Epilogue – July 9, 2015
"Are you ready?" Dragon asked over the comms.
She and I had been planning this operation since Marie Daviau, Canada's new Prime Minister, had made her threats against Heartbreaker. Daviau was known as an ultra-feminist and argued that military action against the infamous master was justified despite his hundreds of human shields because his victims were effectively already dead.
Heartbreaker had responded with threats to go to Ottawa and take over the entire government.
The Guild had decided to resolve the issue without resorting to carpet bombing or regime change.
"Affirmative," I replied, checking my familiar battle-suit one last time. As the back panel of the Pendragon opened to the darkness, I stood and started towards the rear of the ship. At the lip of the doorway, I looked down to see the lights of the compound below.
"Launch!" Defiant ordered.
I winced almost automatically.
I was still not fond of Collin. His first impressions on me had not been good. His selfish disdain for the lives of other capes during the Leviathan Attack on Brockton Bay had cost him his place in the Protectorate, as well as several body parts. It had also opened the world's eyes to the true power of the apocalyptic creatures. I knew he had changed for the positive since then, mostly under the loving care of my mentor. But that did not mean I had to like him.
I suppose I could not begrudge Dragon's redemptive spirit. She was the one that gave me a path beyond the Wards and had gotten me and my father out of the Bay after the docks had been destroyed and the DWA had finally closed its no-longer-existant doors. The Guild opening an Apprentice track for young heroes had been her idea as had been bringing me on as the first of the new membership category.
The Guild was even flexible enough to allow me to be based out of Windsor when my dad got his new job in Detroit. It had been almost three years since that move, and I had been a full Guild member since my eighteenth birthday.
I could put up with a lot to make Dragon proud of me. Including working with her pet project when needed. Besides, as a Tinker he was still one of the few capes that could stay in this close of proximity to me for the duration of the flight.
Once I was out of the craft, I deployed my wings. They were much more complex and capable than the first design Chris had made. For one thing they flew, not just glided. This gave me the speed and flexibility I needed for all sorts of missions. They had a stealth mode as well, which let me drop from the sky onto my target without alerting them to my arrival.
After leaving Montreal on his way to Ottawa, Heartbreaker had holed up in a farm-based resort near Hawkesbury. He was traveling slowly with an entourage of over two hundred mind-controlled people. The farm offered less security than he had in his more permanent bases, which left him vulnerable to attack. Dragon drones had been trailing Heartbreaker's convoy and we had watched as he organized his people and settled in for the night. We knew he was in the main house. Using the phones of the owners and other guests, Dragon even know which room the Master was in.
That was my target. If I could avoid most of his thralls, I would. Though it was unlikely any of them could hurt me. I agreed with Daviau enough that I did not think the permanently brainwashed victims were fully sapient beings anymore, nor would they ever be. Heartbreaker's neural machinations were permanent, and he painted with a very broad brush, destroying personalities without a thought.
I would not let them stop me, either by attacking me or his threatening them. He had to be ended now.
As I considered my mission, I flashed back to the first person I had killed.
It was not Calvert, or Coil as we later found out, despite what Tattletale always insisted. That was Bakuda's doing. I was simply there, though my power may have interacted with his in such a way as to prevent him from saving himself.
The first person I had definitively ended was the Butcher.
After I put Lung away, Bakuda had taken over the ABB. While she had curtailed her random attacks on the city to concentrate on consolidating her hold on the gang, the villain alliance had hunted her, Oni Lee, and the non-powered members of the gang until they had all been wiped out. This left a power vacuum that the Merchants, the Empire, and Coil – or rather Tattletale and the Undersiders – had all rushed to fill. That just continued the madness and violence in Brockton Bay.
I got dragged in when an Empire strike force tried to strongarm the DWA to relinquish the small area of the dock they historically controlled. I ended up taking down Hookwolf, Cricket, and Rune. She turned out to be Tammi Herren, one of my enemies at Arcadia. She was in a few of my classes, and I assume my anxiety field had affected her.
As those three went to jail, people started talking about the Empire's weakened condition. Especially when Squealer and her souped up tank managed to put Fenja in the hospital and Mush and Skidmark captured Victor and Othala.
These rumors may have played a role in the Teeth returning to the Bay. After they added their particular brand of chaos to the three-way war, the Mayor called a meeting of all the heroes in town, including the independents, and convinced us to work together to stop the madness.
