Pariah [Worm Taylor Alt-Power] v2
Blurb: A very different, very public trigger event leaves Taylor with Hatchet Face's powers and no secret identity. With her permanent negation aura, she does not fit in well with the Wards. Still wanting to be a hero, she decides on another route.
A/N: AU Info - This is an AU with one small and one big divergence.
The small divergence is that a mysterious villain named Swarm joined the Slaughterhouse Nine some time ago. Regarded with atavistic horror for his unholy control of creepy-crawlies and the way he uses them to kill everything and everyone in his path.
The big divergence is that Scion is gone. Shortly after the Behemoth attack on New York in 1994 Kevin Norton tells The Golden Man that he is useless and should "just go away and never come back". Zion takes this literally and flees the dimension never to return. Norton is killed in a drive-by shooting later that day, so no one knows about Zion's disappearance.
· When reports of the Golden Man trail off, Cauldron assumes he is waiting and observing and will return to destroy the worlds.
· Scion's disappearance means that Endbringer attacks are usually longer and Eidolon's role is more important.
Other minor AU elements (or interpretations of the canon setting) will likely come up during the story.
What the hell was I doing on the Boardwalk?
I hated shopping, Christmas or not. And it wasn't like I could afford anything in the overpriced 'boutiques' that specialized in fleecing tourists and locals with more money than sense.
Despite that dislike, because my mother used to take me Christmas shopping here every year, I found myself wandering the shopping district lost in melancholy memories. Mostly we would stroll up and down the wooden walkway, looking at the decorations and watching the people. Occasionally we would stop for an ice cream or other treat. She would always give me a little money to buy something for Dad. Last year, Dad was too out of it to make the trip in her memory. This year I decided to go by myself.
I should have known better.
"There she is!"
I cringed when I recognized the voice behind me as that of my former best friend, Emma Barnes. She was the reason I had dreaded every day of high school in the year and a half I had attended Winslow – she and her two sidekicks.
Just after Emma called, a high-pitched scream sounded from just left of me. Reflexively I spun towards the cry. Apparently, it was a trap. I saw Madison pointing me in horror.
"No! Don't hurt me!" she yelled.
As I turned, my backpack brushed into someone standing behind me. I was not a big girl, barely five and a half feet tall, weighing less than a hundred and twenty pounds, and not particularly strong. Such a light blow should have bounced harmlessly off anyone over seven and under seventy.
Instead, the person impacted threw herself to the side, rolling a dozen yards before crashing into the railing at the edge of the boardwalk, screaming like they were in agony all the while. Looking at the girl, I recognized her as Sophia Hess, the third of my tormentors. I felt panic set in as I realized they were setting me up. Something bad was about to happen.
That's as far as my thoughts got before a blond woman in a green and gold bodysuit slammed me into the brick wall of a Yankee Candle shop. Her hand was surrounded by a green energy field that made it almost as big as I was and multiplied the force of her blow. I hit the wall hard enough to crack the masonry and snap my collarbone.
"Ahh!" I cried out. The pain was intense. Before I could move a man covered in ornate metal armor stepped in front of the woman in green and punched me in the stomach. I felt something tear inside me.
"No. Stop!" I shouted as I desperately reached to push my attackers away from me. A woman in a red and grey Chinese costume lashed out with two batons, catching my arm between them. At least one bone broke with a loud snap.
My knees gave out due to the pain and I started to collapse. The man in the dark metal grabbed me by the back of my neck and swung me around to face the other two assailants, his hand came up to cover my mouth tightly. These were the Enforcers – the Boardwalk's private security force. They had non-power guards as well but these three capes were the Enforcers on the posters and web sites.
Why were they attacking me?
"Don't let her talk," Emma called out. "She's a Master as well as a Brute."
I struggled to move, to yell at them to stop, to deny her ridiculous lie. But Escutcheon's grip was literally steel.
"Take her out!" the Enforcer leader barked. The two costumed women – Resolute, with her batons, and Smackdown, with her giant energy hands – began whaling on me. I thrashed¸ trying ineffectively to avoid the punishing blows.
It hurt so much. My body was being smashed to a bloody pulp. Each blow was agony. Behind the 'heroes' I saw Emma, Sophia, and Madison cheering along with half the crowd of shoppers and store clerks that had gathered to watch the entertainment. Several cameras were out recording.
I tried to call for help. I pleaded with my eyes. No one would help. No one cared.
I was being beaten to death and no one was going to save me. Several ribs caved in when Smackdown punched me with her giant energy fist.
I couldn't breathe.
I couldn't feel my legs.
I was too weak – helpless against the capes.
I prayed for help.
Oh god, I was going to die.
Then, suddenly, I wasn't.
Something happened. I could never remember exactly what.
On all the videos I've seen of the event, something causing the image to whiteout at that point. The interference only lasted a second or two. When the cameras were working again, all three Enforcers were down and I was standing over them, clutching my arms around my middle. The crowd seemed confused.
