AN: Next Chapter! A bit longer again this time, I did not want to make a cut in the middle of things. Some people pointed out last chapter that Kaiser isn't actually a Nazi, which is true, in a way. But I also do not think he has a problem insulting people in a - for him - quite familiar way. If you keep hearing the same insults from your surroundings, you may pick them up for yourself sooner or later.

Now, the usual stuff: Violence etc. you know the drill. And with that: Have fun!

Chapter 16

Amy Dallon

In a way it was funny.

Not some insane idiot blowing up the city of course, but the fact that her "grounding" had been in effect for not even a full day. Because of course Carol could not deny the citizens of Brockton Bay access to their favorite pet-healer.

Not that Amy would have risked doing nothing anyways, she had a responsibility. Not healing them was the same as injuring them yourself; refusing to act even once was the start of a slippery slope, you had to actively work to not become a villain, and so on. Carol was not a good mother to Amy, true, but the girl was too afraid of her being right.

Better not risk it.

At least there was a lot of variety, for the moment. She felt horrible about thinking it, but the bomb Tinker was creative, it made the work a lot less dull. The blood, the whimpers of pain, the gore and viscera, none of those things truly touched Amy Dallon. She was used to it.

She had worked in hospitals tirelessly for years, she had been there when the Simurgh laid waste to another City. She was used to it. Just like she was used to being an unpaid servant of the masses, a slave to the usefulness of her power.

The girl frowned; her inner voice had become more and more cruel recently.

That was one of the reasons she had spoken up at their shared meal to begin with, why she had defended the unknown new cape. She was a symbol, no, a possibility. A cape that took matters in their own hand, a cape that did not fit the mold, refused to bow to the might of the rules created by the heroes and governments. At first glance she was everything a hero should be wary of, if not actively fight.

And yet Vicky had talked to her, called her nice. So maybe her sister would still be able to like Amy once she cracked too? Because she would, she was sure of it. She didn't know when, but since triggering, she had been fighting an uphill battle.

There would come a point where she would stumble and fall, and no longer care to get up and try again. If there was a world, where the girl she loved, where Victoria could forgive that? Then she had to defend that possibility.

Or she could just change her sisters brain a little and-

No, nonono, joking about that, even in the safety of her own mind – it had been a joke! - was too dangerous. There would be a point where Amy would be unsure if she was joking. Giving in to temptation, no matter how small was too big of a risk.

"Amy? Gotta bring you to the next point, you ready?"

The mousy girl blinked, truly registering the body underneath her fingers for the first time. Hastily undoing the unconscious modifications and improvements she had begun to make – like a mirror to her thoughts – she stood up. The man was pale and thin, but he had his legs back.

"Yeah, I am finished here." She dodged the tearful and babbling wife with the ease of long practice. Walking towards Vicky's strong, wonderful embrace, Amy glanced back for only a moment. "He will feel a bit weak for a few days, give him a lot of food and water so he can replenish his reserves. That's all."

Ignoring the sobbing "Thank you's", she spared her previous patient no more thought at all. Panacea was the healer, she was just doing her duty.

No matter how much she resented it.


Missy Biron was officially fed up with this bullshit.

Each corpse she and the other wards uncovered, every injured scream or sob they were forced to hear, they were all like nails stabbing into her head. Also she was nearly soaking wet and that did not help at all. Fucking rain, fucking villains, fucking Piggot.

"Why can't we also hunt for that stupid bitch Bakuda?! I can't keep doing this!", she complained. Loudly. Again. A deep sigh was the only answer she got.

Gallant may have the patience of a saint, but both the situation and the grumbling of his teammates was getting to him too. All the Wards were on edge. Understandable, really. Not only was the relief-effort horrifying and messy, they were not even having too much of an impact.

True, they had powers, and they had saved quite a few people that would have died without attention – people even the trained Agents of the PRT would not have been able to save. But none of that was actually stopping the injuries happening in the first place.

Scowling Vista turned to Gallant: "You cannot tell me that you disagree! Let the others handle this and let us hunt for Bakuda too! The faster we get her, the faster this misery ends!"

"We all know that Vista." Dennis – Clockblocker – said wearily. His usually cheerful mood was subdued and morose. His fully enclosing costume made seeing his expression impossible, but they all could hear the frown. "But I have never seen Piggot OR Armsmaster be so serious when they told us to stay out of it. And they are both always serious."

He just repeated what they all knew and had spoken about before. This was not the first time one of them voiced their complaints today, and not the first time that they got talked down by the others either.

