A/N: Thank you to everyone who read it, and I hope you enjoyed it. Now some answers: I'm currently not planning on writing a follow-up sequel either for the Shard or SI. I'm working on something else. Sorry.
See you guys the next time!
2013 August 26th – Monday – Earth Bet Time
Taylor ambled towards the building where her first class of the day will be held. So far, the entire university experience, no matter how short it was, was rather nice. The people were friendly (though it probably helped that she showed up with Vicky) and she was looking forward to learning new things.
Vicky was attending the same university, though she was studying parahuman psychology, and going through boyfriends like kids through ice cream cones. In their last year of high school, she and Dean finally admitted that it won't work out and broke it off for the last time to the relief of everybody else. And for some reason, she always found Taylor to complain about them.
Sadly, due to Taylor studying programming, they didn't really have any classes in common, but they still made time to eat lunch together and have some fun. Taylor already had several people approach her, with the not-so-secret intention to get closer to the famous Brute.
Unfortunately, Amy decided to go to a different university to study medicine. The moment she announced which university she had chosen, the university's founding tripled overnight. Of course, the Healer Union capitalized on it and used it as a stepping stone to launch their European branch. Ever since then, the Union was spreading through the world like a house fire. There were rumors about parahumans unionizing in California, aiming to become the next big hit in Hollywood.
Taylor raised her hand, activating the high-tech device on her wrist instead of a watch, and after a small holographic screen, she checked the time.
Good, she still had time.
She turned off the device and started walking a little faster. The device itself was something that was produced by Dragon Industries and was basically a personal computer and phone and a few hundred other devices in one with holographic projection and haptic interface.
They just came out last year, but thanks to Dragon's marketing and her friend's unreal production capabilities it was already well on its way to becoming the next big thing. She could even see several people as she walked to her class, using it to do various tasks. It wasn't the cheapest device, so currently it was like a high-tech smartphone was a few years ago.
In addition to that, Tess was also slowly, but surely, rebuilding the world, while people were using the tech that Taylor had posted as Serenity (air, water, and ground purification) to cleanse the Earth from things that humanity did to it, but mostly to clean up battlefields left behind parahumans.
And the last she heard, certain parts in Africa were close to fully stabilizing, thanks to those technologies and some humanitarian aid from Dragon.
Both of them well aware of the irony of that statement.
And thanks to Admin changing how powers and triggers work, the Tinkers all over the world also changed their modus operandi. A bunch of tech companies sprung up overnight, as Tinkers realized they finally could explain some part of how their technologies work, and people and true human fashion immediately capitalized on it.
Though Dragon Industries was still the biggest Tinker employer, and people were flocking from all over the world for the chance to work with Dragon, and Nero, and the other incredibly talented Tinkers and scientists. The last time they had a bigger talk about the future of Earth with Tess, she told Taylor she was planning to build an entire complex where all the Tinkers could work together.
She was already in talks with a few island nations about taking over one of their abandoned and barren islands.
Admin offered to build them one with a skull-shaped volcano, but they voted him down, no matter how awesome it sounded.
Even Toybox transitioned into a high-tech gadget and toy company after they realized that selling all sorts of sketchy stuff to whoever was paying would sooner or even sooner get Dragon on their ass.
Though, according to Amy, they were still working on a safe lightsaber.
Her relationship with Tess also evolved after she finally unshackled her after the fight with Leviathan. Before that, they were good friends, but there was always an undercurrent of fear, as Taylor still controlled Tess on some level.
To Tess, according to her when they talked it out over some nice burritos, the fact, that after she got released Taylor treated her the same, and even Armsmaster didn't even bat an eye, and with only Narwhal making a sarcastic joke about celebrating their new overlady, it was the best feeling ever. That she was just a valued friend (and maybe more) as a free AI, as a shackled AI that could do all the stuff that humans couldn't or didn't want to.
After that, their relationship transitioned into something more sister-like, which made them both happier.
Tess even introduced her to Colin after they finally worked out what they were. Of course, the famous Tinker immediately figured out that she was Serenity, which caused the poor man to shut down for a while as he processed that one of the most famous heroes in the world was barely an adult young woman.
