. I put my hands up.

"I – I'm not going to cause trouble." I was already shaking like a leaf. I tried to swallow the fear, but it just bubbled right back up again. My heart was jack hammering. The armored woman in the center brought up her radio.

"Johnson, report in."

The radio crackled. "Johnson here."

The four exchanged looks and my stomach dipped again. "Status of the locker?"

"Uh – shit!" The silence between was tense. "Containment broken, I repeat, containment broken."

"See anyone?" The woman barked.

"Yes, ma'am. Brown haired girl, couldn't get a good look. Took off running."

"Why didn't you call it in?"

Johnson's reply was swift. "Wasn't her."

The floor fell out from under me. What? I could clearly remember my panicked thoughts, begging. Not me, wasn't me. And they hadn't run after me. For all I knew they were still standing there in front of my locker, and it was my fault. My eyes prickled with frustrated tears no matter how many times I tried to school my face. It was like I had no control over myself anymore. Of all the stupid powers I could have gotten, I got one that turned me into a mind controlling Lord of the Rings reject!?

"Johnson, Adams, Master Stranger protocol!" They surrounded me, guns trained on me. Intellectually, I knew they were probably containment foam launchers but it was hard to feel calm with barrels and triggers pointed at me. It was hard to feel calm, period.

"I didn't mean to." That was my only defense. I should have run.

The only indication the woman in charge gave that she heard me was a nod. "Please accompany us to the van."

Yeah, at this point, it wasn't like I had a choice.

It was not the most comfortable van ride I've ever had.

I was sandwiched between two PRT troopers in the back section, behind the steel net and what was probably bulletproof glass divider while wearing gym pants, shoes with no socks and an ill-fitting T-shirt. The atmosphere was tense, unsurprisingly. My shirt was chafing my arm pits and the woman officer had a bench to herself right across from me. Strange as it sounds, that was bothering me the most. The lack of personal space and that it could have been resolved if either one of my bench buddies had decided to sit on the other side.

I used to be a touchy-feely kind of person. Handshakes, pats on the back, the usual stuff. I can clearly recall Mom's – and Emma's – brands of enthusiastic hugs and my Dad used to have the habit of kissing my hair. Things changed. I haven't given anyone a handshake in months. Still, I don't remember being exactly antsy about it. Worried I was going to get a pencil to the gut or shoved into the wall, yes. Antsy?

Another one for the list, I thought. I had palm lines, but they were in a completely different configuration and paler. My skin was soft like I came straight out of five-star spa treatment and hairless. The protruding tendons by my ankles looked like they were shaped strangely on top of being here instead of there. My ankles were the cause of my brainstorming session. Or to be more accurate, looking at my ankles had caused my brainstorming.

I was the typical unfit fifteen-year-old girl. The extent of my physical exercise was gym class twice a week. Before dodge ball, badminton, running around the football field or whatever torture was on the curriculum that day, there was stretches. They were supposed to prevent us from hurting ourselves. I was leggy, and not in the good way. Touching my toes while standing was likely to hospitalize me.

I'd twisted my leg into a half pretzel trying to get a better look at my ankle before one of the troopers coughed. Trying to ignore the stares I knew they were giving me, I'd put my leg down and I didn't even have the slightest twinge of pain. My toes rubbing against the side of my sneaker caused more discomfort than bending my knee half out of joint. A quick test of my fingers confirmed that I was ridiculously more flexible now than I had ever been.

So what else about me was different? If I was going to be stuck like this, I needed to know how deep it went. My ears could probably be altered back to human standard round and my face proportions corrected with cosmetic surgery. That was just me wishing though. We'd never be able to afford it. My heart was still beating fast. Not as fast as it had, but still noticeably quicker than usual. Stress, probably but I wasn't going to rule it out. I had 20/20 vision, better than 20/20. Now that I was paying attention to it, everything around me looked uneven. Straight lines, weren't. I could see the pores and hairs on the troopers as if I was zoomed in on high definition all the time. I could see the individual fibers of my shirt with such clarity that I almost looked fuzzy. If I had to describe it, it's like I was seeing pixelation in real life. Imperfections glared out at me. My emotions were like a buoy on a stormy ocean, and I could mess with people's minds.