"It still sucks." The youngest ward grumbled, before she gestured to one pile of rubble. The small gap between some bricks widened substantially. The body beneath them was not breathing. Also, pretty messy. Grimacing, she let her power fade. "I fucking hate this."

It was telling how the others felt, because none of them reacted to her cursing like they usually would.

"Honestly, I cannot believe that being on console is the best job right now! This is stupid!", she continued angrily, "And yes, Kid Win can Tinker while being on console, unlike us, but that doesn't make it better. Also, it's bullshit that he was never allowed to Tinker on console but now they change the rules like that?!"

"Any word on how the hunt is going?" Browbeat spoke up hopefully, interrupting her before she could go into more of a rant. Also not for the first time. The boy with the body of an absurd bodybuilder was usually quiet and faded into the background somehow, even with his massive physique. But he too felt the pressure and wanted this over and done with.

Before Aegis in his capacity as team leader could answer, another dull explosion ripped through the city some distance away. "Never mind. Guess we know where to go next."

And that was that.

Shadow Stalker

She was still fuming. And a bit dumbfounded.

This all was Hebert's fault somehow, she was sure of it. Emma hadn't snitched, neither had Madison. Hebert had not suddenly reappeared either, as far as she knew. It had looked like they got away with everything Scot-free. And yet Sophia now sat in a powered holding cell, an electronic tracker on her leg with nothing to pass the time except staring at a wall.

So something had gone wrong, and she hadn't noticed.

The plan was – as far as they told her – to station her somewhere else, under heavy scrutiny. Which made no sense either – she had broken her agreement with the PRT and going to some sort of prison should have been the consequence. Nothing made sense and nothing was happening either. They put her in this cell, and since then only Armsmaster came once to talk to her.

Or question her, rather. She had not realized that his lie-detector was fully operational until it was too late. There were a lot of reasons why Sophia was pissed off. The suspense was not helping either.

Neither were the faint explosions in the distance. Something was going on and she was left in the dark. She was a hero goddammit, let her stop whatever shitty villain was making that ruckus! She could do it too!

She was being wasted sitting in this cell!


She had never worked together with such a strange individual. After Taylor had brought her to one of Lisa's (few) apartments that Coil shouldn't know about, she had done something with her helmet and the Thinkers computer. Now there was some sort of Tinker-voice chat on it – at least that's what her power suggested to her as the most likely thing – and she was using it to work together with her new bosses teammate to hunt a crazy Terrorist.

Only that her power kept changing its interpretation of things, which was quite distracting.

Talking to you. Not talking to you. Not looking at you. Observing you. Not seeing you. Far away. Close by. And so on.

She had to use it to be useful in the search, obviously, so she couldn't help and pick some things up. Knowing that Taylor not giving her nearly any information about Vega meant she was hiding something she did not want her to find out, Lisa tried to not get to the bottom of things.

Even though her inner Tattletale really wanted to.

But it was not worth the risk. She had a decent rapport with Taylor, and her partnership had already paid off in some way – she was free of Coil, for the moment. But it also had its drawbacks; if Taylor got a kill-order because she kept killing people then Lisa would get one too. Most likely. Which would be a pain. Also, Taylor was still quite unhinged some of the time.

And Lisa had no idea if finding out whatever she was hiding would make Taylor want to kill her. She was sure Taylor would not enjoy doing it – probably – but she would do it for sure if she thought it necessary.

But her stupid power kept digging at the wrong secret!

"Are you alright, you seem distracted?" Vegas voice seemed to hold genuine concern, even through the strange voice modulator he was always using. But he could just be faking it. Also there was no video so how did he know?!

"I am fine, my power can sometimes be a bit too distracting to keep a conversation going." The girl lied easily. Well, it was not a total lie, but that was obviously not what kept her from talking. She did not want to find out anything by accident or make her thoughts obvious.

"Ah, I see. No problem. Can you look at this? I may have found a pattern." The man replied, accompanied by a new file popping up on her screen. She would have to destroy her laptop later, she would never be sure that she was rid of the Tinkers programs otherwise. Good thing Taylor had grabbed the first computer she had seen, there was nothing sensitive on it at all.

Imagine having sensitive material on every computer she owned in every hiding spot. It would be a total nightmare.

The file was a map with different markings which kept changing in real time. Even though she was not connected to any sort of data bank that could tell either her or Vega those things. Also, it was a single file, not a program. This was easy to ignore though.

Powers were bullshit after all, she had seen stranger things.

