1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) Yeah, that's about it.
As the costumed hero Left Field, Taylor sees the world differently. They're about to find out just how differently.
"What If ...?" [Worm AU One-Shot]
I'll be the first to admit it, but only because it's unanimous among everyone I know. I suppose a few people (like Emma, once upon a time) could be lying when they said it, but not if everyone said it all the time. So I guess it's true.
Of course, to me, everyone else is weird. They don't see the obvious way of doing things. Obvious to me, anyway. Everyone I know, even the ones who try to be quirky, tries to do things the 'normal' way. Which usually takes three times as long as the best way, and doesn't even fix what's wrong. It just … puts a Band-Aid on it until next time.
My way? Things get fixed and stay fixed. Even if they didn't want to be fixed. Even if people didn't want them to be fixed in that way.
To which I say; omelettes, eggs. And just by the way, if you're interested, I have this amazing way of making an omelette, but you have to be good at juggling. Makes it taste at least twenty percent better. No? Maybe later.
Part of my so-called weirdness is my exercise regime. It's hard to want to exercise, and harder to keep at it unless you have a good reason to keep going. Me, I don't even go into the gym. Just looking at all those big clunky machines just makes me feel tired all over. So I go find Shadow Stalker—you know, my anti-bestie, Sophia Hess—and insult her a little. She comes after me, I let her chase me until I figure that I've had enough exercise, then I disengage. Really gets the blood pumping.
But all of this would basically be me being a weirdo freak (been called that before, trust me) if it wasn't for my power. It shows me the cracks in the world, all the neat little shortcuts that I can use to do stuff right. None of this 'normal' crap. Like the time I figured out that if I was in the lift in the PRT building between the fifth and sixth floors and I put a pry-bar in between two of the door-leaves and pushed, the power inherent in the Tinkertech would teleport me straight into the middle of the Wards area.
That got me yelled at by Armsmaster. A lot. But he couldn't argue with the fact that it worked. Also, that I could repeat it. Mind you, that's nothing to what I could pull off if he'd just loan me his halberd. It would almost certainly be in working order when I gave it back, too.
When I mentioned this to him, he banned me from interacting with any Tinkertech in a non-approved manner. Also, from interacting with his Tinkertech in any manner, ever.
So anyway, that's why they call me Left Field. I'm the Ward with the longest list of non-disciplinary writeups against their name (because everything I ever did fixed the problem, albeit in a non-boring, non-standard way). My way has never hurt anyone.
Well, today it's going to.
I'm probably going to get kicked out of the Wards.
I might even end up going to the Birdcage.
But if it works, it will be so goddamn worth it.
Today is going to be the day of the last Endbringer attack, ever.
- from the personal journal of Taylor Hebert, aka Left Field. Written on napkins scavenged from the cafeteria, and stapled to the wall of her room.
Pulling my baseball-cap-and-mask combo into place over my face, I strolled out into the Wards common area. My costume was strongly reminiscent of a classic 1930's baseball uniform, complete with a Louisville Slugger over my shoulder and a couple of actual baseballs in a pouch at my waist (because it's amazing the uses I can find for things like that. They say Kaiser still flinches when he sees so much as a baseball card).
"So, Endbringer, huh?" I asked, then feinted a time or two with the bat. "Behemoth, yeah?"
"This is not something you can pull your weird shit on, and psyche out," Gallant told me severely. "This is an Endbringer."
"Yeah, yeah, got it." I bounced my bat on my hand a few times. The cracks in the world were reassembling themselves into patterns that I didn't really understand. But that was okay. I didn't have to. All I had to do was make use of them. "Say, Clock, you know that favour I got you to agree to that one time?"
Clockblocker looked around at me warily. He absolutely owed me a favour, and we both knew it. "Yeah…?"
"Might call it in today. Stick close to me."
That had every single Ward staring at me. Triumph took a step closer. "Left Field, are you going to be pulling some of your crazy bullshit? Because if you are, I'm going to make an executive decision and leave you home, even if you volunteer to go."
I faced up to him. "Since when has my 'crazy bullshit' not worked? Give me one good example. And just because I've made Assault laugh out loud on more than one occasion doesn't mean it didn't work."
