The air seemed to flicker and warp in the warehouse district of Brockton Bay. The rundown warehouses and abandoned small time factories hid the bending of space and time from most eyes. The blonde girl that had just appeared seemed surprised, as the glowing red line that had bisected her from her right ankle to left thigh and arm faded away.
The lapping of turgid sea water was the first thing she heard off in the distance. Then she heard the angry voice through the building in front of her.
"…the children, just shoot. Doesn't matter your aim, just shoot. You see one lying on the ground? Shoot the little bitch twice more to be sure. We give them no chances to be clever or lucky, understand?"
He had an accent she could not quite place, though it sounded Asian. The fact he was talking about shooting children was pretty bad though. Her boots were silent as she leaped to the roof, only to see that it was occupied by a black humanoid bug with brown hair. No, it was someone in an armor that looked like a bug.
The blonde girl crept up on the bug-person on the crown of the warehouse. Down below a car pulled up and released three more goons wearing green and red gang colors.
That seemed to be a signal for the twenty odd gang members and bug-person. Swarms of every sort of bugs descended upon the Asians, Latinos and Blacks, setting off a roar of pain and fear.
The leader of the gang started to change, growing bigger and starting to give off heat as bugs crawled over all of them, biting and stinging him. The younger girl narrowed her eyes in consternation as she saw triangular scales start to push through his skin.
In less than two minutes the gang was routed except for the strange man that was transforming into a monster. Bursts of flames were now coming from his thrashing form as he fought against the swarms. The blonde winced as she kept track of his tallying up damage of poison and stings. Finally the half-dragon half-man thing of metal and fire exploded with an aura of fire. Even afire, he kept growing more scales as his spine shifted and expanded with metal, fully armored now.
The bug-person shifted slightly at that. Carefully, it stood up and turned around and then froze. The blonde put her forefinger to her lips as she stepped back as silent as a mouse. They both crept over to the fire escape. The blonde didn't make a sound stepping onto the gravel, but the bug-person did.
To immediate, disastrous results. The fiery scaled monster turned and leaped up the wall on the building across the way, then started to climb up the bricks with crushing strength rapidly.
"I don't suppose you have super-powers that could stop him?" Bug-Girl asked in a near panic.
"Um, maybe? I'm not really fireproof though," the younger girl replied with a shrug.
The monster appeared over the edge of the building. "Mother-fucker going to rip you to pieces."
"Oh-shit-oh-shit-" Bug-Girl started to turn back, fumbling for something from her shoulder back's armor pockets. She revealed that it was a pepper-spray. She turned around and spritzed it in the direction of the monster, but only set off a small explosion from the propellent on his shoulder.
The blonde then fired a bullet that bounced off his armored forehead just as the bug-girl managed to get a second squirt into his face that also exploded in a poof. That did cause him to roar in pain as he sent out an explosive blast of fire to knock the bug-girl rolling back roughly. The other girl grimaced while she pushed back through the explosion of fire to smash a thunderclap enhanced punch into his face.
That sent the scaled monster flying away, thumping it down into the ground painfully.
"You okay there? I'm Sheila, by the way- What the hell?" the younger girl was saying as a monster that looked half-tiger and half-crocodile leaped onto the roof, just in front of two more rather mutant looking critters with riders. She hopped back twenty feet and skidded across the gravel on the roof.
The four riders dropped off the back of the animals. The homely young woman walked to the edge of the warehouse and then made a whistle and two shouts as she pointed at the scaled monster just standing up.
With that, all three mutant animals leaped down with a snarl.
The (not kindly) homely girl was busy watching her mutant animals while the other three walked over to the two girls.
"No mask? That's not very safe," the second female said with a quirky grin on her face. She was dressed in a skintight outfit that was black with pale shades of blue or purple and her dark blond hair was long and windblown. "Wasn't planning on being a cape tonight? No, that raised eyebrow says you have no idea what I'm talking about."