"Alright, I see what you mean. You may be right. Send Taylor to Maple Street then, let's check this theory." Honestly, if the subject wasn't so grim and her power wasn't determined to put her into an early grave, Lisa would have a lot of fun with this. She had tracked people before of course, heroes, villains, possible targets. But this was more of a scavenger hunt seemingly tailored to be neither too easy nor too hard.

Sadly it was also about someone bombing the city she was living in.


I was getting impatient. My bad mood kept deteriorating more and more. At least I had a name to put on the person I was hunting. Bakuda. She had threatened to blow up her college, if Vega's research was to be believed.

And nobody told them that she was in Brockton Bay!?

I did not know which was worse: That the heroes had known she was here and didn't say anything, or that they didn't know and lost track of a terrorist. No, maybe I was being unfair, I did not know. My anger made it a lot easier to judge everything and everyone.

It would be a lot easier to control if I had a target to unleash it on. Rubble and debris didn't count, for obvious reasons. I was brimming with nervous energy and anger both. Also, where the fuck was Maple Street?! I had never heard of it.

Vega obviously noticed that I had slowed down, and took pity on me, without me having to ask. "Two more turns and then go left the moment you can." Grunting in acknowledgment, I followed his directions.

"Why are you not just putting a marker on my visor again?" I asked, partly to distract me from the destruction and partly because I was actually curious. It would make things easier for me after all.

"Ah, my apologies. I am a bit occupied. I tried to multitask like I was used to in the facility, but things are a bit different when using the fortress. I am still getting used to it." He sounded like that admission pained him. After all, he was "only" doing a dozen things at the same time. A pretty big number for me personally, but I guess for an AI it was different. I guess we all had our pride somewhere. A loud explosion shook the ground and interrupted my train of thought.

I had been too slow.

What had been once a cheerful store of some kind was now a burning wreckage. The flames had a sickly yellow tint to them and licked downwards, like someone had grabbed the whole thing and turned it upside down. They did not care about the rain either, but neither were they spreading right now.

Hearing a pained whimper, I marched through the wall next to the shattered door. A quick glance showed me a man weakly crawling away from the fire. He had probably been manning the heavyset counter, which had likely saved him. The bomb had gone off right in front of it, some stinking remains was all that was left of the perpetrator.

Vega had told me that many of the explosions were suicide-bombers that had no other choice, but this was the first time I had seen the direct evidence. I did not like it. Grabbing the wounded man, I marched back through the hole, carrying him with ease.

Only to come face to face with a boy in a skintight white costume – and why had so many heroes skintight outfits anyways? - with multiple clocks on it. They moved too, amusingly enough. He startled badly upon seeing me, but regained his composure in record time.

"Let me see him.", he requested quickly, something I had no problem with. I laid the victim on the ground, and he quickly tapped him. The man immediately stilled. Glancing up towards me, he explained: "I can freeze stuff in time. Panacea was close to here, she is already on her way." He held up his hand and I took it. "Clockblocker, nice to meet you." I had guessed as much, the costume was pretty clear.

"I am Vista!"

I would forever deny that I nearly stabbed the speaker in surprise. She had just suddenly appeared next to me, with no warning whatsoever. I knew Vista of course. People liked to call her "cutest hero", something she allegedly disliked.

Trying to appear professional (and cool of course), I gave her a nod and shook her hand aswell. She looked so adorable. "Officially we are not supposed to talk or interact with you at all, but it's not like we searched you out. So!" Before the youngest Ward could start with whatever she wanted to say, a man in a red bodysuit – Aegis—landed next to her. It was also a skintight costume. Of course.

"Vista, Piggot was pretty clear about protocol in this situation.", he warned sternly. Something that gave me mixed feelings; he was very nice to look at, but he didn't seem to be very nice to listen to. Vista was decidedly unimpressed.

"What? It's gonna be fine. We have to wait for Panacea anyways and we are not supposed to engage her. So we can't leave without going against orders and we can't stay for the same reason. So why worry about it, instead of using the time?" Seemingly deciding that she was done with that topic – wasn't Aegis the team leader? - she turned back to me. "So! I have mixed feelings about you!" She was pretty blunt. She also was trying to emulate a stern police officer or something; arms crossed, shoulders squared and all that. While getting rained on.

She looked sooooo adorable.

"Is that so?" Having such a cute "interrogator" made it very easy to find the whole thing more amusing than anything else. "And why is that?" I noticed that two other people had joined us; someone in silver power armor and someone in a blue suit. The latter had a body any cartoon bodybuilder would be jealous of. I nearly took a visible double take upon realizing that he wasn't wearing some sort of armor. That was actually all him.

