Chapter 1

I had a headache, and it wasn't because of my medication. Or the dialysis. Or any Thinker headaches, since I wasn't a cape. I'm 99% sure. For all I know, there are Thinkers out there who have a Stranger power that made them appear powerless on an MRI. That sounds like the kind of bullshit that exists in Brockton Bay.

No, I had a headache because the Simurgh had just attacked Canberra, and now almost all of the Protectorate were off fighting a goddamn giant monster that mind raped people because we can't have nice things. I wasn't a Simurgh bomb, I was just fighting off a nasty cold where I had taken my first day off since I got this job almost a decade ago.

The Simurgh is why we can't have nice things. I flipped the bird, knowing with vague certainty that her precognition allowed her to see it, even all the way in Australia. Probably.

All regional directors were supposed to be awake and ready for anything while an Endbringer attacks, but this headache was monstrous, even by my standards. So here I was, my head thumping like an overly loud concert in my office instead of sleeping off whatever infection I had, in my comfortable bed. I'm just going to lay back in my chair. Surely just mulling over Simurgh trivia in my head would make up for it. Shaker, Tinker, Master/Shaker, Thinker…

I jolted upright. I blearily recalled something I saw on the news just the other day. Canary was often compared to the Simurgh, with feathers and a Master ability that affected humans at a distance. She also wore yellow. You know who else is yellow and can affect humans at a distance?

Glory Girl.

I reached into my drawer and pulled out a stack of folders. There are many different levels of clearance available. The first level is public, official releases of information. At this level, Glory Girl was listed as Shaker 1. Wouldn't do to have the local teen superhero also be a human Master. This level of info was sparse and filled with rampant internet speculation, since most civilian level instructions amounted to "RUN", "HIDE", and "CALL FOR HELP". Also, unofficially of course: "YOU'RE FUCKED."

Just above the first level was PRT trooper, they had much more practical detail. Here, Glory Girl was still Shaker 1, but her file listed its known effects in the field, as well as strategies to combat it. Those kinds of files brought back nostalgia as well as a niggling feeling of rage.

One half level above that was the version for Wards. It includes in depth threat assessment as well as known power interactions, and further combat strategies that takes power use into account. This is the first level to actually acknowledge the fact that Glory Girl was a Master/Shaker, although it's still listed as level 1.

Then there's the Protectorate level, which has Thinker analysis as well, and perhaps some more sensitive information: concerning known operations, speculations, casualty count, and other information that was decidedly not kid-friendly. Usually unsavory vices and gross human rights violations.

At the Director level (well, there was surely a level above for the Chief Director's eyes only), with in depth information that even capes would balk at. This was where the Unwritten Rules broke down, where Watchdog and human analysts alike worked to determine the civilian identities of every villain in the United States. A very substantial percentage of the Protectorate would quit if this speculation was made known to them, so we try to keep mum.

Finally, there is my personal level. It's the same as the Director level of course, but it's filled with my own thoughts and suspicions. Here, I wrote down, scrawled in pencil Glory Girl's rating the first time I met her: Master/Shaker 3+(?). I could tell that her aura was being used passively, but even then the effect was quite noticeable. If she worked at it, trained it, focused it on her enemies, she could stop an entire PRT contingent without even touching them. The fact that she wasn't even practicing that aspect was suspicious.

All capes have an urge to use their powers, like addicts that made their own product, and occasionally sold it to others. The Merchants were just the ones to take it literally.

Fucking Merchants. I'd have had them rooted out years ago, if it weren't for the much larger gangs in the city, and that stupid idea that maybe, just maybe, Squealer and Skidmark et al could take part in an Endbringer battle. Orders from up top, as it were. Never mind all the drugs being pumped out onto the streets, nor the teens whisked away to a shitty drugged up life.

The only somewhat beatable target, and I can't deal with them. Status quo is God. Just wish I could do something about it.

Now, I have no delusions that I'm important. I'm a minor character at best in the grand scheme of things. I at least hoped to be the stern no nonsense mentor character (or at least let Armsmaster be that, if it means I can avoid death by teaching), but since last year, I've come to terms with the fact that the PRT and Protectorate ENE were not the A Team. We're almost definitely antagonists.