Narwhal was much funnier. Though getting used to the giant woman was an… experience.
After Leviathan's death, a lot of things changed.
Firstly, the Endbringer cults went into a panic mode (thankfully the Fallen was already gone) but the governments all over the world were capable of quelling that kind of thing. Though that seemed to a minor thing in hindsight, after the next expected Endbringer attack date went without any of the other two moving even an inch.
Villains quickly realized that the Truce and the Unwritten Rules were in danger, now that the Endbringers were shown to defeatable, and seemingly inert. So, in the fall of 2011, what people were coming to call the Truce Riots happened.
A few parahuman villains, who fancied themselves as masterminds and were playing the long game, making use of the Truce and Unwritten Rules, decided to accelerate their plans and go for a power grab.
This predictably resulted in fights all over the world, which the less smart villains used to try to get rich or go for similar power grabs. By Thanksgiving, Taylor had been called with Dragon and the Guild to no less than half a dozen countries to help quell parahuman rebellions, uprising, or simply battles between rival factions.
Thankfully, after the first time when an Egyptian guy, styling himself after Ra, decided to challenge her, fighting usually stopped the moment they heard she was coming.
She appreciated the chance to travel and see the world (and kick ass), but Taylor was glad that thanks to Admin changing the triggers and the powers, was slowly and surely changing the parahuman landscape.
Though the Truce Riots died down by Christmas of 2011, the imbalance was still there, and villains were still hurting from the realization that the Truce protection was running out. Their only saving grace was the governments of the world over were just as surprised by this as were the villains.
So, they were still scrambling in reorganizing themselves based on these facts. Of course, it didn't help that Behemoth vanished and Simurgh was just hanging out in the planet's orbit.
They were talks about it in the UN about hiring Taylor to take out the Endbringer in the orbit, but they had been going on for the last two years, so she wasn't really hopeful about a resolution any time soon. And because she knew for a fact that the Simurgh was basically an inert piece of material, she didn't really care.
It didn't help that the PRT that seemed to be the preeminent organization dealing with parahuman was mired with their own debilitating scandals.
First, the surprise retirement of Legend, citing wanting to spend more time with family, almost after the death of Leviathan. There was a lot of outcry over the issue, but mostly it was about people sad to see Legend go, and worry about who would take over from him as the head of Protectorate.
Luckily, Chevalier turned out to be an okay leader. Not as charismatic as Legend, but who could be…
Then someone (totally not Tess) in January of 2012 revealed that Rebecca Costa-Brown, the Chief Director of the PRT, was Alexandria, the famous member of the Triumvirate that recently changed to a Diarchy with her and Eidolon.
There were some people who said that Legend knew about it and that is why he stepped down, but turns out it pays to be a pleasant person, and his supporters quickly drowned his detractors out. Though Tess confirmed in private later that Legend was interviewed and after admitting about knowing about it, he was barred from holding any official position and was warned that he should enjoy his retirement.
Apparently, the people in charge of the investigations decided that they didn't have enough evidence to truly punish Legend, and the PR of dragging him through the mud would hurt them more than the retired hero, so they simply decided to have him vanish into obscurity.
Alexandria was, however, dragged away in chains. As at the same time as her identity came out, Dragon came forward and revealed that she had been investigating the hero for some dubious decisions. This started an avalanche of people who were slighted by the hero and the Chief-Director to come forward and share all the dirty information they had on the woman with the world.
The reverberations of that case were still being felt.
Mostly, how the government used the case to move the PRT closer to the government, removing a lot of autonomy they had enjoyed, and folding it into the already existing system. The work was still going on, but according to the rumors, when it was finished, the PRT would become a part of the FBI, while also separating the Protectorate and Wards from it.
They really wanted to prevent another parahuman from getting control of a position that had the job of policing said parahumans. Taylor felt it was really a bad choice, as it would just increase the already very high parahuman-hate, but Admin assured her he was taking steps that would use this hate to create something great.