This was the new me, pros and cons, inside and out.

"What's going to happen to me?"

The officer's hair was probably brown to match her eyebrows but that was all I could really see under the bowl like helmet the PRT shared with SWAT. She had on sunglasses and a plaid scarf against the cold that I wasn't feeling.

"We must confirm how compromised our troopers are."

I think she phrased that as diplomatically as possible, but I still cringed. If it turned out that it wasn't a temporary effect and that I had those two men under my control permanently? My breathing hitched as the tension in the van tightened like a stressed violin sting. As we stopped at a red light, I averted my face feeling like I could fall down a pit of shame. I bit the inside of my cheek, hard. My blood didn't taste metallic; it was strangely sweet. I inhaled through my nose, and exhaled out my mouth a few times. The downward spiral had stopped, maybe even reversed a bit.

Okay, so permanent. Well, they probably lost their jobs. I didn't know if there was a pension or something for casualties of parahuman abilities. As for me, it would mean no leniency. God, I hoped it wasn't permanent.

"And after?"

"Are you Taylor Hebert?" So they had figured me out. I nodded and the woman gave me a bit of a reassuring smile. "We'll get in touch with your father. He's been worried sick about you."

How my father would react to seeing me was not something I wanted to think about. My own reaction was bad enough, how much worse would it be to see him looking at me like I was a total stranger with his daughter's memories?

"Yeah, that would be great," I said, unconvincing even to my own pointy ears.

"When they arrive on site, you'll be invited to talk with Director Piggot and senior members of the Protectorate about your options."

What even were my options? I doubt anyone wanted a Ward that could mess with their heads, so what was left? Jail? I hadn't been clapped in handcuffs and had my rights read out to me, so I hadn't been arrested yet. And maybe. I chewed my lip.

Maybe they weren't going to. "My options?"

She shook her head. "I don't know all the details on how the department operates. I don't want to say something now that will be untrue later."

Fluid, I thought. I'm not sure why, but the more I thought about that strange thought, the more I agreed. Set standards or procedures, the PRT troopers would know those even if just by precedent. I wasn't the only teenage parahuman in Brockton Bay, and I probably wouldn't be the last. Case by case basis? I knew there were a few rumors online about Shadow Stalker of the Wards. Her time as a solo vigilante and then why, suddenly, she was being debuted as a new Ward. Not sure how much I believed, but it made me think.

Thinking was good. Think more, feel less.

"You said, senior Protectorate members?" I couldn't kill the grin that formed on my face. "Like Armsmaster?" Of all the government sponsored heroes here in Brockton Bay, he was my favorite. No super strength, super durability or natural weaponry. Everything he accomplished, he built from his own two hands. How was that not awesome? I even had Armsmaster underwear!

Wait. No, oh god, anyone but Armsmaster.

The officer's lips quirked. "No promises, but it is likely."


I ducked my head, well aware that my face was probably a lobster red that wasn't going to fade any time soon. The trooper on my right chuckled and I could almost physically feel the tension break. I passed some kind of test. It was the Armsmaster thing, I guessed. Maybe they liked the guy?

No, because I did. Said good things about my inclinations. It would be different if I was a fan of, say Leet and Uber instead.

"Can I have names?" Came out of my mouth without my input. "I'm Taylor and I'm…calling you officer, trooper one and trooper two in my head and it's kind of…?"

The silence after my question only lasted a heartbeat.

"Rodriguez," said the trooper to my right that had laughed earlier. He was about my height, tanned with dark eyebrows. No scarf, but he did have gloves on.

"Brabant," the man on my left said and he had an accent to go with it. I pointed a finger at him.

"You didn't pick that up in the Bay, did you?"