Well, at least an obstacle to overcome. How am I so sure? It's simple really: Triumph and Gallant. Triumph is the mayor's son, and Gallant is a billionaire. It reeks of privilege so hard we're clearly the asshole rival baseball team the underdogs will have to beat for the state championship.

And don't even get me started on the whole "mayor's son" thing. That just stinks of someone on his family being kidnapped for ransom and/or superpowers. Because powers tend to run in families.

Where was I? Oh yes, status quo. It's been like this for almost a year now, and that's just concerning. This was Brockton Bay, and this tense almost-lack-of-change just smelled of a storm approaching. Now, we got Shadow Stalker to join the Wards back in September, and there was that new Undersiders gang that formed recently, but besides Coil entrenching himself further, and the E88 and ABB doing their thing, nothing's been really different.

Something's going to break, and when it happens, all hell will break loose.

I groaned and waited. Soon, Armsmaster and pals will return to the Bay, and we can get back to the grind.

March was a dull month, but at least it was predictably dull, comparatively. Of course, when your job meant dealing with every parahuman in the city, and beyond, March was just another hectic month.

So there's a new bomb Tinker up in New York. She wasn't captured, but almost got away with murdering an entire university in a gigantic explosion. And she escaped. Damn it, Legend.

No big deal, it's not that important— wait a minute, she's from Boston. And Asian. And crazy. Looks like the ABB has a new member. The New York PRT knows her identity. And they still didn't catch her. God damn it, Legend.

That's a potential inciting incident if I ever saw one. She might not be a protagonist, but she sounds important. But of course, there is no way I'd be able to get funding or aid based on a "that crazy Asian cape will probably be recruited by the Asian gang in the city about a hundred miles away from New York but close within driving distance from her birth city".

Because that would be racist.

Never mind the fact of course Lung would jump at the chance of hiring one of the few not-yet-affiliated Asian villains on the East coast. Especially a Tinker.

Especially since we have evidence of Lung leaving Brockton Bay sometime just after the bombing attempt and the Tinker's escape.

What were we even paying Watchdog for, anyway? Oh wait, it's to not turn villain and work for the public good, that's why.

So, now we have a crazy bomb Tinker in the city, probably. She's laying low, almost definitely building up Tinker tech and bombs, equipping the ABB with exploding bullshit in their inevitable war against the E88 for territory. With any luck, they'd attack the Merchants first, but I doubt we'd be so lucky. Probably.

Our main priority would be to stop bomb detonations, followed by the capture of the Tinker and removal of Tinker tech weapons distributed to the ABB.

It's all speculation of course, and I had a reputation to uphold. I couldn't just "waste PRT resources" willy-nilly on "imagined threats". Perish the thought we be proactive in preventing a mad bomber from blowing us all to smithereens.

Everything is going to have to be in-house, using as little resources and personnel as possible. That would mean… using parahumans. Tinkers, given enough time, were hard counters for most other capes by virtue of adaptability, sheer bullshit, and preparation. The only parahumans that can match them were Thinkers and other Tinkers.

Thinkers available in Brockton Bay were… Gallant, except he reads people, not locations. We think the Undersiders have a Thinker, but that's speculative at best. Uber? Tinkers around are Kid Win, Armsmaster, and… Leet.

I'm no Tinker, but going from laser guns and a hoverboard to sniffing out and defusing Tinker made bombs somewhere in the city was a huge step up. That, and the Youth Guard would string me up by my dialysis tubes.

Calling on Armsmaster and tasking him with developing a device that can detect bombs would make sense. And he definitely could do it, and if not, he had an in with Dragon. Yes, that was a very prudent course of action, and I can play to his ego too, be the best Tinker in the city, able to find all the bomb Tinker's bombs before they go off. I'll have to call him in soon.

What else is he working on? Let's see… based on his recent reports, he was working on a tranquilizer that can knock out Lung, a lie detector, and a halberd that can kill an Endbringer. Well, can't really fault him for trying the latter, so I'll just tell him to take some time away from the lie detector and tranquilizer. It's not like Lung's going anywhere. Except out to New York for a recruitment drive, but that's beside the point.

