Second chapter since opt-in, 16/2/23


"So, therapy," Dez stated, all but ambushing Taylor on her way through the common room. "Can't imagine that went too well."

Taylor just gave her an unimpressed look.

"Yeah, we have a new therapist on the rotation this week. Just out of training."

"We get a therapist straight out of training?"

"Well, with between the rotation and security checks, we'd run out of therapists too quickly otherwise,* she responded with a shrug.

"What do you mean 'rotation'? Isn't the basis of therapy trust? I mean, from what Bastion said…"

"Well, when you get a good therapist you can build that trust, but you have to put up with the bad ones too. Just do some research on what therapists want to hear, parrot it back until the good therapist rotates back and talk with them properly. It's what we all do."

Taylor stared.

"That… the Teeth have never had any therapists, but I would stake good money that our mental health is still better than these Wards."

"Not just these Wards," Dodger corrected. "There's a reason I stayed an Independent. The horror stories I was told…"

"R-right," Taylor said out loud. "Do you have a… therapy guide around or…"

"No, that would be too obvious. But there's a good online therapy site to check. Let me just write the address down for you…"

{}

It was only after they had gone their separate ways that Dez realised she had forgotten to ask about if there was anything living in the walls.

She hadn't heard anything as distinct as voices so far, but there was something if she listened closely enough…

{}

As soon as she was secure in her room Taylor started up the laptop to visit the site Dez had recommended.

"So, what precisely is the goal here?"

"To convince the therapist I'm stable enough they don't need to be too concerned and keep a close watch on me," Taylor answered, getting out a pen and paper for notes.

"That may not be the best of ideas…"

"And why not?"

"What I believe my predecessor is getting at is that, if therapy sessions get in the way of power testing, you may prefer to go to therapy instead."

Taylor paused.

"I'm listening."

"If you can convince them that you're… not a danger per se, but rather that you… are not yet ready to be a Cape…"

"They'll hold me back from being announced as a Ward and I can keep doing what I've been doing so far! I can say with confidence that this is the best suggestion you guys have given me so far."

She got to work with a different focus.

{}

By the time Taylor set down her pen she had a couple of pages on how to convince a therapist she shouldn't be an active Ward.

That done, she checked the time.

"So, time to head for patrol?"

"I don't think so. Not if we're going ahead with the plan."

Taylor frowned.

"Which plan?"

"That you pretend to have separated parents, and catch the train between them."

With the reminder, the memories came back.

"So I take a week off, until my next lesson, and hopefully convince everyone I don't work for Accord. Right, but what do I do in the meantime?"

"I would prepare," Forge declared. "That is the most important thing about Tinkers after all."

"Right. What was your specialty anyway? I don't think it ever came up…"

"Improvements," he stated, clearly expecting to be made fun of.

"Isn't that… a bit mundane? Aren't most Tinkers something like 'opening holes between universes' or 'energy weapons galore' or something?"

"Not all of us," he responded petulantly. "I mean, take Armsmaster. His specialty is supposed to be efficiency. The ability to take conventional technology and make it smaller so he can fit more in. And with that he bevame one of the foremost Tinkers in the country. Or Dragon."

"I'm pretty sure she doesn't just base her stuff off conventional tech."

"But her specialty is simply reverse engineering Tinkertech. And she's the current icon for all Tinkers! We do not need a superscience specialty."

Taylor winced at the impact of his words inside her head.

"Okay, fine. They have done some pretty amazing things with their not-so-amazing specialties."

Even if it didn't help them notice the actions of their Wards.

"But how good can 'improvements' be as a specialty?"

"For one thing, it works with everything. Our minigun, it has a faster rate of fire, higher muzzle velocity and greater accuracy, all improvements from my power. It was supposed to be lighter, but with the Brutes…"

A thought crossed her mind.

"How does that lead to fixing the costume material?"

"We took the basic material and improved it so you can breathe and speak through it. After all, most fabric allows at least some air to pass through it, so by expanding on that…"

That… had a lot of potential.

"How well does it work with other Tinkertech?"

"No idea."

There was a note of anger.

"Um…"

"I was a mechanic, a good one if I do say so myself. I'd just about lined up a contract, something that would have kept me afloat for years at least, when a Tinker showed up and talked them into using him. It would be far better than anything a normal person could do, he told them. And they wouldn't have to keep someone like me on the payroll to keep it running."

"Doesn't Tinkertech need maintenance from the Tinker?"

"Yes. At least most of the time, one of my basic improvements is ignoring that. So I lose out on the job, the parts I'd already ordered going to waste, and then they discover thr Tinker was something of a villain, holding the maintenance over their heads as extortion."

"They didn't see it coming?"

"Powers were still new back then," Forge dismissed. "In the end he got a lot more money from them than I would have charged, before running afoul of someone I am almost certain was VII's uncle."