I shook my head to clear it and started to stumble away. Not fast enough.
"WHa the hel …?" Smackdown muttered, shaking her head.
"What did you do?" Resolute pointed as she crawled to her knees.
"Hey!" I yelled, trying frantically to rein in my panic, as I held my hands up in front of me. As scared and angry as I was, I didn't think ranting and raving would do much good and I couldn't move very far or fast in my condition, so I figured it was better to try to clear up the confusion. The Enforcers were getting to their feet while I was trying to calm the situation down. I was aware of the many cameras on me and thought this might be my best chance to get my case against the trio on record with people not involved with Winslow.
"You've got the wrong person. I didn't do anything. I'm just shopping. I don't know what those girls told you. But they're always getting me in trouble." My voice was rising as I went on. I hated them so much.
"Shut her down," Escutcheon ordered. I stumbled back back again so he was in front of me along with the other two.
For some reason he had switched back to his unarmored form. He held his hands out to his side, fists clenched. Nothing happened. He looked startled; glaring at his hand as if it had betrayed him. He closed his eyes and clenched his whole body.
Everyone was watching him.
"Shit!" Smackdown barked and raced towards me. "She mastered him."
"I didn't!" I protested. "I don't know what's going on."
The Enforcer Striker swung. I moved to dodge, but she was too fast. For some reason her enhancement field failed to flare, so she only hit me with her naked fist. It was a solid blow to my stomach.
I barely felt it. No pain. No damage. For me at least. She was holding her hand to her chest and backing quickly away. What the hell? I thought
Resolute moved in front of her teammate, covering her retreat. From what I read on PHO, the three security capes were not considered very powerful, but they used teamwork well. The Asian woman closed in.
I backed up unsteadily, holding my hands open before me. Before I could make another plea for peace, Resolute used the same move she had earlier, trying to snap my less damaged arm between her clubs.
This time when the clubs caught my arm, they stopped like they'd hit a statue. Again, there was no pain. I felt them hit, but it did nothing to me.
"Stop that!" I said, staggering in a circle to avoid being trapped against the building again. "I don't want a fight. I didn't do anything. You just jumped me for no reason."
"I got it!" Escutcheon declared. I glanced over and saw he had managed to activate his metal form. "Now it's your turn, bitch. No one messes with us."
He charged. I backed quickly, until someone kicked my right leg just as I put my weight on it. I hardly felt it, but it set me stumbling, trying desperately to keep from falling over backwards. I glanced down to see Sophia rolling away. She had kicked me!
The steel-clad enforcer moved forward, only to revert to his normal from as he approached. He lurched to a stop, then scrambled backwards. "She's a Trump! Back up. Call in the heavy rifles."
"Fuck!" I screamed. "What is wrong with you? I didn't do anything!" I turned to run. Once I was out of the area around the Boardwalk, they should let me go. They didn't have any authority off of Boardwalk property.
"Stop!" called a loud female voice. Everyone turned as Battery, one of the Brockton Bay Protectorate, leaped from the top of the store and landed between the Enforcers and me. Before I could react, a loud roar sounded behind me. I turned and saw Armsmaster on his famous motorcycle. Once he had everyone's attention, he stepped off the cycle and pulled out his collapsible halberd.
"Everyone calm down and we'll get to the bottom of this," he said. His voice came through the hidden speakers along the outdoor mall.
Escutcheon stepped forward. "Armsmaster, thanks for responding to our call for backup so quickly. This villain …" he said, pointing to me, "is some sort of …"
"I'm not a villain," I protested. "I was just shopping. And you attacked me because Emma told some lie …"
"That's not true!" Emma screeched. "Sophia can back me up."
"Everyone be quiet!" the Protectorate leader barked his voice no long coming from the speakers. He stepped towards the Enforcers and said in a lower voice I could barely make out. "Escutcheon, she triggered while you three were beating her to death – live on the internet."
"Oh … crap," the Enforcer said, looking at me then at the cameras the crowd was still pointing at our drama. Several of them started looking at their devices with confused or frustrated expressions, pushing buttons and, in a few cases, shaking or hitting them. I figured the Tinker had somehow interfered with their recording capability, maybe even erasing the video remotely.
"There's no way she could have been a parahuman before that," Battery said. "So, whoever told you she was, lied. You got the wrong person."
"Thank you," I cried. "Finally, someone …"
"That doesn't mean the situation has not changed in the last five minutes." Armsmaster turned to me. "We need to talk to all of you somewhere quieter. Are you willing to come peacefully to the PRT headquarters for an interview? We can also provide the necessary medical attention."
Escutcheon lowered his voice. "You need to know whatever she was or wasn't, she's some sort of Trump now. She turned my power off."
Battery and Armsmaster looked at me. With their masks covering most of their faces, I had no idea what they were thinking. With my luck, it couldn't be anything good.