It was the beginning of April when I went over events for the upcoming month. Nothing too spectacular, since most of it was empty besides the Wards doing community outreach, on account of supervillains not working on a schedule.

Well they did: drug shipments, racketeering, recruitment rallies, and the like, but we weren't privy to those schedules, so we just winged it and responded whenever something caught our eye.

No wonder we were losing the streets. If only we had the budget and personnel for a better investigative unit. Miss Militia and I playing amateur detective and Armsmaster waving his magic staff around doesn't really cut it. Alas, another dream.

A quick glance at one notable scheduled event made me raise an eyebrow. Hmm, a PR event where of all the Protectorate would be away. That definitely does not sound like something the local villains would take advantage of, leaving us defenseless against dangerous parahumans. No siree, they'll be polite and wait for the heroes to return from their engaging brown nosing and photo ops. They're cordial like that.

I'm just going to keep… well, Armsmaster is our headliner, Assault and Battery are a duo, Triumph is our new triumph (damn it Glenn), Miss Militia is our go-to patriot, and Dauntless is our… Greek? He's been dubbed "a rising star", but really, that was code for him likely getting killed by an S class threat before the year was out. Well I guess I'm keeping him here. He's a Mover, so he can handle the breadth of the city. Oh wait there's also Velocity. Fuck, I already sent the email.

… No one's going to notice Velocity being gone too.

Being woken up in the middle of the night was a common occurrence for me. Nine times out of ten, it was bad news or horrible news. So when I received a blaring call at two in the morning followed by Console whooping out cheers, I knew something was up. Unlike everyone else though, I wasn't jumping for joy at the news.

Armsmaster, without fanfare, defeated Lung.

Lung. An actual, literal, honest-to-God dragon. The parahuman who once took down the entire ENE Protectorate by himself, and then immediately conquered all of the separate Asian gangs and smushed them into one Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The one so powerful he hard countered the entire Empire 88 with one parahuman henchman.

Bull-fucking-shit. Something was fishy, and that was enough to call Master/Stranger protocols on Armsmaster, because someone was lying.

I also called up the night shift guys and asked for context news from our anonymous ABB moles. There had to more to this story. You don't just take down the most powerful villain in the city in one stroke so quickly unless you were a goddamn protagonist.

Armsmaster was not protagonist material. He was the veteran, the guy who'd been around the block so long nothing fazed him anymore. The consummate professional. A mentor figure to the Wards. The leader of the Protectorate. He's too prominent, too well known, too established. He doesn't shake things up, he's a cornerstone of the status quo.

In one fell swoop, the status quo was changed. While there was a very high probability Lung would be broken out of prison, what with their new Tinker, but this situation just didn't happen. Hookwolf, Cricket, and such got caught and failed to go to the Birdcage, not fucking Lung!

This was it. The inciting incident has occurred. The first sign of a changing city. Dominoes were now about to fall, or have fallen, and things were going to get worse.

The fire has been lit on the powder keg that was Brockton Bay.

I shambled out of bed and got dressed. A wet towel on my face and a quick hairbrushing was all I could care to do before I left my apartment and entered the armored black PRT SUV parked outside.

"Report," I looked at the two agents, nodding at them as they weakly saluted.

"Armsmaster has reported for M/S screening as you requested, although not without complaint. He's currently at PRT headquarters. Miss Militia and Triumph are patrolling right now, ready just in case something happens," the first agent spoke.

I nodded, "Get the rest of Protectorate up and ready and have the PRT squads on standby. We'll need all hands on deck for this. Inform New Wave as well."

"What about the Wards?" the agent asked as the car started driving to base.

"We'll have them at base in the morning, but alert them nonetheless. Inform local hospitals, police departments, fire stations, and emergency response too. Any news from the ABB contacts?"

"Word of Lung's capture has already spread, but one of our guys said that the Undersiders stole from one of their casinos just before Lung rampaged. Think that has anything to do with it?"