"Well, we talked about you. And we have very different opinions. I personally think," and there she lowered her voice, even though we were alone on the street and the roaring fire combined with the rain was masking most of the sound anyways, "that someone is finally doing something. You have no idea how frustrating it is to get told every day that we have to back off."

"And yet you flaunt the rules, go way too far too easily and seem as much as a danger to the rest of the city than the villains." The power armor wearing hero interrupted. "Rules are there for a reason, so we don't get open warfare. Or a terrorist blowing up half the city." Vista had distracted me from my bad mood, but that guy just had made himself an easy target. My blood roared in my head.

"Gallant, right?" I asked him, but continued before he could answer. "Did you just accuse me of being the reason an insane villain is blowing up my fucking city?" The nerve! I hadn't even done anything to that bitch in particular?! I had been hunting Coil and the Empire, cleaning up the mess the heroes refused to touch.

"Yes.", he replied flatly. "Things were fine before you started murdering your way through the streets-" I am sure he kept talking, but I couldn't hear him. Things had been fine before I started doing something? Things had been utter shit! And they attacked me first!

I was vaguely aware of the heroes closing ranks, which confused me. Did they really think I would attack them over an argument? I was not that stupid. Until they attacked me first I would not act against them. Then I realized that Gallant had collapsed and was breathing heavily, which knocked me out of my anger induced stupor.

"What is wrong with him?", I snapped. If he was under attack by some unknown parahuman, we had to get out of this open street. My question gave Aegis pause.

"So you didn't do anything to him?", he asked suspiciously. "Because this looked like some sort of power." I crossed my arms and shook my head.

"I have no intention of fighting heroes unless they attack me first. I have nothing against you personally, and besides attacking you would be the height of stupidity. Has this ever happened before? Some sort of power from a villain?" Aegis shook his head. Browbeat and Clockblocker were covering their team member while Vista was creating some sort of distortions in the air. That was probably also how she got so close to me; she had some sort of spacial manipulation.

Before we could do more though, Gallant recovered for no apparent reason. Just like he had collapsed for no visible reason. "I'm fine." He waved off the concern from the others. "I know what happened. I will explain it when we debrief." Left unsaid was that he did not want me to know, which annoyed me a bit. But I couldn't blame him, we were in different teams. Sort of. At his words the rest of his team relaxed.

And then a blonde missile crashed down next to me. What was it with heroes and doing that?! Victoria Dallon, or Glory Girl right now I guessed, dropped of her passenger and then immediately rushed to Gallants side. Ignoring the drama happening there - "I'm fine Vicky." "Are you sure? Amy is right here and-" - I instead turned towards the most famous healer in the world.

I knew Panacea of course. Who didn't? But I had never seen her in person. The news always made her out to be bigger than life, like most heroes. And Glory Girl truly felt larger than life. So did many of the others I had met. Panacea? Not so much.

It wasn't because she simply looked… plainer than her sister. She did of course, Glory Girl was a bombshell of a girl. Panacea was more mousy, and looked like she was hiding in her robe and hood. Combined with the scarf that covered the lower part of her face, and her freckles covering everything else… Well she looked like someone that was very good at not getting noticed.

A bit like me and my heavy hoodies, before the locker. Not that I was ever able to actually hide. I got the feeling neither could Panacea. Also, was she checking me out or something? She had immediately moved to the victim I had mostly forgotten about and was waiting for Clockblockers power to wear off. But she kept glancing at me.

She probably didn't realize that I had noticed that the first time she did it, not even mentioning the other half a dozen glances.

Vicky had returned to her sisters side and was now eyeing me warily. She seemed uncertain about me now, instead of the supporting sunny persona she had in our previous meeting. That hurt a bit, but I could understand her. "We need to talk.", she told me firmly. "But not now. After this whole fiasco is over and done with." I nodded.

"My house is open to you." She nodded, and an awkward silence filled the space. Well, as much silence as the roaring fire and the rain did allow. Before it could get too uncomfortable though, Vega spoke up.

"Follow my markers, we may have found something." Nodding in acceptance, I turned to the gathered heroes.

"It's time to take my leave. Let's hope the next time we meet is under better circumstances." And not with them trying to arrest me or another villain creating chaos. "Take care." Vista seemed like she really wanted to follow me, but she stayed put after a warning glance from Aegis.

"What do you got for me Vega?"