Sheila's eyebrows were both raised now.
"That's Tattletale," the biker-leather wearing figure that was in the center of a cloud of inky darkness. "I'm Grue." After pointing to the homely girl, he then introduced her. "That's Bitch, though the more P.C. people call her Hellhound due to her dogs."
"And I'm Regent," the last male teen said, preening with an open, ruffled shirt that made him look like a masked extra from a French revolution movie. Or a pirate without a cutlass, though he did have a rod in his hand.
"I'm Sheila." She was concentrating and thinking hard. "Masks and super powers? Wow, this is really, really different from any place I've ever been."
That seemed to startle Tattletale.
"And how about you?" the shadowed figure asked the bug girl on the ground even as she scrambled to her feet.
The girl just shook her slightly scorched hair.
"She's in a bit of shock from the pain and situation, I think." Sheila concentrated hard, washing away all of her bruises almost instantly.
"Holy crap. She just healed her bruises," Tattletale said as she blinked behind her domino mask.
"Can we recruit her?" Regent asked. "A healer on our team would be immensely useful."
"We'll talk about it. But we just want to tell you guys that we really appreciate what you did here. We were seriously freaking out when we heard that Lung and Oni Lee were going to come at us with their gang," Grue explained.
"My dogs are messing him up," Bitch called out. She wore probably the most haphazard 'costume,' comprised of a plaid skirt, T-shirt, boots and a chintzy plastic dog mask.
"What did you do to him?" Regent asked curiously.
"Pepper spray, wasp and bee stings, fire ants and spider bites," Tattletale said with a grin. "He's not holding up too well. Gonna feel a helluva lot worse tomorrow. Sheila kicked... no, punched, Lung off the building. Nice. Super strength and healing. Oh, and the other girl is just shy."
"Got a name?" Regent asked as he twirled his scepter in his hand.
The bug-girl just shook her head.
"Heads up. We've gotta scram," Tattletale called out.
Bitch whistled a couple of times to get her dogs to return. They scrambled up the wall back to the roof and the four of them all climbed up on the back of the bloody-muzzle dogs.
Grue turned towards them. "Hey, either of you want a ride?"
The shy bug girl and Sheila both just shook their heads.
"Hey you two, a cape is gonna show up in less than a minute. You did us a solid by dealing with Lung, so take my advice. Someone from the Protectorate shows up and finds three bad guys duking it out, they're not going to let one walk away. You should get out of here." Tattletale gave them a wave as the dogs started to leap and run away across the roofs.
"You want a non-scary lift?" Sheila asked. "I promise to let you off wherever you want to go." Hmm. She should probably help with her fatigue there a bit by removing all her poisons from her fight.
The scorched girl nodded once, carefully as the sound of a motorcycle came from below. She quickly found herself carried off bridal style, and then everything seemed to zoom along. In moments they were several buildings over, going much faster than the dogs had been moving. "I hope they don't think I'm a villain."
The blonde gave her a nod. "That outfit is kind of dark, isn't it? You have a direction you want me to go?"
"Left. Away from the dock and boardwalk area." The girl seemed to be thinking very hard. "Thanks. You probably saved my life."
"No problem. You only jumped in when you heard him talking about killing kids. And those super powered people were kids, right? I mean, they're older than us, anyways."
The other girl was looking in shock as she realized that they had passed her school and her house just a few seconds ago. "Stop."
Sheila dropped from the roof into the back alley behind a convenience store, named 'Super-10' that she had never heard of before. "Good enough?" At the bug-themed 'super's' nod, she hopped up to the roof and took off.
Taylor Hebert, newest costumed hero of Brockton Bay, decided she had had enough. Even if she did not feel tired right now, she knew she was going to need to sleep to go to work in the morning.
She even caught that her hair was slightly singed before she got into her confrontation with her father in the morning.