"Unless they had a precog that knew Lung would be going down," I mused, "We believe one of their members is a Thinker, yes?"

The agent nodded, "High level, we assume, but no specifics. Watchdog analysis request has already been sent."

"Good. Hopefully this incident with Lung is enough to get us some priority for once," I grumbled. The agent passed me a can of coffee, which I drank immediately. It slowly flowed down my throat like bitter gelatin covered in dust. That was going to hurt later.

As soon as we got into the building, I asked for Armsmaster's camera footage from the fight, and I was displeased at how little there actually was.

A lot of it was grainy, with bits being cut off and static everywhere. In fact, it altogether failed before Armsmaster even fought Lung, cutting off a few minutes after he received info from console.

I massaged my temples before motioning to some of his guards. His M/S screening was finished, and he was tentatively clear. If he wasn't being controlled, we need him back on the streets before the gangs act up.

Finishing my third cup, I was escorted by troopers to the interrogation room.

Like every stereotypical interrogation room, it was a dark, gray rectangular room with a single metal table and two metal chairs opposing each other. There was also a one way mirror where one analyst was looking at us, judging our every movement. As long as he wasn't distracted.

The trooper closed the door behind me and I sat down opposite to Armsmaster, who was sitting neutrally, staring directly at me. Despite that, I could tell he was annoyed.

"Director, I can assure you I have not been tampered with in any way. With Lung down, there will undoubtedly be unrest, so I would like to return to the Rig to restock on supplies before heading out for another patrol," he said matter-of-factly. Based on the notification Dragon sent me, Armsmaster hadn't slept in almost forty hours. He must be getting better caffeine than me.

Fucking Tinkers. Them and their genetically enhanced yet somehow also sustainably grown coffee beans. Especially for not sharing it with the rest of us.

Pushing the thought out of my head, I replied, "I don't think your mind has been tampered with, but your equipment definitely has. It cut out before you encountered Lung."

He awkwardly shifted, "I may have… neglected maintenance in that particular aspect of my helmet."

I frowned, "You let your own wearable Tinker tech break down?"

"It was a lower priority, nonessential components. And I was," he paused for a moment, "Busy. I had a breakthrough recently with the bomb detector. I must have forgotten to do scheduled maintenance."

"I think you're lying. No, I know you're lying," I glared at him, "Just because you have a lie detector doesn't mean it protects you from lying, or being caught lying. Fess up and I'll go easy on you. Call it accidental omission of information."

A bluff. He might be lying, might not be. It could be an equipment malfunction, albeit a strangely specific one.

Armsmaster shook his head, "I am not lying. My helmet camera—"

A trooper burst through the door, "Ma'am, urgent news from Brockton General. Lung's gone into cardiac arrest. And his flesh is… necrotizing?"

I'm going to assume that's bad, "What happened?"

"Docs say his regeneration failed, was suppressed by drugs."

I glanced at Armsmaster, "What the hell kind of drugs did you pump him full of?"

"Tranquilizers," Armsmaster said. He cut me off before I could respond, "There is no way they could have stopped him completely. They were too weak. After I subdued Lung with them, I had to repeatedly dose him on the way to the hospital just to keep him sedated. Even then, his lighter wounds were already healing."

That was odd. Very odd. I turned back to the trooper, "Contact Panacea."

"She's already on her way, left her home some time after we alerted New Wave."


"Assuming Lung survives this, we'll have to do a full inventory," I turned to Armsmaster, "I'm afraid someone has potentially compromised your equipment," a Tinker is likely. The ABB one? "You recently developed a countermeasure to the ABB's newest Tinker. Who's to say she didn't do the same for you?"

He frowned, "It is possible. It would explain why Lung's regeneration is failing, Who else has access to him but the ABB? But my helmet cam failing doesn't fit."

I mused, "We can't review the fight, so that means we can't look back and see any discrepancies in Lung's abilities. Perhaps we are in the middle of a coup."

"The ABB's new Tinker is unstable, erratic, has problems with authority, as well as a massive ego and superiority complex. Taking out a gang leader she joined sounds like something she would do."