She had really tried to not find anything she wasn't supposed to see. Honest! She had not succeeded. A big part of her was hoping it was one of the times her power had gotten the wrong conclusion at the start and was now completely off the deep end. Garbage in garbage out and all that. But the rest of her was very sure that her theory was correct. It would explain everything, especially the different observations her power had made at the start, and was still making.

Vega was no Tinker or Thinker. He was an AI. Or something similar to it.

That was a big deal. Sort of. Was he Taylor's AI? Did she make him? If so, what the hell was her actual power? And if not… who had made him? Could he go rogue? How much resources did he have? Also, was he actually male?

Taylor had said that her armor came from him. Was that true? Did Taylor know he was an AI? Did Vega have his own agency? How dangerous was he? IF he went rogue, could they even stop him? He was on her laptop. He was in Taylor's suit. He was probably in whatever base she had too. Where else was he?

Would Taylor stop her from spreading this knowledge? Should she spread it?

"Are you alright Miss?" Right, right, he was in the same room as her. Using her laptop camera most likely. Should she just confront him? But what if he reacted violently? Maybe she should just pretend she didn't know? But could she? Could she even fool an AI? Her power made finding information easy, not hiding it.

"Hmm, I see."

What did he see?! Did he see her? Did he know? What should she do? Could she- "Relax, Miss Wilbourn. I mean no harm to you." He knew her name?! Ah right, she had told Taylor her name. Of course he would know it. Wait, when she talked to Taylor in her home, had he been listening too? How had she not noticed?!

"No harm in what way?", she asked carefully. Maybe he didn't know that she knew what Taylor did not want her to know about? Could she run? No, she was still injured and she doubted she could outrun a computer program.

"In whatever way you are imagining right now.", he sounded exasperated, but not angry or annoyed. "Taylor was very well aware of the risk that me directly working together with you would pose. And so was I of course. As long as you do not spread the information, everything is fine. Unless this discovery has made further cooperation impossible?"

That was a loaded question, even if Vega may not see it that way. If Lisa said yes and Taylor considered that a betrayal? Not worth the risk. At all.

"I may have some… reservations." Lisa said carefully. "But no, this is no deal-breaker or anything. I will have to mentally process this though." The AI chuckled, chuckled at her. That was sort of impressive and scary at the same time.

"Don't worry, I am sure after this most recent crisis you can have some time to yourself. I will bring it up with Taylor for you, but I doubt she will refuse." That was a load of her mind. For the moment she had time. Unless that is what the AI was trying to do? Get her to lower her guard while Taylor was already on her way to silence her?

No, she was being paranoid. He was right, of course they had prepared for this possibility. They had seen her power in action before, they knew what to expect. She took a deep breath.

"Alright, let us stop a terrorist." They were close to finding Bakuda, she felt it.


Of course the crazy bomber was hiding in a dilapidated factory. For the place being abandoned and trashed, there were a lot of Asian people around. Only few of them wore the colors of the ABB, but it was still pretty obvious what was going on.

I tried to ignore the fact that Gallant was sort of right with one of his accusations: Bakuda had seized the remains of the gang under her own control. That gave her manpower, materials and protection for her to tinker in peace.

If I hadn't taken Lung and Oni Lee out of the picture, then this whole thing could have been prevented. Maybe. Maybe she was just acting out Lungs last orders. I couldn't know, but the possibility of me being responsible left a sour taste in my mouth.

Well, time to stop her.

My usual mode of operations would be to just storm in. I was a bit apprehensive about that, for two reasons. Firstly, the attack on Coil had showed me, that hurting me with Tinkertech was possible. So an actual Tinker – that probably expected me to show up sooner or later – would have countermeasures just for me. I was tough, strong and deadly.

I was not immortal. Probably. I did not wish to test it.

The second reason were the suicide bombers. Bakuda had likely put bombs in the heads of as many Asians as she could get her hands on. Her goal was terror, not complete destruction, as far as Tattletale and Vega could tell. Hence why the bombs were exploding in a regular rhythm, carefully spread out throughout the city.

That very carefulness had made it possible to track the bombers to this place, ironically enough.

But that also meant, that there were a lot of bombs still waiting for "their turn". And I was sure she had a way of blowing them up all at once. The destruction would be horrendous and I was sure the heroes would never stop hunting me if that happened.

The permanent rain was starting to piss me off, but it was covering me right now and had made the gang members retreat closer to their base. Nobody liked getting soaked to the bone for hours on end after all. It would not cover me attacking though, unless I did it with my bare fists.

And maybe not even then.