Taylor had the start of a horrible day. Starting with her argument with her dad in the morning, then continuing with harassment at school, she had decided to take the bus to the library during lunch. That message from 'Tt' thanking her for her help last night had galvanized her to go somewhere not directly connected to her normal life in any way to attempt to send her a message.
The Central Library was not too far. It was technically too far for lunch from her high school, but the young wannabe superhero was not too thrilled with going back to school and her three tormentors anyways. She had just sent a message after waiting in line when she felt a tapping on her shoulder.
"Hello," Sheila said with a smile. "Are you doing okay after last night?"
Taylor froze. "What-!? Are you following me?" she whispered urgently.
"Oh, right. No, I just noticed you up here after I had to dodge the truancy officer. He should be at the far side of the stacks on the main floor. I've been reading up on this world. Masked heroes are, um, just movies and comics from my dimension." The younger girl gave a shrug.
The arthrop-centric powered girl just nodded slowly. "I'm just surprised-" -terrified- "-that you spotted me."
"Sorry, I can just leave if you like, but I kind of felt some sort of Fateful connection-" The young demigoddess tried to put forward an earnest demeanor.
That was when the message from Tattletale popped up on the screen. "Um. I have to think a second. So why are you here at the library?"
"Reading up on the different history of this world. Everything appears fairly normal and similar up until 'Scion' appeared in the 80's." Sheila had to giggle at the happenstance of that name. "We didn't have this really unusual enigma appear in our reality and no explosion of super-powered heroes, vigilantes and villains."
Taylor was intrigued in spite of herself. "Really?" She read through the message from Tattletale, frowning as they wanted her to meet without her costume at just three o'clock.
"We have people with superpowers, but no real masks. Seems counter intuitive to us, I guess. And goes against our Legend growing. But quite a bit is different here, as everything looks most scientific. I mean Myrhdhin is from Chicago. And is wearing sack cloth, even though the original Merlin was the court wizard for Uther and Arthur." Sheila looked over her shoulder to verify that she was not being followed.
"Um." Taylor pushed her glasses back up her nose, noting that the other girl was not looking even remotely at her screen. "You want to come with me to meet the Undersiders? They're villains and kind of mysterious."
"Sure. Why not? It's not like they're uncivilized enough to just attack people out of the blue." She gave Taylor a shrug.
"Point. They want to meet at the place we first ran into each other at three o'clock. So if you want to show up, you can. Think they wanted to offer you a membership." She did not sound terribly thrilled with that, for some reason.
"Are you going?" Sheila asked curiously.
Taylor just nodded. "But like I was last night."
The younger girl nodded.
Taylor showed up in bug-girl garb down in the alley behind the warehouse. The others were all in civilian garb. Tattletale was obvious by her grin, showing just a hint of sharp canines. "Pay up, Alec."
The young man that was obviously the civilian guise of Regent grumbled through his hair. He had a 'too-good looking' set of Italian features thing going for him, though he looked younger than the other two. "I knew I shouldn't have bet you on that."
"You guys bet on whether I would show up or not?" the costumed Taylor asked.
The last figure, a muscular young black with a strong jaw and cornrow hair shook his head. "No, he bet you wouldn't show up in costume. It's your own fault for taking the bet in the first place. Even if it wasn't Tattle, it was a sucker bet. Showing up in costume makes too much sense. It's what I would do." He had a pleasant, adult voice. He extended his hand to shake. "Hey, I'm Brian."
"And I'm Lisa. Huh, I could have sworn that I got that Sheila was with you at the library," the grinning girl said. "Do you mind if I call you Bug until you come up with a name?"
"She was. And she's fast, probably because of her muscles. So she could be here at any time," Taylor explained as she shook her head at her last question.
"Rachel is sitting this one out, by the way," Grue said. "She didn't agree with the aim of our meeting here." He gave a soft snort at that.
"I was just waiting for anyone to show," Sheila said as she appeared in a blur, "and to make sure that there were no sensors or listening devices left here."