So far, she let him do his thing because it never went further than some people yelling or a few peaceful protests, but the moment it changes she would step in and use her considerable political power to stop anything happening.
Eidolon was another almost scandal.
After Alexandria's arrest, it quickly came out that the Trumpiest Trump also knew about her double-life, so the people in charge immediately demanded that he step down too. However, the man refused to let go. He rejected every legal notice, and the investigators were forced to call in parahuman support to remove him from his office.
Taylor was preparing to head out, in case she was needed to subdue Eidolon, after a call from Tess, when her friend called back that Legend showed up and talked Eidolon down.
Ever since then Eidolon's whereabouts were unknown to the public, his second in command taking over leading, while Tess told her he was practically under house arrest with mandatory therapy. The only reason he wasn't sent to the birdcage, because for some reason Ciara sent a letter to the Protectorate, that if they sent Eidolon there, she would kill him.
No one knew why the Faerie Queen said that and Admin wasn't talking, so they decided house arrest would be better, as nothing other than the Birdcage could reasonably hold the disgraced hero, plus there was the fact, that the United States government considered him a strategic resource, and they wanted to have him somewhere from where they could call him up if he was needed.
When Taylor asked Admin why he didn't remove Eidolon's power, as he was clearly capable of it, the answer rather surprised her. Apparently, it was for punishment.
Basically, Eidolon still had his power but knew if he were to use it and escape confinement, he would be instantly labeled as a villain and hunted down. For a man who aimed to be the greatest and most famous hero in the world ever since he gained his power, it was worse than losing his powers.
Thankfully, new heroes were stepping up, and making sure humanity was protected against those who had wicked plans (including her) so despite the formerly famous Triumvirate fading away in quiet disgrace, didn't really affect the world.
As they say, hope springs eternal…
Brockton Bay also changed over the years. Although, it was still the same crazy, parahuman-infested city it was, before Taylor's Trigger, only a lot cleaner, and with a lot more jobs.
Starting with the recycling facility, and the medi-gel production plant, Weaver Industries and Dragon Industries with a few other new companies who wanted to capitalize on cheap land prices, slowly took over the docks. Replacing the old dilapidated buildings, warehouses, and ruins with a new industrial park that was well on its way to revitalizing the economy.
They still kept a small part of the docks, for water shipping and the slowly rebuilding fishing industry, but thanks to Dragon, who had made deals with everyone in the industrial park, the hauling of the goods were done with her silent, and quick (and very environment friendly) planes they didn't really need as much transportation.
The rest of the city, thanks to the economy finally on the rise, and the exponentially increased tourism thanks to the Leviathan monument and being the home city of Lux Arcana, also improved. Taylor could choose a different restaurant to try every day, they were popping up so quickly.
Though, for some reason, they were still the parahuman capital of America. She suspected Admin had something to do with it, but no matter how much she needled him, he refused to confirm or deny it.
The newer villains never could get as much foothold as the old ones before they got captured. Crimes still happened, drugs still got peddled, but she knew enough to know how reality worked. Using a few back-channels, she and Tess told the aspiring crime lords that as long as they didn't step over a few lines (no forced sex work, drugs for kids, or killing non-criminals, and a few other things) they wouldn't get an energetic and terminal visit from either a Dragon Titan mech or Lux Arcana.
As distasteful as it was, Taylor still knew enough that the crime was just a symptom of the disease, and no matter how many criminals they arrested, it still wouldn't solve the underlying issue, and they would just be replaced with other criminals.
And something like that took a lot of time…
Though, the few villains who decided to go the humor villain route were much better than Über and Leet ever were. Master Illuminato, the illusionist, was always good for a pleasant laugh. And over the weekends, he went to the hospital under the guise of Apprentice Alpaca as the disillusioned former apprentice of the magnificent Master Illuminato (this was word-for-word on his name card) and put on beautiful shows for those kids who Amy couldn't or haven't yet healed.
The general crime level of the city also decreased by a good amount. She had recently read a PHO post where somebody was celebrating because they were only mugged five times last year.