Vega noticed my hesitance of course, and trusty companion that he was offered a suggestion. "How about I stream your helmets vision to Tattletale? Now that she knows about me anyways, there is no need for subterfuge." Right, that had happened too. I really hoped Lisa would not try to do anything stupid with that information. It couldn't really hurt me, it was more of a loyalty test than anything else, but it would put me under even more scrutiny by both villains and heroes.

"Sure, go ahead." If her power was good enough that a villain had recruited her in her civilian identity at gunpoint – and her finding out about Vega being an AI this quickly gave credence to that idea – then not using that power would be stupid.

"Test test, does this work?" She sounded different like this for some reason, maybe because she was actually using a microphone unlike Vega. After giving her an affirmative, I waited for a moment for her power to fill in the blanks. "Alright, this is a bit tricky. Are you sure you do not want to wait for the heroes first?"

It was a reasonable question, but the heroes would probably imprison her, trying to get her to the birdcage and she would escape a day later. Or she would force them to back off with the threat of her bombs. Or they would simply not arrive in time, I couldn't imagine her staying at the same spot forever.

Also, I had to admit, a part of me wanted me to be the one to bring her in. Otherwise the heroes could just use this whole thing against me. Gallant was for sure not the only one thinking I was the, or at least a reason for this whole thing. If they got Bakuda, they could spin it how they wanted to.

I set her off with my rash and dangerous actions, but the PRT and Protectorate heroically stopped her from doing any more harm, for example. A lose-lose for me.

Of course I did not need to say any of that. Having someone with Lisa's power was truly handy. "Alright, if that is how you want it. But I will inform them about this the moment you go in." I could live with that.

"So any ideas?", I asked. "Time is ticking."

"Well, using your weapons is out until you are spotted anyways. It's a risk that we shouldn't take just because we can. She will not set off all her bombs the moment they spot you though. She will likely just force her people to rush you and then set their bombs off. The threat of her hostages all over the city is too big to just use as a first option." True, once you killed your hostages, there was no reason for your opponent to hold back in any way. They had already lost what they were trying to protect anyways.

"So just go in as silently as possible, but keep going when I get spotted?" That wasn't much of a plan.

"It may sound stupid, but yeah. You are not one for the finesse approach anyways, don't try to deny it. I will try to guide you together with Vega, hopefully you won't get spotted too quickly." Well, a simple plan was a lot easier to carry out. And she was not wrong, I preferred simple brute force. We would go with that "plan" then.

I may have overestimated the thugs. Or Bakuda. Or both.

Going around and knocking them out one by one was pathetically easy. It shouldn't have been so easy, I was walking around in big power armor which was neither really stealthy nor quiet. I was a bit annoyed about having to knock them out instead of taking more permanent measures, but Lisa had pointed out a few things:

I could not know who was forced to be here via bomb-threat and who had joined the ABB out of their own free will. And even if I didn't care about that – which was not the case, the idea that one of them could have been my dad in a different universe gave me pause – then the bombs may be rigged to explode once the wearer died anyways.

They could also have exploded if I knocked them out, but fortunately that was not the case.

So I walked up to a gang member, choked them out carefully so I didn't break their necks by accident, carried them away quickly and repeated the process. It was going very well too. Soon I had cleared every sentry outside of the building.

Of course that was the moment a door opened and a handful of thugs stepped out. They realized something was wrong pretty quickly, once they noticed that nobody was there anymore. One of them grabbed for something in his pocket – a phone or a weapon. I didn't care which. It made me rush at them as fast as my legs could carry.

Which was pretty fast.

I was on them before they registered my approach. I put them down quickly and brutally. I heard bones break and suppressed a wince, hoping they wouldn't explode. Before I could check, someone started shooting at me from a nearby window.

So that was it with stealth then.

Shredding the shooter with some well placed bullets, I stormed into the building. There were dozens of people here. All of them in the midst of getting ready for an intruder. They had reacted quickly. But they had no chance either way. I gunned them down with only a tiny bit of remorse. I could not make sure of their true allegiance beforehand after all. Then I had to lunge away hastily. One of the thugs from the entrance had exploded behind me.

It was a normal explosion, so I was no worse for wear.

But that one incident seemed to have heralded the bloodbath that followed. None of the others in the room survived. They all went up in a dazzling array of colors and explosions. Even those I had already put down beforehand.

It was disgusting.

Some of the bombs had the same effect as a common explosion, more or less. Some left strange, eldritch flames. Some left smoke that hungrily ate away at anything it touched. Some flash-froze their surroundings. Others created zones where people exploded in slow motion. From those last ones I stayed as far away as possible.