That did make sense. But where did that leave us? This inciting incident, does this mean that the Tinker was important, beyond just a madwoman? Her holding a college hostage because of a bad grade wouldn't win any fans, so she had to be an antagonist, an unrepentant, evil one likely.

Then again, until the bombs go off, she hasn't killed anyone we've heard of. If they do go off, her fate is sealed. She'll either be killed or sent to the Birdcage. It's in her best interest to not blow up Brockton Bay.

Unfortunately, neither I nor Armsmaster believed this could be resolved without something exploding.

Reach out to her with a person, and the messenger likely gets blown up. Call her out on television or the internet, and she'll be insulted. She won't take anything less than a face-to-face meeting.

Calling in a truce is a gamble. We just don't know what type of person this bomber was. Most villains parlay with the so-called Unwritten Rules, but they always skirted the lines, abused it, made excuses, found loopholes, pinned the blame on others. Back when New Wave was new, and so were the rules, I remembered when Fleur was killed in her own home by the Empire. Allfather placed the blame on some no-name gangers, who took the fall and were executed live on illegally broadcasted television.

And the Empire was relatively cordial. They wanted to keep their reputation as the "civilized gang", the one keeping the riffraff in line, when the Protectorate and PRT couldn't. They positioned themselves as better, all the while they ran minorities out of town, beat and killed the rest, pumped drugs into the streets, and eroded away at the foundations of democracy that this city tried to hold onto.

When the ABB killed, assaulted and kidnapped women, doled drugs in the streets, they never did that while claiming to be better. They simply were. In time, we all came to accept that.

And they were still better than the Merchants, in the end.

What did that mean? It meant the formalities were over, now that Lung was gone. Despite everything, despite being a goddamn dragon, his cape bodycount was actually pretty low. Save the dozen he killed in his first weeks in the city, he hasn't killed much in his time here. Not because he didn't want to kill, no, I wasn't that optimistic.

No, Lung liked the status quo, right where it was. He was content with it, ruling over a quarter of the bay, able to take more whenever he wanted to, because dragon. A war would have ensued, and I had half a mind to think Lung just couldn't be bothered leading a war as general, commander, and front line berserker all at once.

This new Tinker, she didn't care for the status quo. We think she tried to kill Lung. She made bombs. She held up a school.

The fuse had been lit. The powder keg was about to ignite. And I couldn't help but wonder whether Bakuda had the same metaphor in mind when she made the sparks.

Now that was a cool ending line, so I'm going to stop while I'm ahead. Back to paperwork.

I looked up at Armsmaster, "You're free to go, but I recommend getting some sleep. Dragon's worried about you."

He looked and said, "When this is over. The situation in the city is perilous now."

I shook my head, "Better to have you rested. New Wave's up and running around, at least for the next few hours. Get three hours, at the least."

Armsmaster nodded at me. As he walked to the door, he paused, "The Undersiders were there, as well as a new Independent. She's a bug controller, roughly Wards age."

"Hmm," I grunted, "I'll read your official report in four hours. Now get some sleep."

He turned to the door and left. After a minute, I left as well.

Well, now we had Lung in custody. Sure he almost died after someone tried to pin the blame on Armsmaster, but we still had Lung in custody. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Now, how to transport him to Canada? Maybe Assault has some ideas. Unless those ideas turn out to be useless. You'd think a breakout escape expert would be great at protecting prisoner transports, but you'd be wrong.

Or maybe someone somewhere can get ahold of Strider so we don't have to move a dragon across state lines. God, I can imagine the hassle getting through customs at the national border too. I am so glad that I'm chained to my desk in Brockton Bay.

Maybe we could send him by boat up to British Columbia? Get one of Dragon's ships to disguise itself as a boat. I'm sure she can do that.

Oh why do I even bother doing this song and dance every time we capture a villain? It's not going to work, Lung is going to be broken out. Despite the incredible break out to prison send ratio, the bureaucracy and red tape of the PRT would never let things change. I can't get ahold of Strider on such a short notice. I can't just hope Dragon has a goddamn Transformer hidden along somewhere. I can't get the routes changed on a whim before they're figured out.