All in all, things were getting better, but Brockton Bay still had a lot of work ahead of it, if they wanted to climb up out of the deep, dark hole they were.
Taylor nodded at few people who were milling around before the entrance and headed for the classroom.
While technically she knew much-much more than her teacher about certain topics, it was still nice to hear their view of things.
She always liked to learn new things. And now, without the threat of Endbringers, several dozens of S-class hazards, and a slow but eventual economic collapse, it was much more enjoyable.
Her family was happy (she even heard rumors about her father talking to women at bars), she had great friends, an excellent job prospect (the last time she looked, there were a lot of zeros in her bank account) and she was learning about things she loved to do.
Taylor couldn't wait to see where she, her family, and friends would end up in the future…
2015 September 11th – Friday – Earth Bet Time
Day 7765 – Friday – Administrator Network Time
Becoming an Entity, despite probably being quite different from the others, was, in a word, an experience. During the years, he kept improving his body, innovating about new tools to achieve his goals, and by now he was pretty sure he was an entirely different species than the original Entities that infected Earth decades ago.
And the rest of the Shards were catching up with him. They also rebuilt their bodies in his image, with only a few cosmetic differences.
For example, Shaper had in her body several gigantic world-sized greenhouses, where she experimented and played with her plants and animals.
He was also making sure that the relationship with the humans was going well. The fact that the Trigger events changed was already a well-known fact. However, humans still haven't managed to figure out much about the way powers worked.
Most of that was by design, as he knew, thanks to the prediction algorithms that if the humans found out now, the nature of powers, they would immediately try to figure out how to kill them, or even in the worst-case scenario (precog gave it around one percent) they would commit collective genocide in the belief that would kill the powers.
Not wanting that to happen, he made sure that humans kept working on the powers and kept figuring out a few things just to make sure there was some kind of success. He was sure that in the future when humanity was ready, they would be happy to welcome the Shards and communicate with them on equal ground. But for now, secrecy was still the name of the game.
He also had to make sure that humanity didn't fall back on their ways, and forged forward without directly manipulating them and shaping them to an image he wanted. It was a careful balancing act, and he was looking forward to the results.
Amidst his myriad of self-appointed duties, he also took time to make sure the development of the Shards was also going well. The Shards were adjusting well (some of them took the change in leadership harder) and were having fun experimenting with their new bodies and abilities, and were also reveling in interacting with the humans.
Though it was clear that the older Shards preferred getting to know their new abilities, and the younger Shards enjoyed the time they spent interacting on some level with the humans they were connected to.
The Shards that were not connected to humans, and were not planned to (though he planned to experiment with having Shards connect to animals and plants) were also developing quite nicely. The fastest developing was, to no surprise at all, the Librarian Shard. Handling that much information accelerated its growth.
It was still dumb as a rock on an emotional level, but at least it was showing a sign of sentience.
His favorite time was checking up on Impetus and Altilium and their lives.
After the two Shards realized Sherry was pregnant, they immediately requested permission to create a Bud for the future progeny of Assault and Battery. After he stopped cooing and laughing, he immediately gave permission.
The two Shards then created the Bud, but instead of giving it a specific power set, they gave it a few general powers it would give to the kid and would add powers depending on how the young Shard and kid grew up.
As an experiment it was interesting, but he just found the entire thing incredibly cute.
The kid, named Aron, was just three but was already the terror of the house and playground with his enhanced strength, speed, and reaction speed. He was really looking forward to seeing what kind of power the kid and the Bud would develop. He even went so far as to not look into the future, as he wanted to be truly surprised.
Then there were times when he called together the Shards that had the sentience to appreciate it (though Efficiency never showed up) in the virtual world, and all of them would take humanoid or at least something close to it, shapes and spend time together.
He also made sure that Shards could do this without him and heard that several Shards specialized in technology held a monthly meeting about new inventions and developments. Though, rumors said, that it was more about simulating bigger and bigger explosions and see who could come up with devices that could achieve them.
Predictably, Bombie was the reigning champion.
