Chapter 1

I stood on a street corner, terrified. A discarded newspaper lay on the ground next to me. It was dated 2011. Normally an old newspaper wouldn't scare me, but considering this one was brand new and everything I could see was radically different, I was alarmed. My breathing sped up and I looked around hoping to see someone I recognized, never mind that I had done the same minutes before.

I had to face the facts: I was alone. Alone and four years in the past. I didn't have my dad or anyone else from the Birdcage. I didn't even have New Wave. They were with my other self, assuming she hadn't popped out of existence or something.

I hadn't felt this alone since I had first gone to the Birdcage. That had turned out okay by certain definitions. So maybe this would too? What a joke. How could this turn out well? I was in the past. There was no chance that anyone would believe me if I was crazy enough to tell anyone. I would be called a stranger and sent back to the Birdcage. I angrily brushed away the tears that had begun to trail their way down my cheeks.

Maybe I should do that. Get myself sent back to the Birdcage so I couldn't hurt anyone and I could see my dad again? No, that was a shitty plan. There were few enough people I cared about hurting and I had a better handle on my powers now than when I disfigured Victoria.

I tried to calm down. I stared out at the street and contemplated how nice it looked. It was a shithole, but it was Brockton Bay before Leviathan or The Nine or Scion, so in comparison it was beautiful and full of hope. Yes, the dilapidated buildings and two drug dealers I could see on either corner positively reeked of hope. Apparently being cynical was a good coping strategy. I felt better already.

I went back to redesigning my entire life. What did I even want to do? The despair threatened to crush me, but I tried to at least come up with some options. Going back to New Wave was familiar, but Carol would be just as awful as she had always been. Vicky, on the other hand, wouldn't hate me.

I could stand to be away from her now so maybe we could have a more healthy relationship? Be an independent and see Victoria whenever we encountered each other with the possibility of becoming friends?

That sounded reasonable or at least plausible. I would need a disguise for my civilian identity so that no one would recognize me as Amy Dallon.

To get a disguise I needed income. I had $50 on me, but that wasn't enough to get a good disguise and certainly not enough to eat for very long. Okay, what were my options? I could get a job like a normal person, be a vigilante and live off money from criminals, be a villain, or heal people for money.

I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of being a villain. Spending time with dad definitely made me more morally flexible and I won't recoil at the idea of being a criminal the way I would before. I'm still a little cautious, especially considering that if it ever gets out that I'm a potential S-class threat I do not want to be on the wrong side of the law. Even aside from all that it would burn bridges with Victoria if she ever found out so that's nixed.

Being a vigilante sounds nice, but is probably way too dangerous without a team. I would still have all the gang's animosity, but I would also have additional restrictions and less income. If I ever stepped over the line I would be forced into joining an existing group pretty quick.

I could be a rogue? A healer? Similar to how I acted as Panacea, but with actually being paid and the hospital not being as helpful or controlling. There would definitely be enough people for me to heal. I remembered all the people I left untreated when I went home for the day when I was Panacea. I could also do brains now. That would be what I specialized in: psych ward patients and whoever would pay the most to get to the front of the line. I could also do elective procedures! Nonessential things that people still wanted like cosmetic surgery or stronger bones. To get people to trust that I was a real healer and not trying to master people or something I would need to talk to the Protectorate and get them to say I could actually heal people. To do that I needed a costume. Those were some good easy first goals.

I walked up to the PRT's front desk, with my newly straightened and dyed green hair.

"Hello I'm Aceso and I would like to be verified as a healer." My mask was an expanded version of a domino mask made from thin wood with little branches growing up over my head. I had made it out of some foliage in the woods. Combined with my hair, I looked like a tree. It was the best I could do on short notice. It did imply I worked more with plants than flesh, which was a good impression to give since I was trying to distinguish myself from Panacea. Though maybe naming myself after a goddess of healing wasn't a great way to distance myself from her.

The man sitting behind the desk smiled at me and replied "Okay Aceso, I'll call someone to get you started on the verification process. You can take a seat."

"Thank you."

I turned around and took a seat in one of the blue cloth chairs that wasn't too close to anyone else. After a couple minutes a man came out of the door next to the reception desk and called for me.