Tattletale once again manipulated events until the Butcher and I were forced to face off with hostages on the line. Once we were fighting, the leader of the Teeth decided she wanted my powers so she fought in such a way that I had to kill her or she would kill Moira and Michelle.
All it took was one punch. Once she was in range even her inherited brute powers were negated.
I still remember how she squished like an economy-sized bag of jello. My therapist helped me deal with the nightmares, but I still don't like to think about it. As for Butcher's powers and memories, they could not touch me either. So that was the end of all of them.
I even got a reward after the PRT was convinced I was not sharing my mind with the body-hopping villain.
Some claim the violence of the gang wars was what brought Leviathan to Brockton Bay. I cannot say. But he showed up two days later. I took Dad and hightailed it to the mountains surrounding the city, doing my best to stay away from the other capes. After the monster was finally driven away half the town seemed destroyed, including my Dad's office and our house.
Like the Butcher, Heartbreaker had a kill order on him. One from the new Canadian government. Dragon reluctantly agreed that putting him in the Birdcage could upset the delicate balance of power in the containment facility, possibly consolidating too much power under the master, allowing him too many attempts to escape. She did not think it likely he would succeed, but decided it was better not to risk it.
I was here to kill him. I was not happy about the mission but knew, like Jack Slash and others I had slain, it had to be done.
I had killed Jack when the Nine had attacked Toledo not long after we moved to Detroit. It was my first Guild assignment, to hunt down the Nine individually. We all agreed there was nothing I could do about Crawler. His mutations were permanent, and he was both stronger and tougher than me. I was also told to avoid Mannequin and Bonesaw. I had had little luck facing tinkers.
Siberian turned out to be a projection. Every time she got in my range she popped. Her master would recreate her and try again. By heading in the direction she came from after she popped the first time, I basically lucked into seeing her appearing by a man in a white van. Dragon identified him as Manton. I was not able to stop them from getting away.
In the end I managed to capture Burnscar and Shatterbird, despite their kill orders. My power left them helpless once I got in range.
Jack should have been the same. Instead, he almost talked me out of fighting him until Dragon cut the external audio in my helmet. That was when the fight kicked off. Luckily Jack's extended blade edges could not exist in my negation sphere. His internal reinforcements were tough enough I had to fight full out, and that ended with him dead. I was not proud of killing him, but it had to be done.
No one knows what happened to Swarm and Bonesaw, but they were never reported in public again. I had heard a rumor that they were kidnapped by a secret government agency for experimentation. But none of my government contacts – mostly Dragon and Narwhal – were willing to admit they knew anything about that.
Not every major villain fight ended with my killing the bad guy. When the Traveler's pet monster went on a rampage in Boston not long after the Leviathan attack, I was pulled from my clean up efforts to try to stop the cape-cloning monstrosity while the other heroes pulled back and came up with a plan.
They airdropped me right on top of her. Once I was in range her cloning capability shut down. But she was too strong for me to physically take her. We fought back and forth for a while, mostly her trying to get away and me trying to keep her in range. Eventually one of her teammates, Trickster, tried to teleport me, but he ended up next to me instead and took a punch from the monster that crushed his chest. Eventually Legend showed up and killed her with a blast from well outside her or my range.
Once their history was explained, the rest of the Travelers were "allowed" to join the Protectorate.
I landed on the roof of the farmhouse and gently pushed a hard-cased sensor probe through the shingles. Once inside it started relaying video and audio. Defiant piloted it out of the attic and into the room where we expected Heartbreaker to be sleeping. It was small enough to float through the old-style keyholes.
"There he is," the cyborg tinker said in my ear. I could see the feed on my HUD. I gently moved over the roof until I was above his room. He was inside my field, as were the six well-armed women who were standing guard over his sleeping form.
Before this mission, the PRT had brought in several of the master's victims for me to test if my negation field cleared them of his influence. Unfortunately, it had not. We did not even know if he could give orders to me or anyone inside my sphere from outside of it. Therefore, all that we really knew is that at the moment he could not give any new orders to make changes to anyone as long as he was under my influence.
Which meant those women might attack anyone that entered the room, or they might threaten to kill themselves, depending on their orders.
Defiant had several drones ready to enter the room from the window, but that could set the guards inside the room off. My task was to come in the door and use a gas grenade to knock everyone out.