Once again, I help up my hands in front of me. "I have no idea what is going on. First, I need a doctor. After that I might be willing to talk but I think maybe I should have my Dad with me."
"PRT units are on the way," Armsmaster said. "I would ask that you ride with them. Standard procedures. Feel free to call you father and have him meet us at PRT HQ."
"I … I don't have a phone." I blushed. After what happened to Mom, I knew why Dad didn't want us to have phones, but I was the only kid in school without one and it sucked. Not that I had anyone to call anymore.
"An agent will provide one when they get here," the armored hero replied.
Near the railing, Battery was speaking to Sophia and Emma. Madison had managed to disappear. She always was the sneaky one. Smackdown was walking in a circle around me, moving closer and further. It looked like she was using her Striker field to determine the range of my supposed Trump power. Armsmaster and the other Enforcers kept the crowd away from me, as I collapse into one of the benches the Boardwalk provided. As I waited, I noticed the throbbing pain in my chest and arm was beginning to lessen. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
The rest of the crowd was watching all the costumed capes doing their thing, as well as my own near-naked self. I guessed this was the most excitement the majority of them had had for ages. They'd be telling this story for years to come. From what Armsmaster had said, it sounded like it was already all over the net. Even if no one in the crowd – other than my tormentors – knew who I was, other people would recognize and identify me.
So much for the possibility of a secret identity. No doubt about it, I was out. A public cape. Which meant my father would now be known as well. I used to dream about getting powers and becoming a hero. Now, I just didn't know if that was a good idea. Any enemies I made would go at me through him.
Leaning back and looking up into the grey winter sky, I flexed my hand, balling it into a fist. It hadn't hurt when Resolute had hit me with her batons. Or when Smackdown had punched me. It might be that both had lost any extra strength their attacks might have had, but I still tanked a couple of blows that would have had me on the ground just hours before. Without knowing how much, I was at least a bit of a Brute as well as a Trump. Unless I could also fly, it was not quite an Alexandria package, or a mini-Eidolon. But it was power that I could do good with.
"The van is here," I looked up to see a PRT agent in her regular uniform, instead of the full tactical gear. "Are you ready or do you need an ambulance? One is only a few minutes out."
Her nametape read Howard. She looked youngish, maybe thirty, with brown hair in a bun. She looked like an athlete, thick thighs and broad shoulders. I had no idea if any markings on her uniform indicated her rank, or even what ranks the PRT had. I had always been a bit of a geek about heroes, but never paid any attention to their support people.
After a minute, I pulled my thoughts together and answered. "I think I can make it in the van. I am not sure if my arm is actually broken, but it hurts. My chest too. But I can stand and sit."
"We have a pretty good trauma suite in the building. We'll get you looked at ASAP."
Howard led me to a large PRT passenger van. There were two other agents already in the back row. They directed me into the middle bench. Howard got the front seat. A fourth agent was the driver.
"It's about ten minutes to the HQ," Howard twisted in her seat to face me. "I believe your name is Taylor Hebert. I understand you want to call your father?"
"That's right," I replied. "He works for the Dockworkers Association. I should be able to reach him in his office."
"Here you go," Howard handed me a phone. I crushed it when I grabbed it, metal and plastic pieces falling on the van floor.
"Damn," I said. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't know your own strength," she replied, smiling. "Maybe I should dial for you. What's your father's name?" She pulled out another phone and dialed when I gave her the information.
When Dad answered, Howard put the phone on speaker and silently gestured to me.
"Dad," I started then paused. Not sure what to say.
"Taylor? Are you ok? Whose phone is this? It's reading as PRT Official." His voice was his usual combination of anger, frustration, and depression, with a growing slice of concern and panic.
"I'm ok." For a given definition of the term. "Something happened while I was out shopping, and I need you to meet me at the PRT building."
"You were shopping at the PRT gift shop?"
"No, at the Boardwalk. But something happened." I paused. I could tell it wasn't enough for him. "There was a cape fight and I need to give a statement. Because I'm a minor I'd rather you be there when I do."
"Don't talk to anyone until I get there. Should be about twenty minutes." He sounded distracted. I could hear his chair scraping across the floor as he stood. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Just … meet me there," I answered. I didn't want to worry him, but he'd know I was injured when he got there.
"Alright. I'll see you soon." He said.
"Just give your name at the reception desk," Howard cut in before Dad could hang up. "They'll be able to direct you to Taylor."
"Who is this?" he asked.
"PRT Special Agent Stephanie Howard. I'll be waiting with your daughter and making sure she is alright until you get there."
He paused for a minute then replied politely, "Thank you. Twenty minutes."
The line went dead. It wasn't rude. He couldn't go to his car while talking on his office phone, and he was in a hurry.
It was then that the PRT building came into view.
I wasn't sure who I was dreading dealing with more – the feds or my dad.