Chapter 1: The End of the Hard, Ugly Road
"And the numbers get better?" The Library of Alexandria, former PRT Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown, said, standing in the rain. Next to her was a small girl, about twelve years old, with short-cropped brown hair. She was sitting under an umbrella, and a small little dish of iced confectionaries sat on the table in front of her.
"Yes, much better if Skitter surrenders," Dinah Alcott replied. She nibbled on the confectionary in front of her slowly. Alexandria turned slightly to regard her, watching the dribbles of rain running down the side of her visor. Alexandria noted that Dinah was uneasy, but she did not detect a lie. No involuntary eye movements, no quickening of the heart, no facial expressions. She was telling the truth.
"If she's killed?" Alexandria asked, turning away, looking out at the rising dawn. Streaks of orange light crept across the sky, bringing light back into the world. She heard the rustle of cloth as Dinah's father reached for a confectionary of his own. Ordinarily, Dinah only gave predictions over the phone, but for this one, she had made an exception.
For good reason of course, since it concerned her savior, Skitter. Alexandria had relinquished her position as Chief Director, now only the Chief Deputy Director in the wake of the secrets revealed by Echidna's copy. It was something that Cauldron had not foreseen.
"They get worse," Dinah said, and her voice was much smaller, timid, compared to her earlier obstinance when she had demanded to see Alexandria.
"It has to be me?" Alexandria turned back towards the father and daughter and stepped away from the rain, back under the large umbrella. The rain had already soaked into the fabric of her uniform, making the grey tower on her chest almost invisible. She was not bothered by the cold or damp, her power having taken care of any physical discomfort.
Just as physical ills did not assail her perfect body, so to were physical joys muted, as if felt through a tough cloth. Only her supernatural awareness kept her from tearing the world apart, just as she carved grooves in the concrete walls of the room where she was reborn. Unbidden, a flash of memory flickered before Alexandria's eyes, of her own broken body, lying broken and dying upon a hospital bed.
"Yes," Dinah breathed, the words soft and silent, before continuing in an almost breathless whisper, "95.9 percent chance you die."
The confectionary that she had raised to her mouth tasted like ash, Alexandria noted, almost detached. She barely heard the shocked inhale from Mr. Alcott, as he processed what Dinah was saying. Even with her image tarnished, his entire generation idolized her and the other members of the Triumvirate.
Her voice sounded distant, even to her own ears, "The numbers are better?"
"The numbers are better."
Slowly, almost glacially, Alexandria nodded, turning away again as she did so. It was strange, she mused, she had spent years of her youth worrying about death, trying to come to terms with it. Hoping for a miracle, any miracle, and jumping on the one she was presented with. None of that prepared her for such numbers, '95.9'. In some ways, it was worse now, since it came upon her unexpected. Yes, she always knew that every Endbringer attack she flirted with death, but this was different. She had never gone to an Endbringer fight knowing that she'd die.
A flash of a pale white suit, a white fedora, across the street. Alexandria's crystal clear vision, granted by the vial she drank so many years before allowed her to see Contessa. She stood just under an awning, out of the rain. Contessa nodded. A sharp nod, expressionless, more machine than human. Still, it answered Alexandria's unspoken question.
For the first time in a long time, Alexandria felt like crying.
"Mother," the voice of a young woman spoke softly, just barely audible. The young woman stood over a feeble looking old woman. The soft, steady beeps of the EKG filled the hospital room. The old woman's eyes fluttered open, revealing dark brown eyes clouded with cataracts. Her eyes were set in a sallow, aged face. The years had not been kind.
"Becca?" She croaked, sightless eyes scanning the room before a ghost of a smile graced the old woman's face as she continued hoarsely, "I knew you'd come back someday!"
Alexandria, Becca to her mother, gave a strained smile. Her iconic visor and black costume were absent. She was clad in a crisp grey suit. No makeup was on her face. She looked exactly like her mother had seen her all those years before, albeit then she was the sick one, and her mother was healthy.
"Yes," Alexandria whispered, grasping her mother's hand tightly, but not so tightly that she'd hurt her mother, "I came to see you one last time."
A flicker of a frown graced her mother's face, evidentially she noticed as well that something was wrong with Alexandria. Still, she did not ask, and Alexandria was grateful for it. Even if the reason was probably that her mother dared not risk this meeting going sour.
"I watched every one of your speeches," Her mother said, staring at where she thought Alexandria's face was, "I told everyone that you were my daughter. I was always proud of you, Becca."
Alexandria let a small smile touch her lips, even as the nostalgia for times past threatened to consume her. It was a sad smile. The smile one gives to a loved one as they lie on their deathbed. Or perhaps the smile of one lying on their deathbed.
"I missed you mother," Becca said, letting just a little bit of the little girl that died in that hospital shine through. The little girl that had died so that Alexandria might live. A little girl who had turned to violence in order to save the world.
Was it worth it?
Alexandria strode towards the Brockton Bay Protectorate Headquarters. Her sharp eyes noted the insects, swirling in agitation. She paid them no mind, she had an appointment with death to keep.
Almost mechanically she went through the motions, threats slipped free from her mouth, but her heart wasn't in it. She knew she came across as even more callous than usual, as she delivered her Ultimatum to the teenager in front of her.
Somehow, she would die today. Most likely because of the teenage villain in front of her, Skitter. She wanted to rail against the injustice, to fight. Spit in the face of Dinah and Contessa. Spit in the face of death. There was nothing she wanted more than to live.
However, it had to be done, for the greater good.
As insects flooded her esophagus, and she felt her vision swim, even as the concrete parted like water around her, she was reminded of the sores in her mouth, so long ago, as she lay on that bed.
"The numbers get better," Dinah's voice flashed before her mind, as she plummeted to the Earth, cracking the asphalt beneath her. Spots of darkness flashed before her eyes. She could feel it as neuron after neuron flashed in death. Her mental acuity decreasing, it was a slow death. She knew from personal experience that it takes about two minutes to die from choking. She got to bear witness to three, her perfect memory took that long to fail.
For the Greater Good.
Was it worth it?
As Alexandria died, she heard the crunch of snow.