"She's also made Director Piggot swear in public several times," Kid Win put in helpfully. "So there's that."
"Yeah, but the news anchors were swearing too, so that doesn't count," I said quickly. "C'mon. I got a good feeling about this."
"Oh, shit," muttered Kid Win, echoed by Vista, Aegis and Clockblocker. I was pretty sure Shadow Stalker said 'Fuck' instead, but I couldn't be sure.
What little I could see of Triumph's face behind the lion helmet took on a sour expression. He held up a finger, paused, then put it down again. "Just don't embarrass us again," he snapped, then stalked off.
"Promise," I called after him. What I was planning on doing wasn't going to embarrass me. It was going to do a whole lot worse.
People were going to die, and it was going to be all my fault.
We waited on the rooftop. I hadn't paid enough attention during the briefing to remember where Behemoth was about to attack, but that was because I was distracted by the new cracks in the world. Besides, I didn't want to know. I wanted to be able to look at a world map sometime in the future and not flinch away from a certain point.
Taking a few steps away from the others, I flexed my wrists and gripped the baseball bat a little harder. At the same time, I licked my lips and swallowed, to keep my throat moist. Being able to talk very fast was going to be extremely important in just a few seconds.
With a crack of displaced air, Strider appeared on the rooftop beside us. His costume was pretty cool; I figured he must make a lot of money doing freelance teleport work. Even as he opened his mouth to say something, I stepped around behind him, set myself, and swung the bat. It was a clean, crisp impact. He dropped like a stone.
Everyone froze, staring at me. Miss Militia's omni-weapon was already transforming into something that was (hopefully) non-lethal. Armsmaster went to yell something at me, but I got in first.
"I had a reason for that. Armsmaster, I need Eidolon and Alexandria here, on this rooftop, right now! We can end this."
Even as I spoke, I took out one of my baseballs. Thrown just right, it would impact his halberd at a point where two systems were almost-but-not-quite out of sync, and disrupt the whole thing. That would buy me a couple of seconds, after which I'd probably have to use the cracks in the world to run like hell. If they didn't listen to me now, they never would.
It was probably the last four words that got their attention. Armsmaster murmured something to Miss Militia, who covered me with her weapon. It had a really, really big bore on it. I didn't want to know if what came out would merely incapacitate me, or just spread me all over the rooftop. Leaning over, I carefully placed bat and ball on the rooftop.
Ten seconds later, a portal just opened in midair and two of the three members of the Triumvirate stepped through. Alexandria and Eidolon glanced down at Strider's prone body, then at me. I saw their expressions harden; I had just removed one of the most important capes from the field, at least temporarily. This was going to cost lives.
Oh, you have no idea.
"Speak," snapped Alexandria. "You have fifteen seconds to make your case."
I took a deep breath, turned my head to look at Clockblocker, then tilted my head slightly. "Eidolon, time out," I said.
For a long, eternally drawn-out moment, I thought he wasn't going to do it. Then my best buddy in all the Wards reached forward and tapped Eidolon on the shoulder, freezing him.
Alexandria spun around. "What did you do that for? What is going on here?"
I could see she was about to unleash hell on both me and Clock, so I spoke fast again. The most important nine words of my life. "What if they gave a war, and nobody came?"
"Explain." At least she was paying attention to me. Armsmaster pointed his halberd at Clock and unleashed a spray of containment foam, but I couldn't worry about that now.
"Endbringers." I tried to be as definite as I could. Any sense of being unsure would make her dismiss my whole concept, I was sure. "They thrive on conflict. They're here to fight. They don't care about killing people, or wrecking shit. They want capes to show up and battle them. So they go after what capes care about. Innocents."
"You're saying, we don't fight them." She was fast. Very fast. "We just … do search and rescue?"
I rolled my eyes. "That's also fighting them. They'll just draw capes into conflicts. Or they'll work a lot harder to kill people before we can rescue them. No, we don't do that. We just don't show up."
That raised shouts from everyone who was upright and conscious, apart from Alexandria. Everyone was protesting. She stepped closer to me. I could see behind her mask that her eyes were narrowed. "You're advocating leaving innocents to die."