Then there were the disgusting and horrifying ones. A man looked like he was boiling from the inside. Another had cracked and shattered like glass but was still gasping for breath. One especially unfortunate soul looked like they were slowly melting.

I put them all out of their misery. It was a mercy-killing. I had a strong stomach, I did not feel queasy – not like Tattletale, who, I was pretty sure, had thrown up at her apartment. But this was still not something I was indifferent to. Seeing this just made one thing fully clear to me: I was right in doing this, in wanting to kill Bakuda. The heroes would let her live, and she did not deserve that kindness. But it also showed me the stakes. If she blew up every person she had armed, this was the fate so many people would be forced to endure.

I could not fuck this up.

Also, Bakuda was not here? At least it looked like it, I doubted a madwoman like her would blow up her very surroundings. But our best lead pointed to her being here. "Taylor, walk slowly through the room for me please. And don't touch the remains of the bombs.", my personal Thinker spoke up. Rolling my eyes at that obvious demand, I did as she asked. I only got halfway until she gave a pleased hum and Vega pointed out a trapdoor in my vision.

A trapdoor, really? How cliche could someone get? Walking carefully towards it, I waited a moment before Lisa gave me the all-clear. Then I pointed my gun downwards and fired. After a whole magazine, I stepped back, reloaded, and then slowly made my way downstairs. To my apprehension, there were no traps that either of my companions could find and seemingly none that they missed either. I got to the bottom without incident.

The hall I stepped into was just as big as the one I had just left, maybe more so. It was also filled with machinery, casings obviously made for bombs and small mountains of materials lying around. The place was both a mess and something most Tinkers would most likely drool over. On the other side, standing at the biggest table in the room, was a woman wearing goggles and a metal mask. It was equipped with a gas-mask filter and every breath she made made a soft hiss. I wasn't sure if I found her costume impressive or silly. The concept of Star-Wars had come from Earth Aleph before my time, but that did not mean I didn't know Darth Vader.

"Wait there, I am nearly done." Her voice was changed too, to a robotic drawl. I suppressed a snort. Both at her demand and at her copying of a movie villain. Giving the Tinker time to finish whatever they were working on? Yeah, no. The moment Tattletale said it was probably safe, I cautiously made my way over. Bakuda of course noticed and gave an annoyed huff.

"I know that you are not smart enough to understand my genius, but when someone like me tells you to wait, you should listen." She held up a small device with a big red button. "Another step and I blow up half of the bombs I have placed in this city."

I stopped.

She nodded, pleased. "Good. Now! Stay. Put!" Before I could come up with anything, she quickly twisted something until it clicked twice and then turned back to me. "Alright! Now that that is finished, surrender or I blow everything to bits." Yeah no, that was not happening. That said, the situation was not very good.

"That detonator is a decoy." Lisa said quietly. "She has a real one on her person. Her mask? No, that's not it..." She mumbled, obviously pushing her power to get results fast.

Bakuda seemed annoyed that I was not falling to my knees and begging her for mercy or something. She crossed her arms, her finger playing with the decoy. "Really? Are you stupid? Do you know how much damage I can cause with this button? Did you expect that I wouldn't see you coming? Did you think you had any chance to win this? I am a genius. You are just some random parahuman trash. We are not even close to on the same level."

She oozed arrogance, even through her voice changer. "Honestly, I should thank you in a way. Without you, this would have been a lot more difficult. Your actions made me leader of the ABB, got me out of Lungs grasp – hell you even distracted the other gangs for me so I could set this whole thing up!" She gesticulated towards the evidence of her work. I did not show that her praise hat hit a nerve.

"Its not your fault. Some are made to be leaders, others are made to be grunts and dumb muscle.", she mocked. "The world isn't fair, unfortunately for you." She mustered me for a moment. "Hey, how about this? You surrender, I put a bomb in your head for insurance, and then you become my grunt? That's the highest position you could ever hope to reach."

She did not even sound like she was trying to taunt me with her last sentence, she fully believed what she was saying about our respective places in the world. "Her detonator is somewhere on her feet. It's connected to her goggles, but the activation system is on her feet." My ally informed me quickly.

"So what do you say?" She picked up a very large grenade launcher. That was the thing she had been working on as I came in. "Or I could just blow you up. It's your choice." Well, now that I had my target, things were a lot easier. Still risky of course, but easier. I was honestly surprised that this was her whole plan. No elaborate trap or anything, just a straight up hostage situation. Well, I guess my plan had not been too complicated either.