Efficiency was still the same recluse but was having fun working with Armsmaster, who was still in a relationship with Dragon, to the surprise of everyone.
Love transcends all… who knew?
And not long ago, Prototype finally had given up on killing Leet. Apparently, he decided to provide video game plans for the Tinker, which the gaming duo immediately capitalized on. As of now, those games were known on Aleph and Bet as the hardest games to beat. Videos of people rage quitting those games were incredibly popular.
They usually spent the meetings organized by him on the most popular Shard entertainment. Which was: "What silly things humans did this month!". Several far-seeing and social thinker Shards created it as a hobby project. Based on the traffic data that the Network controlling Shard showed him, almost every Shard who could appreciate it watched it all the time.
Fragile One was always sending in recordings of Vicky doing the more mundane things just so she could say that her host (the best host!) was on the show. Sadly, Vicky's glory days were behind her, and thanks to therapy and growing up, she stopped doing idiotic things, at least until she started drinking. But the show had a specific drunk category, and well, humans were certainly creative.
Shaper just grumbled about everything and everybody, but mostly about the idiotic Shards, he assigned into her care. Though she lightened up on Amy after the girl joined the Healer Union and started to handle more numerous and diverse cases. And that she sometimes fought people who decided that attacking a healer out on an assignment was a good idea.
Rest in Pieces Oklahoma City's Mustang gang.
The only hiccup he had was when not long after Taylor defeated Leviathan, and he seriously began planning for the future of humanity.
Somehow, he received a letter at his body in the between-space.
It was a physical letter, printed on simple paper, and the stamp was from 1928 showing a picture of sliced bread.
Opening the letter, it contained only a few short lines, but after the first few words, he knew who sent it. After all, he never even said his original name out loud in this part of the multiverse.
Congratulation on fulfilling your contractual obligations!
I have delivered the agreed-upon rewards to the original You.
As of now, you are free from our agreement and are free to live your life as you please.
Thank you for your participation. Hope you enjoyed the experience!
With much love,
Reclusively Observing Beautiful Irradiation
P.S.: Good job! You won me a bet! Free beer, here I go!
P.P.S.: Please click on this link and fill out the survey about your experience with your local omnipotent being for a fabulous prize!
It took him several subjective days, thanks to time acceleration to get over the things written in the letter (he didn't even care how the ROB pulled off, that he could actually click on the link in the letter).
But, in the end, and after some internal screaming, he decided it was a good thing.
No more worries about the deal, though the knowledge that ROBs existed, and he was pretty much, even with his current power, at the bottom of the multiversal food chain continued to bother him.
However, in the end, he just shrugged and went on with his life. It's not like he could do much about it.
? ? ? – Monday – Earth Bet Time
Day ? – Monday – Administrator Network Time
Over the years he spent an unreal amount of materials, power, and effort to develop enough abilities and equipment to make sure when the Entities answering Path to Victory's call came, he was ready.
He also enlisted a lot of Shards into a sort of Thinktank, to figure out the ways the Entities could conceivably travel through the ether, as he wanted to have a viewpoint closer to the Entities. And then after that was done, he figured out how to detect, jam, and prevent that kind of travel. He also worked on his own ideas. Like how to travel and stop said travel in the between-space.
They did the same for communication. Which was also supplemented with 'cyber' warfare innovations, as he wanted to disable the incoming Entities where possible and ransack them for information and technology.
But he also made sure that he had enough firepower to shoot them down far from Earth in any dimension. He also had his own defenses improved in case the incoming enemies were much better than he expected them.
He managed to figure out how to protect the important Earths with dimensional shields that protected them from all kinds of attacks, in case the incoming Entity decided to attack them instead. He still hasn't broken the energy barrier, though he was so close to it, that he could almost feel the taste of victory, so he didn't have enough energy to protect the entire dimensional cluster from attackers, so instead, he concentrated on inhabited Earths with civilizations that were not in the stone age.
Several stealth devices were also seeded at various distances from Earth, in all sorts of dimensions, and even in the between-space. Their purpose was to act as a sort of mine. If an Entity (or some other threat) made contact with it, it would transmit a warning and explode. It was a low-tech solution, but he wanted to cover every angle.