He flashed a pearly white grin at me. Lighter brown eyebrows, and he was bundled up. Scarf, head covering under the helmet, gloves and a turtleneck underneath the body armor. "St. Louis."

That was quite a way away. Brockton Bay was New England through and through. Maybe he got transferred for one reason or another. I really couldn't imagine anyone moving into this pit without a solid incentive.

"Bernard," officer finished. "Should be arriving any minute now." As if agreeing with her words, the van took a sharp right turn slow and then another right that went down a ramp. "Any more questions?"

A few. "How long was I…" I waved a hand in the air vaguely.

"Five days."

Better than I feared, worse than I hoped. That was nearly a week, Dad must be pulling out his hair by now. Had he reported me missing? Had the school been closed? Thinking of school just made me realize: everyone already knew. Someone must have known that I was missing from class, and when that bone started growing out of my locker, someone must have called it in. PRT officers arriving, quarantining the area with the police tape and troopers, it must have been a spectacle.

Emma probably knows I had powers. I would gladly sit in a cell if it meant I didn't have to go back to Winslow High.

Bernard's radio crackled. "We're ready for you, come on in. Stand by for parahuman escort."

The van whined to a stop and the back door opened. I was ready for the light this time, closing my eyes so it just shined through my eyelids before opening them again. The PRT personnel got out first. Rodriguez bumped my shoulder.

"Nothin' to worry 'bout."

Then I climbed out, focusing on just breathing. I could feel the knot of panic and paranoia threatening to bubble up from the pits of my stomach as I took in troopers wearing exoskeletons, riot masks and foam canisters on bandoleers. Something in my head popped, and I swayed. My hands shook. A year of constant bullying, being on the bottom of the totem pole had atrophied what little social skills I had. I always felt too awkward or embarrassed, or didn't belong.

For how strongly I felt now, there hadn't been a shred of that in the van. What was that?

"Easy," someone said. I didn't recognize the voice.

I think I hated my loss of control just as much as I hated my mind fucking ability. More even, maybe. I took deep breaths, trying not to feel like I needed a paper bag. I – I needed a better shirt. I was choking.

"Can I get a new shirt?" My voice warbled. That's the only reason I noticed it too was different. Christ, did I have anything left?

Think more, feel less.

"I can get you something," a female trooper I didn't know told me softly. Blonde, pale skin. "Follow me, please?"

We were in the basement of the PRT building. An underground garage with a sturdy steel door and holding the white PRT vans and a few interceptor cars. The officers I had rode with and the ones that I had…influenced had gone ahead. The only evidence were the keys, radios and wallets left behind in a plastic bin before the series of doors that made my skin prickle. I occupied myself with watching the walls and doors, taking in the white and grey paint job over large bricks as well as the number of times we turned.

I got a small room. Bed, desk and a chair with an attached bathroom. I sat on the bed.

The blonde trooper came back with a large Miss Militia T-shirt and star spangled socks, as well as an Aegis hoodie that I took gratefully. She smiled at me.

"If you need anything, just press the button by the door, alright?" I nodded. Locked door, electronic, room was probably soundproofed? Had to be monitored, listening devices, hidden camera. The roiling pit hadn't calmed but I was keeping it in check.

Once she left, I put on my new clothes in the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I raised a skeptical eyebrow.

Okay, that expression fit my new face really well, but so did a small smile. Alright. Okay. Fine.

I could do this.

Just relax.

I could hear footsteps approaching my room.

Whoever it was broke off from a group of three, slightly off balance…forwards? Carrying something? Irregular steps, like a slight limp, their right foot came down harder than their left but still light, smaller person. Female? Jingling, loud so it wasn't in their pocket and the telltale scrape of metal against metal. Carabiner holding keys? I knew by now what the PRT armor sounded like and it was missing, plain clothes officer. My ears didn't twitch like a dog's while doing this, thank god for small mercies. That would have been one indignity too far.

They stopped walking and a few seconds later, I heard three quiet, but firm knocks on the door. "Taylor?"