We're stuck. The only hope was that Bakuda really did try to kill Lung and doesn't want him out. And even then, I kept up with gang politics. It was more interesting than city politics at least.

Lung had many loyal followers, and even more people that feared him within his own gang. Now that he was gone, people would vie for leadership. Bakuda would have to assert her dominance, and while she was a cape, she could still be killed by ordinary humans. Bakuda, assuming she was smart, would recognize that she either needed to blow up a bunch of people to scare them into working for her, or she needed to bring Lung back.

Why would she bring Lung back? Well it's not like he knew that Bakuda tried to kill him. We still were iffy on that. Lung didn't blow up after all. Then again, if we're assuming Bakuda is smarter than she looks, she could have purposefully switched out her modus operandi so that Lung's loyal followers wouldn't try to crucify her after news of his death got out. She probably didn't anticipate him surviving.

After all, Panacea saved Lung, despite her usually not healing villains. Bakuda, a newcomer to the city and capehood, didn't understand the nuances of the cape scene. Panacea didn't heal villains, except under Truce and in situations that would result in death. After all, New Wave wants cape accountability, and that meant receiving a fair trial, which is impossible said villain was dead.

If Bakuda really did plan this out, then there was really only one course of action: turn Lung and Bakuda against each other. If we're right and Bakuda tried to slay a dragon (no known relation to the other group of capes that claim to be dragon slayers), then we hopefully turn a citywide gang war into an ABB civil war. And Lung would then be in our debt. Having a dragon owe us a favor would be fucking kickass.

If we're wrong, then Bakuda may die, but what will they do? They can't prove we didn't set them against each other on purpose. The PRT don't do that, we're the stuck-up by-the-books glory hogs. We would never downplay our own achievements. After all, gangsters lie all the time, and Bakuda would probably say she didn't try to kill Lung either way.

Now we just need to figure out how to break the news to Lung. Bringing in a parahuman might trigger his transformation, but then, he's a prideful man, so sending in a non parahuman "lackey" to inform him would be considered an insult.

We need to send in someone who Lung would see as an equal, or someone who Lung would agree is in an equivalent position for the "spineless and useless PRT".



I'm sure this can wait a couple days, it's not like Bakuda will break him out until after the weekend.


It was taking a couple days, and I was getting my affairs in order, and contemplating whether the insane plan was worth it (and now that I think about it, was it even ethical?) when my screen flashed.

The notification came up on my screen: "Brockton Central Bank being robbed by The Undersiders."

The Undersiders were mostly kids. Kids that have turned to a life of crime. Crime is predominantly due to poverty. Fuck, Hellhound is on their team. Can't have Dauntless beating down on poor orphans while a PR event was going on. Luckily we have our in-house child supersoldier program.

Time to play baseball.

"Aegis, your primary objective is to gather information and protect the civilians. Stopping the bank robbery is secondary."

"Ma'am?" he asked over the comms.

I had a long standing agreement with all the local bank owners. Since banks are pretty much destined to be robbed in this day and age, we've all secretly decided to collectively throw in the towel and let the insurance companies take care of it. See, banks are not that great targets to hit: we all know they get robbed, they have giant vaults that need to be cracked, and they only deal in hard currency. Why steal thousands of pieces of paper when you can steal a much smaller object worth that much? That smells like amateurs, and amateurs mean new capes. New capes to take the time to learn more about.

It sounds counter intuitive, but this operation was likely a lost cause. The Wards were well known, their powers were a matter of public record and rampant online speculation. Contrast to that, we had a murderer orphan with giant monster dogs, a human Master, a Stranger/Shaker, and two unknowns.

Not to mention the aforementioned underdogs scenario. Hell, they were the Undersiders and they had pet dogs. Dogs that turned into giant, powerful, dangerous monsters yes, but that just made the metaphor more compelling. They even have a brand new member (that bug cape Armsmaster mentioned), which means at this point I'm wondering if I'm hallucinating from how spot on this metaphor was becoming. Next thing we know they'll have actual baseball bats.

That reminds me, "Do you see what weapons they have?"