I used a laser cutter built into my gauntlet to cut a hole in the roof. Lowering myself through the scorched opening, I gently stepped into the attic. The roof was high, the area used for storage. A set of narrow stairs led down into the house. A limited charge anti-gravity unit built into my armor allowed me to reduce my effective weight to avoid disturbing the potentially creaky steps.
Once I was in the hall I quickly moved towards the target door. The probe had shown there were no guards outside the room. I imagined Heartbreaker wanted any enemies to get into the room, so he could use his line-of-sight power on them. Grabbing two gas grenades from my belt I double checked that my helmet seal was tight then kicked the door open.
I stepped in and tossed the two gas dispensers which immediately released clouds of thick purple smoke. Four of the women opened fire on me, while the other two leaped to cover Heartbreaker on the bed.
Defiant's drone smashed through the window. It looked like a flying octopus, with eight coiling tentacles emanating from a spherical body. Each tentacle had a needle at the end and there was a laser lens in the center of the orb.
As I was tanking shots, Heartbreaker gasped awake.
"Freeze!" he yelled then started coughing as he inhaled the gas. The guards all froze. Then one by one they started dropping as they gas took effect. They must have been programmed to obey him even without his power currently working.
I moved the women on the bed aside, gently lowering them to the ground.
"Let me do this," Defiant offered as he steered the drone close enough that three of its arms could easily reach the gasping master.
"Ok," I replied. I had killed before but had no desire to become an executioner. Heartbreaker was helpless. If the older man was willing to do the deed, I was willing to let him.
The drone struck with three arms, injecting an agent that caused quick but painless death.
I knew and was not happy that my old boyfriend/enemy Malik Adali, aka Sovereign, had been involved in the development of the poison.
Sovereign had disappeared for almost a year after our encounter in Vermont. He told me later that he had been researching minion-masters around the country. These were capes, like Blasto, Nilbog, even Echidna, that produced minions that might survive in my negation field. He had become obsessed with me and wanted to make sure he was ready for our next encounter.
He attacked me soon after I moved to Detroit, using my father and his girlfriend as hostages, and setting up another 'dungeon' in a deserted auto factory. There were remote controlled drones and tanks from some tinker in Alaska, fungoids from Blasto, even a couple of leftover clones of the Teeth and the Ambassadors from the Boston disaster over which he had gained control. The clones were set up as the mini-bosses at the end of the dungeon.
He was most disappointed to find that, like the originals, the clones powers were easily negated. The rest of the minions were trouble, as were the pheromones Sovereign produced with his powers. The chemicals could affect me if he was outside my range when he produced them. My helmet kept most of them out, but he managed to make some that could affect me on skin contact.
Once again, I fought my way through and got my family out, but he escaped.
I was a fool not to draw a link between that and the cute middle eastern boy that transferred in to the International Academy where I went to school. Saeed Ismaili acted so friendly and helpful. And he smelled so nice. That really should have been a clue.
Instead, I ended up dating the guy for months, until I was well and truly smitten. Then he revealed himself. His heartfelt and longwinded explanation of why he was not a bad guy, why he needed to rob banks and take hostages to save the world, fell on deaf ears.
Of course, he had taken me to another well-prepared battleground so that when I went off on him he had minions to bring out and traps to spring. But he had no hostages this time and I was not holding back. Hell hath no fury and all that.
At the end he was broken and unconscious and I called the PRT.
Of course, less than a year later he was "reformed" and working for the government as a glorified a chemical tinker.
He still called me to talk, and I still hung up on him every time.
I was more interested in seeing if Chris might consider a college in the Mid-west. He was someone I wanted to give another chance.
Using something Malik had helped develop rankled, but it was better than getting my hands bloody again, literally.
I held the room's door as more of Heartbreaker's puppets tried to reach him. I used three more gas grenades, leaving the hallway littered with unconscious bodies.
"He's gone," Defiant's cold voice came though my helmet. "Pull out. Rendezvous gamma green.
"Acknowledge gamma green." I launched myself out of the already broken window, taking fire from the crowd in the yard.
Ten minutse later I met up with the Pendragon and Defiant piloted us back to Windsor, without saying a word. Mission accomplished.
My life was not perfect, I reflected. But I was a hero and that was enough.
I wondered what would come next.