"Their personality's were always close enough."

"So that left them with this Tinkertech, a status symbol, they convinced themselves to justify the expense, and no way for the Tinker to maintain it. And so they turned back to me."

"For the original contract?"

"No, to keep it going. An impossible task, obviously."

"What happened?"

"I tried to keep it working at first, but it didn't make sense! When the first part failed I ended up replacing it. Suddenly they thought it was working better than it ever had. As it kept failing, I replaced more and more with regular technology. It still looked like the original Tinkertech, and worked just as well, but it wasn't. And then they foynd out."

Taylor winced.

"They fired you? I can see why you'd dislike Tinkers…"

"It wasn't just that they fired me for failing at an impossible task. That was my Trigger."

She froze.

"Shit, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up something like that, I had no idea I just-"

"It's alright. I… think I needed to actually tell someone. What it meant was Tinkers are a major part of my Trigger, which would make working with them… something of a problem. And as hero groups like Tinkers to collaborate…"

"You joined the Teeth," Taylor finished. "Why not another gang?"

"They all tend to get as many Tinkers as they can, using force to bring us on board and working yogether if need be. This way, it was just me. And I could go after other villainous Tinkers more… permanently. Like that teleport specialty Tinker I tracked to the Bay…"

"Wait, that's why I ended up Inheriting? Mistaken identity?"

His silence was confirmation enough.

"But.. one of the reasons the Teeth turned out like they did was NEPEA. How did that guy get away with what he did?"

"It might have been before the Teeth, and I might have joined the PR Taskforce briefly when NEPEA passed," Forge grumbled. "I might also have faked my death and destroyed my hero gear when they tried pairing me with someone who could have been that Tonkers sister."

"But… you didn't look that old."

"I improved on one of those 'anti-aging' formulas."

"You… made an actual anti-aging formula."

"I… would be willing to share how to make it when you reach middle age at the earliest."

"Why the delay? Why not share it as soon as possible?"

"It's Tinkertech, there are side effects."

"Right," Taylor responded, trying not to think about what those side effects might have been. "So, what would you suggest I work on for next week?"

"I remember a good blueprint for an improved range stungun and a fazter recharge taser…"

Taylor frowned.

"Aren't those the wrong way around? I mean, aren't stunguns the melee ones and tasers the ones that work at a distance?"

There was the impression of Forge laughing.

"That's ridiculous. Who would use a gun in melee?"

There was the impression of over half the Butchers raising their hands.

"Get it just right and you can shoot them in the back," Fester commented.

Taylor sighed.

"Right, takedown gear sounds reasonable, but obviously we can't make it obvious that it is Tinkertech. Suggestions?"

{}

Grue waited until their 'new recruit' had left with her share from the casino job, Rachel and Regent already taking the rest back to the loft, before confronting Tattletale.

"She's a Ward. A clearly unstable Ward."

She didn't bother denying it.

"The boss saw an opportunity to recruit her."

"And how do we know she won't just turn us in?"

"She is planning to," Tattletale admitted.

"Tattletale…"

"But only when she has something on the boss. By then she should be on our side."

"Do you know that for sure?"

There was a pause as she clearly deliberated over what to say.

"She has… issues," was the eventual response. "The sort that I would want to get involved in. It's all Trigger stuff," she added, to prevent any deeper questioning. "What it boils down to is wanting to be better. When she learns why you want the money, she'll want to help, and feel bad about her plans for when she switches sides again."

"The fact she has those plans is less than reassuring…"

"She already plans to check out Rachels story," Tattletale continued, "and I'm sure I can get her on my side."

"Which leaves Regent."

Who, despite everything, was still a member of the team.

"She identifies with him, the way he's broken as well."

"That hardly fills me with confidence…"

He sighed.

"At least the job went off without any problems. It seems she was right about the extra dogs."

Tattletale winced.

"What?"

"That… wasn't a good idea. At all. They nearly went rogue a number of times, and you know what that would mean for Rachel. The projections helped, but even so it was too close for comfort."

And of course Regent was already planning on them being a regular thing, so he wouldn't need to put in so much effort.

"Exactly."

He sighed.

"Times like this I wish the boss hadn't made me leader…"

"That's funny, because times like this I'm glad he did…"

{}

"The problem is most of this would obviously be Tinkertech," Taylor decided, looking over the list they'd made, her and the Butchers not listening to the radio she'd switched on or with a number between six and eight.

"You could try passing yourself off as a Tinker. Say you'd made some kind of… shadow cloak or something, that your combat techniques relied on."

"Except nothing else would fit the theme. Claim Tinker support?"

"Everyone would look for the Tinker."

"Claim thry died and we're using the leftover stuff?"