I didn't like it any more than she did, but I had to see it through. "How many people have died since the Endbringer attacks began, while you've been doing your best to fight them and save all the innocents? How many more will keep dying because we keep giving the Endbringers what they want?"
She blinked, and I had no doubt that she was going over the numbers in her head. "Heroes don't … not show up. It's not what we do."
I grimaced. "Call it triage. People die every day. Let these ones die for a purpose. Sure, they'll die hating you. If they knew my name, they'd die hating me. It'll be a massive PR blow for the Protectorate, too. But maybe … maybe … people will learn to rely more on themselves than the superheroes? And in the meantime, if this works …"
"You're not certain about it." I had to know she'd pounce on that.
"Nothing in life is." I shrugged, carefully. "Am I gonna survive this? Maybe. As a hero? Not fucking likely. But this is what my power's telling me to do, and say."
Interestingly enough, that last sentence (which my power had also told me to say) made her tilt her head slightly. She stared at me, long enough that I began to wonder if she had a vision based Blaster power. Then she nodded, fractionally.
"Nothing else has ever worked. And as distasteful as this is, the logic hangs together." She glanced at the still-frozen Eidolon. "We won't be able to stop him from going, though."
"That could screw everything." I indicated the now thoroughly-foamed Clockblocker. "He can keep him out of commission. At least until it's over."
Alexandria gave me a glare that made Director Piggot's best efforts look mild by comparison. "If this doesn't work, I will personally place you in the Birdcage."
"If this doesn't work, there probably won't be enough left of me after the public finds out," I countered.
She made a growl, deep in her throat, and turned away.
So, Behemoth shredded Moscow. Alexandria reached everyone who had already shown up, and ordered them away. Some had to be forcibly removed. Several tried to fight her.
I was in secure holding by the end of the battle. This much I expected. There were cracks in the world that gave me a way to get out, but I chose not to take them. We had a few months to wait until the next Endbringer excursion, so I chose to catch up on my reading. They allowed Dad to visit me a few times, but we had nothing to say.
On May the fifteenth, Leviathan attacked Brockton Bay. Again, everyone stayed away. A huge tsunami washed onto shore, destroying the Boat Graveyard (about time) and the Boardwalk (boo!). He followed it into the city, where there were no capes to oppose him. Eidolon had wanted to fight (big surprise there) but this time Alexandria had found a Tinker who made bomb-like effects. A stasis grenade, applied by surprise, kept him from ruining the plan.
Fifteen minutes after coming on shore and pushing over a few buildings, Leviathan left again. Brockton Bay was damaged, and it would take some time to get back on its feet, but it wasn't destroyed and barely two thousand people died.
Not that that was a good thing. Even one dead person was a bad thing. I was going to have nightmares for a long, long time.
Alexandria herself came to my cell. She unlocked the door and left it open. "You're free to go."
"Don't wanna." I curled up on my bunk.
She huffed an irritated sigh. "Your solution was off the wall, but it worked. You've been cleared of all wrongdoing. You can go. Back to your family."
I had no family. Dad hadn't made it to a shelter in time. I could've saved him, but … that would have been fighting Leviathan, even indirectly. My power shielded me from some of the emotional effects of the consequences of my actions, but not all of them. I pulled my pillow over my head. "Go away."
After awhile, Alexandria turned and left. The door remained open.
I got up and used the facilities, then opened my vision to the cracks in the world. There was nothing tying me to Brockton Bay anymore, or even to Earth Bet. Hugging my pillow, I considered my options.
The cell was Tinkertech, of course. It had clearly been designed to contain people with a wide array of powers. The problem with this sort of thing was that it left … cracks.
I still had a spoon from my last meal. Wedging it into an almost imperceptible gap between two sections of wall, I twisted.
A portal opened up and sucked me through into another universe. I landed, rolled, and came to my feet. Around me was a forest, with birdsong in the trees above. But it wasn't totally unspoiled; I could hear cars on a road, nearby.
Dusting myself off, I tucked my pillow under my arm and set off toward it. Maybe with a fresh start, I could learn how to be happy.
The possibilities were endless.