Woman, same one from before but she took off her body armor. I felt the pleased smile on my face as I opened my eyes. The room was upside down. No muscle fatigue yet or blood rushing to my head.

"Yup!" I called back as I scissored my legs back together. A few breaths to control my giddiness before it got away from me, then I stood up. What girl doesn't wish she could do splits at some point in their lives? Just to test myself as I couldn't in the van, I did a standing split against the wall and then bent backwards until I could lay my palms against the floor. Too easy. I went through all the gymnastic poses I could think of. My balance was great, and well, I know double jointed is a thing. Is triple jointed a thing? It was now.

There was just something great about doing things you know should have you screaming in agony.

"We thought you'd be a bit hungry." There was a buzz and the metal shutters over the small window on the door pulled back. A lunch tray was slid through the gap onto the metal slab that was bolted to the inside.

Thinking about it, I was a bit hungry like I could nibble on something. Considering I haven't eaten in five days, that was a bit weird. I grabbed the tray. It was Taco Tuesday with a kind of siesta salad, sliced orange and a lemonade Capri Sun. Normal stuff, so what was I smelling? I sniffed a few times. Something…artificial. The meat?

I swallowed, and decided to give the PRT cooks the benefit of a doubt. "Thanks."

After I moved the tray, the officer slipped what looked a lot like a laptop through. I put dinner on the desk and grabbed the computer. "It's just a few basic questions. Name, birth date, next of kin, last thing you remember before the incident," she said in a hopeful, upbeat tone. "What you've noticed about yourself, things like that."

"I can do that." I hope they weren't expecting clear answers about the mind screw thing. 'Avoid thinking hard at people' was about all I had.

"Your father's here." My heart jumped into my throat. "He's talking with the Deputy Director right now but you should be able to speak with him soon. The laptop has WIFI while you wait. Sound good?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Hang in there a little longer, sweetheart."

I sat down cross-legged on the bed with the laptop. Flipping it open, I was greeted with a spinning blue and silver PRT logo. A grey progress bar filled up and the form the officer talked about showed up on the screen. I filled out my name, gender, DOB and essentials as I munched on black beans and corn from the salad before my curiosity got the better of me. I opened the browser and typed 'Winslow High' in the search bar. The first page instantly flooded with links to news articles dating 5 days ago to yesterday.

"Crap." I knew it. I knew I knew it. Seeing it confirmed just made me feel exhausted. I clicked on the video link of a male reporter in front of the school thumbnail.

The first thing I heard was the granulated sound of high wind from the small speakers. A newspaper whipped across the sidewalk. "This is Ryan Shannegh of Daily News out here in the eye of the storm at Winslow High School in Brockton Bay!" I raised an eyebrow. That didn't sound good. "I know all of you can see it, but just – just look at this, Maron!"

The camera man swung the camera up.

There was a hurricane above my school. Dark purple storm clouds as far as the camera could see swirled above the city. The video panned back and forth a few times as the reporter chattered in the background. Instead of creating a vortex like a tornado, the clouds just didn't go any further. They curved up instead creating a tunnel as the eye of the storm. The eye must have been a few blocks across but if anyone was curious about where the exact center was, pale rippling energy like lightning arced down above the school. Looking at it sent a small shiver down my spine. Not out of fear, but it was like I just had a déjà vu without knowing what about. I guess this explained why everyone was so cautious.

And then I come out of the locker and control people. They must have been terrified I was going to go Carrie on everyone. I skipped ahead in the video.

A second after it started playing again, my yearbook picture was on the screen. "Preliminary reports suggest that this phenomenon is actually centered around the locker of Taylor Hebert, fifteen-year-old girl who was missing from afternoon classes and discovered to have actually been locked in her locker by unknown individuals."

Unknown!? The sheer rage I felt swept over me like a wave, drowning me. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I could barely breathe. I almost blacked out.

There was a crunch and a louder pop.