"No ma'am, it's pitch black in there. Do we have the go ahead?"

"Yes. You'll be taking point on this. Dauntless will be nearby, but will only intervene if he sees more volatile capes approach. Remember, this is recon and protection."

"Yes ma'am. Aegis out."

Good. Now to sit back and drink my coffee into submission.

"Ma'am? Glory Girl's arrived."

I frowned, "She's here to help?"

"Yes. Gallant just spoke to her. She says that Panacea is one of the hostages."

That was… extremely contrived. Now I'm no stranger to bullshit luck, but this was taking the cake. Every known teenaged cape in the city except Shadow Stalker, Shielder, and Rune were now in one location. The Wards were a response to the Undersiders, so that really left New Wave to wonder.

Unless the Undersiders were robbing the bank to get Panacea specifically. Except that was incredibly unlikely. This whole venture was well planned, coinciding with the Protectorate PR event. Not to mention them having to figure out exactly when and where Panacea would be. And even then, it would have been easier to just kidnap her outside of the bank.

No, the Undersiders did not plan this. That left three options: coincidence, New Wave plot, or unknown third party plot. The latter is tempting, but that runs into the same problem with the Undersiders theory. So unless there was a Thinker out there with bullshit precog that could actually plan this malarkey, I'll shelve this idea for later. It could be the case, depending on how this whole situation plays out.

The whole thing being a coincidence is appealing, but I did not become Director of the PRT ENE by being anything less than mildly paranoid. I searched up the files we had on Panacea, and right at the top were the words that got the gears in my head spinning.

Striker 9 (Sub Thinker 4).

A sub Thinker… Yes, she obtains full knowledge of the biological state of a person just by touching them. I always had my doubts, after all, Rule 1 of being a human among parahumans was that powers were bullshit. Mostly Tinkers, followed by teleporters, then Thinkers. But all powers have some core level of "Fuck that makes no goddamn sense and is also cheating" to them.

So a Thinker walks into a bank filled with more parahumans per square foot in the city than anywhere else at almost any other time. A place completely covered in paranormal darkness. A darkness that, according to several witness testimonies, numbed the sensation of touch.

Reconnaissance. That's what Panacea is doing at the bank. I mean, fuck, what is a minor even doing there? It's not like she makes money off of healing. Withdrawing cash can be done at any ATM, with less lines too. But how did she know to be there?

Glory Girl, my mind thought. No, it was crazy. Just because she shared one feature in common with the Simurgh, didn't mean that she also had precognition. But then again, she didn't have to obtain information that way.

She never came in for power testing, so we had no clue as to the exact limits of her aura. Or perhaps the information came from Panacea. After all, "completely learn all knowledge about a person's body just by touching" is vague and utterly terrifying. Could she read minds with a touch? Or perhaps, threaten death with her fingertips. Rule 2 of being a human among parahumans was that all powers, no matter how insignificant or niche, could be turned into a deadly weapon. No exceptions.

After all, if Panacea's powers were to only heal, why would she have a secondary power that gave her info to the body if she only went one way? Yes, she could heal selectively, but that sounded like flimsy justification to me.

Suppose New Wave was behind this, hypothetically. They send in Panacea, followed by Glory Girl. The former scouts while the latter keeps watch, and potentially aids in acquiring parahumans to touch. Whose idea was this? Certainly, it was neither Brandish nor Lady Photon. Those two wouldn't know subterfuge if it punched them in the throat.

Unless that was a ruse. Because Rule 3 of being a human among parahumans was that all capes lie their asses off. And when not lying, they prefer to stay silent and brood. Fucking Armsmaster has a balcony on the Rig for that very reason.

Even the children of New Wave, raised their whole lives in the public spotlight, have to have skeletons in their closets.

At one point in my life, I had pegged Panacea and Glory Girl as an archetypical duo-of-opposites, contenders for the ideal of protagonists. Adopted sisters with different looks, personalities, and powers. Perhaps their sisterly relationship would be a stark contrast or mirror of their mother and aunt's relationship.