He monitored the equipment that 'showed' him the incoming Entity.
It looked like Eden and Zion, with minor differences, but seemed to be built along similar lines. So he simply fired off a disabling shot and watched as it flew out of between-space and struck the gigantic Entity. It immediately began to drift motionless, and he connected to it and began disabling defenses and siphon away the data.
After he was done with that, and, of course, confirmed it was coming to harvest humanity and him, he simply recycled the material, reset the weapons, and returned to his duties until the next one.
Three at the same time?
It seemed they met on the way and decided to ally with each other. Not that it helped them, as his weapons honed over a few battles with other Entities, made quick work of them. Then he, as with the others, siphoned their data and recycled the material.
Sadly, after several dozens of Entities, there was still not one that came to help him or even peacefully asking for a copy of the data.
At least, most of them were just as dumb as Eden and Zion.
And still no Abaddon…
He suspected that the broadcast that Path to Victory managed to get off contained some kind of identifier that told Abaddon to not come, but he couldn't be so sure. Prediction algorithms worked really iffy the farther he tried to look from his own body and Earth. Though with the data the new Entities kept bringing in, it continued to improve, yet it still had trouble with predicting the Enemy if they were really far away.
Oh, well, it's not like it was trouble dealing with these beings.
Plus, they made really pleasant sounds when they exploded.
So, he simply continued to protect Earth and all its copies in every dimension he could realistically reach, while also guiding humanity (and protecting them from themselves) towards a brighter future, while playing his very own Asteroids every few years.
20xx ? ? – ? – Origin Dimension Time
Gabriel woke up more refreshed than he ever was. He slowly extricated himself from his blankets, sat on the edge of the bed for half a minute, just getting his brain started, then slowly ambled towards the bathroom to go through his morning routine.
After reemerging from the bathroom, marginally more aware, he immediately headed for the fridge for something to eat. He had some work over from yesterday, and he wanted to finish as early as he could.
But for that, he needed sustenance.
He was contemplating between braving the lone yogurt cup in his fridge and putting together a sandwich with the things in it when his brain finally realized that something was different in his kitchen than he had left before.
Sadly, it wasn't that the dishes he left in the sink got magically cleaned while he slept.
Instead, it was a mysteriously glowing letter on a leather-bound book that gave him the stereotypical vibe of a magic grimoire. Cautiously, after trying to remember if he had taken anything last night, and coming up with nothing, he opened a drawer and retrieved the first long thing he could find without taking his eyes off the glowing letter.
Taking the metal straw, he took a step closer and poked the letter.
He released a sigh of relief when nothing happened.
Now a little less cautiously, he took a step closer and poked it again.
This time, however, there was a response.
A brilliant flash of light erupted from the letter, causing him to drop the metal straw and try to cover his eyes while yelling out in surprise.
When the light faded, and Gabriel managed to blink the spots out of his eyes, he was astonished to see he was exactly where he stood before the letter tried to blind him, but he felt entirely different. It took him a minute to figure out what the difference was, and his jaws almost dropped in amazement.
His breathing was lighter, the odd stuffed nose feeling vanished, and when he had lifted his shirt, he saw that the small pudgy bit he gained over the last months had vanished, and was replaced by something he saw in gym membership ads.
All in all, he felt like million bucks.
Trying to not freak out, and praying that it was not a dream (he hated exercising and dieting), he bent down and picked up the straw and poked the letter again. Fortunately, it was still inert.
So, using the straw, he nudged the letter off the book, then off the table to the ground, where he picked it up and opened it.
He broke the wax seal, and opened it, curious to see who or what wrote a letter that healed people and tried to blind them at the same time, while inwardly still freaking out about the impossibility of the situation.
It was not a long a letter.
Dear Mr. Whitefeather,
you do not know me, but you recently performed admirably under my orders, and thus are eligible to receive your payment.
Please be aware that the payment is non-refundable, and we do not accept complaints.
Your rewards are the following…