"Enhanced senses too? Man, you got the powers," Lisa said in complaint. "Super-strength, super-speed, healing, super-senses-" The girl cut off her power as it was slightly giving her a headache. Super-intelligence? Enhanced charisma? This was getting to be a patently ridiculous amount of powers. Her power of intuition and being able to jump to the right conclusion (usually) must be misfiring again.
"Hmm, your power degrades your neural pathways during use. It's like a very large amount of stress that gets dumped into your body. It can probably give you a migraine if you force it," the younger blonde said.
Lisa was left gaping before turning to her compatriots. "Is that what it feels like when I do that to you?"
Brian and Alec both snickered and then started laughing. Taylor was not sure why they were laughing so hard.
"I don't get what's so funny?" 'Bugs' asked.
"Lisa does that all the time to us," Brian explained carefully.
The girl in question was giving him a mock glare. "Hardy-har. But really, we wanted to say thanks to you both for helping us with Lung. We were really panicking, as we didn't have any good way to deal with him."
"I have to admit, I'm a lot weirded out by you guys revealing your secret IDs to me. And Sheila isn't even bothering with a mask." Taylor was giving her a hard look.
"That was my idea. I thought we would make a token show of trust to both of you," Brian said carefully.
"Why, exactly, do you need my... our trust?" the bug-girl asked suspiciously.
Brian opened his mouth, then closed it as he looked to Lisa. She then bent down and picked up two plastic lunchboxes and held it out to them both.
"I said we owed you guys. All yours, no strings attached."
"Oh, cool. I'm no longer desperately broke and going to have to rob someone for enough money for a place to stay," Sheila said after she popped open the lunch to see six stacks of bills.
"About two thousand dollars. You have two choices. You can take this as a gift. A thank you for saving our asses from Lung last night. And maybe a bit of incentive to count us among your friends when you're out in costume and doing dastardly deeds." Lisa grinned at that. "Most people that are villains will just attack us on sight."
Taylor seemed unsure for a long moment, so Sheila beat her to the punch. "And the second choice is?"
"You can both join up with the Undersiders," Brian said, speaking up. "Be one of us."
"For two thousand a month?" the bug-girl asked cautiously.
"Heck no. We, uh, earn way more than that in a month. This is just what the boss pays us to stick together," the black teen explained.
Sheila looked frustrated, but then nodded. "I may need expensive resources."
Taylor studied the girl through her yellow tinted goggles. It suddenly dawned on her that Sheila was implying she was stranded in an alternate reality. And what that entailed to her. Her thoughts about trying to be the hero infiltrating the gang enough to find out where they lived and met (and now about their boss) looked reasonably possible.
"So Bitch didn't come because she was against our recruitment?" Taylor asked carefully.
"Yeah. We voted on it and she said no," Alec said.
"On the plus side, the rest of us voted yes," Brian hurried to add, giving Alec a dirty look, "She'll come around. She always votes against adding new members to the group, because she doesn't want to divide the money more ways."
"Her healing is really valuable?" Taylor asked of the other recruit.
Sheila blinked at that and then nodded. "Combat healing is probably very useful when you can't exactly go to the hospital to explain why you have third degree burns across your face."
"Ooh, she can regenerate. As long as we don't get killed, she can fix us up," Lisa said with a hint of wonder in her voice. "Like Panacea. The Protectorate actually had to call her in to help with Lung."
Alec whistled at that.
"And your bugs really messed up Lung, by the way. Don't sell yourself short," the intuitive villain continued.
"I just control bugs. That's not going to stop Alexandria, Glory Girl or Aegis. In case you hadn't noticed, I needed rescuing from Lung," the bug-girl protested.
"Honey, entire teams of capes have gone up against Lung and got their asses handed to them. That you managed as well as you did is fantastic. The fact that the asshole is lying in a hospital bed because of you is the icing on the cake." She had that nasty, fox-like grin on her face again.