"We'd have to keep phasing everything out, to simulate its natural failure."

"Meaning it wouldn't work as a long-term solution," Taylor sighed, sitting back in her chair.

"Or… we could make it look like normal technology, with the Tinkertech loaded inside."

"Does it need to be Tinkertech?"

"Faster cycling rate, longer time between charging… maybe even make it smaller."

"Any way to make sure it would be safe? I mean, I've heard about people having complications from tasers or stunguns."

"Not sure. Maybe if we use a different means to knock them out, instead of electricity…"

"Can you do that?"

"I never really looked into it. There wasn't much call for that sort of thing before… well, before, and then gangs don't tend to go for non-lethals so…"

Taylor nodded slowly.

"Right, so a non-electrical stungun is on the construction list, or a normal one and some kind of defibrillator."

"Good fun, defibbing," a Butcher commented unhelpfully.

"We just need some excuse for me to get the parts and fiddle about with them."

"I've heard about some therapists recommending people taking up working with their hands."

"So the next sessions goal is for them to recommend I try working with my hands while declaring I'm not fit to be a Ward yet. Right, let's get back to the research…"

It was nearly four in the morning by the time she was satisfied with the plan.

{}

"Package left for you in the night," Kurt told Danny as he arrived at the Docks. "Had the guys check it over, just in case, but it seems clean."

Danny accepted the package, wondering why someone would leave something like that for the union.

Under the table work?

A warning from one of the gangs?

He dismissed the second possibility.

They wouldn't be quite so subtle.

The package opened easily, revealing a bundle of banknotes and nothing else.

Kurt whistled at the sight.

"Must be a few thousand there. Any job with them?"

"Nothing," Danny answered, even more confused.

Who would have a reason to just give them money?


Omake: Alibi

(Note: inspired by comments on the story and the Joker comics from the days of the Comic Code Authority.)

"... and here is our latest patient," the new security guard was told as he followed the doctor showing him around the parahuman asylum. "A sad case, she was signed up with the Wards, then the therapist discovered she was… less than entirely sane, shall we say. She doesn't cause any trouble, but if anything her sessions show her getting worse."

The guard nodded, looking through the viewing hatch to see a brunette lying in bed.

"What powers does she have?"

"Some kind of phasing," the doctor shrugged, "apparently had that Stalker Cape from Brockton Bay around when she Triggered. I've never actually seen her power in action, but we've worked on the assumption that they have the same weakness to electricity, so we're using that to keep her contained."

The doctor paused a moment longer before sliding the hatch closed.

"You don't need to worry about her much, just check in at the start and end of your shift. Anyway along here we have…"

{}

Taylor waited until she was sure the doctor and guard were gone before looking up.

She was just in time to see the light on the camera in her room blink from red to yellow.

She cast the blanket off, grabbing her costume cushion from the chair and dressing.

"Wonder why the old guard quit, family troubles maybe," Amazon pondered, her soap withdrawal leading her to project similar plotlines onto the asylum staff.

Doubt it, Taylor answered, glancing out the window and teleporting to freedom.

She might have… misjudged her approach to therapy, but at least the asylum gave her the perfect alibi, especially after she had modified the camera, with help from the supplies filling her rooms walls.

She did feel somewhat bad about abandoning Ana, but they still kept in contact online, when the staff let her, but that was the only thing she truly regretted about how things turned out.

"Normal patrol, or are you checking out the rumours about this 'Kingmaker'," Dodger checked.

I'm thinking I'll check them out first, Taylor decided. Well, second, I need to visit the armoury first…


Omake: the Forums

(Note: I realised I forgot something.)

XxVoid_CowboyxX

[Comment deleted]

[User temp-banned, 24 hours]

No speculation on Cape identities - Butcher_Official (Moderator)

FlippinMad

What the- how did the Butcher end up as a forum mod?

Butcher_Official (Verified Cape)(Verified Butcher)(Boogeyman)(Moderator)(Original Poster)

The usual way, it's in the forum documentation.

Tin_Mother (Moderator)

I'm not sure if I should be more concerned that the Butcher managed to get Moderator status or that apparently nobody else seems to have looked at what you need to do to get Moderator status…

GlitzGlam

I think the bigger question is whether their Moderator status should be removed when the next Butcher Inherits…

Bagrat (the guy in the know)

Given that this is the Butcher users guide, I think the bigger question is whose identity Void was speculating on.

I'm not asking about civilian identity, just the Cape one, before Butcher hits me with the banhammer (a line I never thought I'd type).


Note: So, two omakes on one chapter. Despite my preference for sticking to one omake per chapter, even planning the end point to a chapter around it. In any case, the main reason for how long since the last chapter is putting out two chapters for Dungeon, so as to complete the scene. I may have a point where this story gets two chapters in a row though.