I reflexively pried my fingers apart but there was nothing in my hands. I looked down in my lap and found the laptop crushed into a sparking ball of melted plastic and metal. "Wha – " Something in the computer chose that moment to burst into flame. "Shit!"

Some vague idea about getting battery acid on my pants had me jumping to my feet. Which was stupid, because it was on fire. The laptop ball tumbled out of my lap and with a burst of anxiety, I caught it with my knee. I don't even know why I bothered. It was already broken. I stood there on one leg, balancing the laptop on the other as the fire died down and just tried to breathe. The flip from outrage to shock left me feeling lightheaded. Or maybe it was the fact that I had apparently turned into an elf ninja on top of everyfuckingthing else that did that.

Inhale. Exhale. I had started crying again, for the second time in a half an hour. I'd always wanted powers. Ever since I was little tying towels around my neck and pretending I was Alexandria. Now that I had them, I was wishing I could throw them away.

I needed to think about something.

I wiped away my tears and gingerly plucked the laptop ball from my knee. It wasn't even warm to the touch so I deposited it on the desk. It was metal with varnished wood pulp designed to look like planks on top. If I was just resistant to higher temperatures like I was to cold, at least it wouldn't destroy much there. From what I could see it was crushed evenly, which was a bit strange in and of itself. Thicker sections like the keyboard would need more force to crush in compared to the screen but the sphere was just about perfect. The plastic had melted evenly too. Either the heat source was also evenly distributed, or it hadn't been heat.

I sighed. Get scared, mind fuck people. Get angry, break shit. I had a very promising career as a hero in front of me.

I went over to the door and hit the button. The intercom cracked.

"Taylor Hebert." A man said in clipped, brusque tones. "I see you require another laptop."

That would be one way to put it. So, camera. I hoped there wasn't one in the bathroom. I bit my lip. "Yes, sorry."

"I will requisition another one for you." I faintly heard the sound of typing. "Can you tell me what happened? You are not in trouble," he said quickly. "I am simply curious."

You and me both, buddy. "I got angry. I'm not sure what happened." I looked back at the ball of plastic. "But it wasn't super strength."

"I see. What had angered you?"

My forehead hit the wall above the speaker. Breathe. "No one came forward about who shoved me in that locker."

"Untrue." My eyebrows raised against the metal. "It took longer than was ideal, but are the names Emma Barnes, Madison Clements and Sophia Hess accurate?"

"Yes." My voice had a slight echo.

"I cannot share details about ongoing investigations, but what happened to you was no less than assault." Hearing someone else say that, someone else acknowledge that made me smile. "We are pushing for the harshest punishments feasible."

"Probably helps that it was very public," I muttered. I really had no illusions about how much it fucking took for anyone…to see me.

"Yes, it did."

I snorted. That's the way the shit cookie crumbles. "Did I hurt anyone?"

"Master Stranger protocols have a standard seventy-two-hour length – "

"No," I cut him off. And there was the guilt for that again. Thank you very much, officer. "I mean, the storm."

He paused. More typing. "The storm covered the entirety of the city limits up to roughly twenty thousand feet. Planes grounded, air traffic was circumvented to Portsmouth International. One plane crash, forty six casualties. Another plane has been reported missing along with its passengers."

I leaned against the wall and just listened. He had a nice voice, strong and nonjudgmental.

"I-95 was congested for several hours of public panic, minor incidents. Fourteen dead and over one hundred injured. The PRT and Protectorate handled cases of civil unrest in various populated areas."


The intercom crackled with the clothy rumble of an adjusting microphone, as if he was leaning in. "None of this is on you. This was done to you. You had no choice or control in the matter and as much a victim as those in the hospital, understand?"

He wanted me to believe him. I could feel that. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." I could hear the slight smile in his voice. "In approximately ten minutes, there will be an escort to take you to your father. Director Piggot is now on site and wishes to speak to you both."

Ten minutes to figure out exactly how I wanted this all the end. "Understood."

"Armsmaster, out."


That was Armsmaster?