"I surrender.", I said, trying to sound defeated. I also dropped my heavy cannon on the ground and held my hands up.

"Wonderful!" She came slowly closer. "If you think about attacking me, know that I am prepared for that too. If I get hurt, my bombs trigger.", she casually informed me. "You can't defeat someone like me. I am glad you see reason. Now take your helmet off." I obliged, hoping I hadn't miscalculated.

The moment my helmet was lifted from my face, she pressed a button and a wall of something impacted me. Like nails being driven through my brain. It was painful, but pain was not something that had much of an impact on me anymore. It was likely supposed to stun me. So she could put her bomb in place without having to fear retaliation.

It did stun me, to be fair. For about five seconds.

I waited, lying on the floor. Until she stepped above me and looked at me critically. The moment she noticed that my eyes were a lot clearer than they should be, I had already moved. My Doomblade, something I so rarely used that she had not even noticed it, snapped out. A quick sweep, and Bakuda lost both of her legs at the knees.

A brutal shove made sure she wasn't even close to her lost limbs. Giving chase, I kicked the launcher out of her hand. Ignoring the dry crack of her hand, I tried to pry of her goggles. Her eyes were wide in pain. But she was still able to act. With a hissed curse, she blinked twice while looking at something.

Lisa's shout of warning was the only thing that saved me.

Kicking the villains body with as much force as I could, I pushed myself back. Only a moment later her body got ripped apart in a spray of black sludge. Some of it got on my right arm. I had used it to shield my uncovered face. For good reason. Because the moment it made contact, it started burning straight through my suit. Then my skin. Then my bones. Watching in horror I saw how what seemed like some sort of infection burned its way towards the rest of my body.

I had to act quickly.

Using my still extended Doomblade, I started sawing off my arm at the shoulder. Without both my strength and the sharpness of the blade, I would have been too slow. Without my high pain-tolerance, I would have hesitated. I had all of it though, so I just barely freed myself from my own limb, before the black stuff could get any further.

I gave a deep sigh of relief.

My eyes were full of tears from the pain, and it would take a while to regenerate both my arm and armor, but I was alive. Clumsily grabbing my helmet, I put it on again. "Taylor! Are you alright? Can you move? Do you need medical assistance? Can-"

"I'm fine Lisa.", I gently stopped her. Vega was used to me getting injured – was there when I had been injured worse in fact, so he took my words at face value. He did not like it, but he knew that I wouldn't budge. Lisa took a bit longer to calm down. I was honestly touched by her concern, any reservations she had before, either because of Vega or my own actions had been put aside in favor of my well-being.

"That was a lot closer than you might think Taylor", she told me grimly. "That bomb was a last fuck you to whoever managed to stop Bakuda. I am pretty sure it was designed to deal with Lung. If you had not been able to cut the limb from you, or if more than that splash had hit you, you would have died." I had thought as much, but it was still chilling to hear.

"Well, I am alive, she is not. Have you recorded her suicide Vega?" He answered in the affirmative. It was an Idea we had beforehand; if Bakuda somehow forced me to kill her, the evidence would help my case.

And if I killed her in cold blood, well then we just wouldn't share said evidence.

My arm was tingling unpleasantly, but otherwise I was fine to move. A quick glance around the room showed that the sludge had done nothing to anything else. We would inform the heroes about it, so that nobody got killed by it by accident. They would find a way to safely dispose of it. Hopefully.

Making my way upstairs and then outside, I took a deep breath. The rain plinking of my armor was more soothing than irritating now, after all that excitement. Then I noticed the man clad in a suit made of swords and steel, flanked by two gorgeous women in very, uh, airy armor. A mix of Valkyrie and bikini. But I guess they were Brutes, so actual armor was not very effective anyways.

"All this attention for me? I am flattered and I have a Déjà-vu." I was trying to make myself seem unphased, but this was, once again, not a good situation to be in. I was wounded, and they had sent quite the force. I mean, the leaders of two villain gangs were here. I also spotted someone suspiciously looking like a mercenary, who was probably working for a certain villain on top of one of the buildings.

"Now now, we are just giving you the respect you deserve.", Kaiser said calmly. At his side, the Valkyrie-twins had already started growing, slowly towering over him.

"Do not worry, we will make it quick."

Why was it always me?

AN: A bit of a cliffhanger, but I guess you are used to that by now and the chapter was getting a bit long. Until next time, where we maybe finally get a showdown with something more than just grunts. Who knows?

See ya ~