I stood and followed him through the hall into what looked like his office. It was small. There were folders strewn across his desk. I saw something about asians being arrested, which was probably less racist than it sounded considering there was a gang that was explicitly "Azn".

"Hello Aceso, I'm Deputy Director Renick." He reached out his hand, which I shook. "Now to start, what are your powers?" he said.

"I manipulate biology, mostly plants, but I can kind of nudge animal, including human, physiology to help people. I can accelerate healing, correct hormonal imbalances and produce different proteins. This means I can't fix broken bones or regrow limbs, but I can fix pretty much any sickness if I get to see them a couple times. Even cancer. I can also cure most mental illnesses." I obviously could heal broken bones, but I would leave that to Panacea.

"Wow, that's quite impressive, but I'm sure you understand we'll need some kind of proof."

"Of course. That's why I'm here," I agreed obligingly.

"I can go get a plant for you to use your power on, but to demonstrate your ability to heal humans you'll need an appointment with Brockton Bay General Hospital. I'll be back in a second with a fern or something and then we can set up a second appointment, okay?"

"That sounds great."

"Okay I'll be right back." He stepped out, leaving me to my thoughts.

This was going well so far, better even than when I had had to do it as Panacea. The most problematic thing was giving a description of my powers that I would be comfortable using in the future. I couldn't just regrow someone's arm in front of the PRT if I needed to without being caught lying, but those kinds of situations were relatively rare.

The door opened and Renick stepped in carrying a small potted plant with white spots on its leaves. He set it on the table in front of me and gestured.

"So I just need to see you make a visible change to the plant. Whenever you're ready."

I reached out and put my hand on one of the leaves and studied its biology. It looked moderately poisonous, but that wasn't really important. I directed its leaves to start producing carotenoids as pigment and decomposing chlorophyll. It started darkening a little after a second, quickly blooming into bright orange.

I looked at Renick. He was staring at the plant looking mildly surprised.

"How was that?" I asked.

"Good. Now let's set up that appointment at the hospital."

"That plant is going to die if I don't change it back, by the way."

Meeting my other self was very weird. I tried not to let it show, but I couldn't get over how awful she looked. She had bags under her eyes and her demeanor was mostly one of irritation, but she also looked like she was about to pass out. I don't think I actually had when I went to the hospital, but I mentally prepared myself to catch her if she actually did fall anyway. It would really suck if she brained herself on a bed or something.

Did I really look like that before?

At least I knew that she hadn't ceased to exist on my arrival. That would have been hard to explain.

"Panacea is going to monitor Miss Thompson here to see how you deal with the patient's illness. You just need to use you power when Panacea is ready," a nurse at the hospital told me. Panacea walked forward and put a hand on the patient's arm.

"Go ahead," urged my twin.

I reached out, putting my hand on her shoulder and started looking at what was wrong. She had the flu: not a difficult problem to fix. I started telling the viruses in her body to stop replicating. I also got infected cells to start apoptosis to stop any more viruses from getting made, decreased production of histamine to reduce her symptoms, and I lowered her body temperature threshold in the hypothalamus. This was more subtle than I usually did things, but with Panacea watching I couldn't just order all the viruses to go get eaten by a macrophage because she would be pretty interested that a new parahuman used exactly the same technique as her. It would work just as well, just leave her tired and with a slightly runny nose.

"Huh. I guess that works," mused Panacea, "You'll still be tired and might have a runny nose, but you're… I'm not quite sure if I'd call this cured yet because the virus is still there, but you'll be fine. It'll be gone in a day at most."

"Thank you so much, dear," miss Thompson thanked me. I smiled and nodded then turned to the nurse.

"So do I need to prove I can cure all sorts of different illnesses or is this it?"

"That's mostly up to Panacea as she's the one verifying your powers."

"If you can just tell me how you'd solve different problems I can just ask you a few questions," Panacea sighed, "but if your powers just do things without your input then I'll need to see it in action a few more times."

"I know what I'm doing with my powers," I replied "I stopped the viruses reproduction then lessened her immune system's response to clear up the symptoms." That might have come out a little more hostile than it should have. I had worked plenty hard to earn that PhD. My powers helped, but I worked too damnit! I had to study for like a week straight to get all that terminology down.