Perhaps they still are. Villain protagonists are all the rage these days, gone is the age of heroes, time for some brooding. If the current climate of the entire world was any indication, especially compared to Aleph, a straight up hero main character seems unlikely.

An independent hero group seems like a good compare-and-contrast to the Protectorate, one with a secret goal hidden from the rest of the world. Villains-that-are-secretly-good-guys and Heroes-that-are-secretly-nefarious-assholes are a definite real possibility. Of course, that's my own bias talking.

I tapped my fingers on my desk. I'll have to wait and see.

I glanced back at the video feed. Nothing but darkness. I checked the radio feeds. Nothing. Right, darkness generation superpower. Well, I suppose I'll leave it to Dauntless and Aegis. It's a foregone conclusion anyways.

There was work to be done: files to read, forms to fill, orders to give, meetings to arrange and attend, and things to sign. I'll have to start with the last one. Apparently Director or Deputy Director approval is needed to sign off on changes to the cafeteria menu, which is bullshit.

And Renick was off arranging Birdcage transport for Lung. I feel like the roles should be reversed, but he was itching for more responsibility, and who was I to say no? Every time I arrange a transport the Empire broke their capes out, so I must've been doing something wrong. Either that or transporting supervillains across state and national borders by car was inherently difficult.

I was halfway through the first stack when my cell phone rang. I picked up. Because ignoring a phone call in the cape business could get someone killed.

"Hello?" It was a young girl's voice. Not the weirdest call I've gotten this month, "I need help."

"Hello dear, my name is Emily Piggot of the PRT. Is your mother or father nearby so I can talk to them?"

"Not nearby. 'Sides, they won't listen. 96.55% chance they won't listen."

I frowned, "Won't listen? Dear, what's your name, and what's going on? Are in danger?"

"I'm Dinah. Dinah Alcott. And I think someone is trying to kidnap me."

That name sounded familiar, "Dinah, is there someone in your family that's famous? Someone I might have heard of before?"

"My uncle's the mayor."

Ah. I began typing an emergency message, "Why do you think someone's trying to kidnap you?"

"I have powers."

Fucking. Called. It.

"Okay Dinah, I'm going to be sending over someone to help," luckily, the automatic call trace had finished working.

Who should I send? Police? No, kidnappers were heavy business in Brockton Bay. PRT? Perhaps, oh hey Velocity is nearby. He loves kids. I think. I rang him up.


"I'm sending you a location. There is a young girl in danger of kidnapping. She claims to be a Parahuman, which I'm inclined to agree with since she got ahold of my personal cell. Probable multiple armed hostiles, just two blocks away," Well, I actually gave out my number to Triumph's family a while back, but same diff.

"I'm on it," he hung up. Rude.

I went back to Dinah, "Are you still there?"


"Good, Velocity is on his way there, so hang tight."

"Who's that?" Dinah asked. Yeah that figured.

He's one of the city's heroes. Don't worry, he'll keep you safe. I'm turning you over to someone who can keep talking to you, okay?" I turned the call over to console with a brief message explaining the situation. Afterwards I leaned back in my chair, and pulled out a bottle of wine as Velocity confirmed pick up.

Thinking on it, only a few members of the PRT knew about the PR event. And the Protectorate of course, as well as the Wards. Those capes were suddenly busy, so they had to make room in their schedule. That would mean telling everyone they're busy.

The mayor knew, because of Triumph. The Wards probably told their parents and family. Maybe mentioned something vague to their friends, keep a lid on things. Well, any that were in on the secret would have just been told the truth. Like Gallant's girlfriend Vict—

I jolted out of my seat. Holy fuck.

"New Wave just tried to kidnap the mayor's niece."

Welcome to my fanfic! This is a very slight AU idea I had. Essentially "what if Piggot wasn't so genre blind?" and also a bit more self aware, what amount of good could the local director do as a result? What unintentional bad could butterfly in? What sort of hilarity do we get from situations and from the narration of an asshole bureaucrat? This is that answer.

Special thanks to GauchePear23 for helping with the story title, and Slenderbrine for introducing me to Worm fics all those months. If anything, this is all his fault.