"Ah, good. Then we can just have an interview like thing in the break room I guess."

I started down the hall to the break room. Then I stopped. I shouldn't know where it is, right?

"I don't know where I'm going," I said as I turned to her. She gave me a little grin and said "You were right. It's that way," and she took the lead. Once we were there, she gave me a quiz on how I would solve different problems.

After I had answered all of her questions we relaxed a bit and she confessed, "I'm glad you're here, it should lessen the number of people I can't get to."

"You're welcome, especially since I'm going to be getting all the rich entitled assholes," I told her. She looked at me, raising an eyebrow.

"Why is that?"

"Because I'm a rogue," I said. She looked at me in confusion for a second before her eyes widened and she almost glared at me.

"And you can get paid because you're over eighteen."

"Yep." I agree. I remember being pretty fed up with the child protection laws Youth Guard had gotten passed that didn't let underaged parahumans work. They prevented kids from being taken advantage of which was great, but kind of screwed people like me who ended up working all the time for free.

"You're so lucky you don't have to deal with that shit. I still have to wait three years before I can get paid," Panacea complained.

"I might have a bit more experience than you think," I replied.

She eyed me for a second before apparently deciding she wasn't interested and asked "So do you have a plan for the people who can't afford you or are they just shit out of luck?"

"I'll charge on a case by case basis. Rich people pay me a ton; poor people pay little. I can make especially big price hikes for elective stuff," I answered.

"Elective stuff?"

"Cosmetic surgery, stronger bones, that kinda thing," I elaborate. I actually do plan on becoming a hero, just with extra income. To get that I'm gonna play a little hard to get. The Protectorate will certainly cave to letting me sell my services to whoever, in exchange for recruiting me, once I have a chance to show off a little. Not in a fight, that's still too dangerous without a team. I would just give some people augmentations. I did pick up a few things from Riley, after she became a hero after all.

"Ahh…" What? Did that make her uncomfortable around me or something? It could evoke images of Bonesaw or Nilbog, but I don't think I would have been this agitated around someone instantly like this. It's not like I suggested she do it… Oh. She's jealous. Then beating herself up over wanting to do more with her powers. I'd like to encourage her, but it isn't like her worries are completely unfounded. Either the ones about doing something horrible or Carol getting pissed.

If Amy branched out into doing whatever her (our?) passenger considered interesting she would probably be less likely to have a meltdown like I did, but I can't really tell her that. Not directly at least. I might be able to help her with a more long term approach. Maybe get her to work more on animals?

"Do you want to go out to get coffee with me sometime?" I asked. Establishing a friendship with her would let me try and help her mental state and give me a way to interact with Vicky again. This might be a little manipulative, but I don't really care.

"Uhh…" she stammered, eyes widening and starting to blush. Shit! She thinks I just asked her out!

"Just as friends! Not like a date or anything!"

"Sorry, I don't drink coffee. I'll go tell them you can heal people. Bye," she squealed and practically ran away.


I walked back to the woods where I had made my mask. That was where I had slept the night before. There was a large bump at the bottom of the trunk with a space big enough to sleep inside of. I probably would need to sleep here another night while the PRT talked with Panacea and got my certificate ready.

I might as well make my little home nicer if I had to stay here. I made the tree spread out towards nearby trees a couple feet above head height, taking material from the branches and higher parts of the tree. When it reached one of the other trees I walked over to it and made the two trees combine to create one larger organism if only on a technical level so that I could manipulate both without having to touch them both if I needed to change something. I repeated this process several times until I had four trees connected by a living roof. I then made walls and grew the roots into a kind of floor.

There I had made a nice little one room house I just needed to furnish. I made a mattress out of something like phloem so that it was firm, but not hard. I could make a door, but I realized if I don't make one random people can't just walk in. I'll just make one part require less work to open than others and make that into an opening whenever I want to go in or out. I also make some lights, small regions on the ceiling that glow blue with bioluminescence.

Maybe I could make something to eat too. I turned some of the surrounding wall into something like an apple. I put some cellulose, sugars and minerals into it and finally put a nice red skin on it.

I took a bite and gagged. No, that was disgusting, sour, bitter and gross. Growing my own food might take some work. For now I'd just have to spend some of the little money I had left.