Sheila posed, flexing her biceps. "We could have taken him." Her arms were by no stretch of the imagination large or incredibly well defined.
That got a laugh out of everyone.
"Wait, what do you mean he's in the hospital?" Taylor asked.
"You do know which bugs you had biting him, right? Black Widows, Brown Recluse spiders, Browntail Moths, Mildei, Fire Ants-"
"Yeah, I don't know the official names, but I know exactly what bit him, what stung him and what the venoms do."
"So why are surprised? A couple of those bugs would be fucking dangerous if they bit just once, but you had them bite several times. Bad enough, but when Lung came into custody they had him checked over by the docs, and the idiot doctor in charge said something like, 'Oh, well, these do look like bug bites and stings, but the really venomous ones don't bite multiple times. Let's arrange to check on him in a few hours"."
"Oh my god," the bug-girl exclaimed in horror. "He's supposed to be able to regenerate all that stuff. Poisons are only supposed to be about one percent effective."
"That's kind of useful to remember. Just have to increase the dosage by ninety-nine parts," Sheila noted curiously. "Lethal to anyone without a regeneration factor. Probably only want to go up to eighty extra doses, then do the last few separately."
"I could have killed him-" Taylor said.
"He actually flat-lined a few times and had to be resuscitated. But just remember, he was trying to kill you." Lisa was not grinning now, but she certainly was not looking heartbroken.
"Useful to remember in the future. If he ever gets free, he's going to be seriously mad on against you," the suave Alec said brightly.
"Guys, you are freaking Bugs out. We are trying to recruit them, not run them off," Brian said as he glared at his two teammates.
"Sorry," Lisa said, not sounding repentant at all. Alec just shrugged in the background.
"But he's alive? Is he going to recover?" Taylor seemed very insistent.
Only Sheila noticed the very small nod that Lisa made before she spoke. "He's recovering now, though it may take six months without any outside assistance."
"So his regeneration will eventually fix himself up? Good to know if I need to disarm him." Everyone was giving Sheila an odd look at that point.
"She means literally. As in remove his arms," Lisa clarified for the group. "So, Sheila? What's the most villainous thing you've done?"
Taylor tensed at that point, which both Lisa and Sheila picked up.
"Probably the time when my band was acquiring some money after being stranded in time. The boss caught on and we got into a fight with him and his enforcers. We still made off with about a million dollars and left the Giovanni ashed." Sheila considered the matter for a second. "I think Dolph finally got them to back off a few months later after he threatened them a bit."
"That's- pretty hardcore," Lisa said carefully. Her super-intuition was feeding her more information, letting her know that the rest of her 'band' had been as or was more powerful as Sheila had been and that they had killed everyone but one of the mafia's enforcers. All without getting hurt. Her blue eyes narrowed as she started to get weird information again. Daughter of Ares? Son of Hel? Mafiasio vampires running casinos in the 1980s? Time travel? "So how are you liking 2011?"
"Oh, thank goodness for modern computers and being back in the present. Do you realize how crappy the computers were then? At least it isn't Atlantis where they have not even heard of computers," the young demigoddess said.
"Still not a lie. Still not a lie," Lisa muttered to herself, then picked up that Sheila could hear her talking under her breath. "So, um, I'm cool with them both right now."
"Offer still stands then. No pressure, but you both look like you fit our group pretty good. Even if Rachel complains, it was a group vote and if she really has a problem, she can pull out herself with no strings," Brian explained as he studied the two girls. "I won't even ask how old you guys are, even though I'm burning up in curiosity."
'Bugs' shook her head.
"Almost thirteen. Hard to imagine I've been having adventures for over a year," Sheila said brightly.
Alec just shook his head. "Not going to argue with the girl that can probably bench press a car. Just so you know, Lisa's half the reason we haven't failed a job yet."
"And our boss is a large part of the rest," Lisa then explained.
How unusually modest, both new girls thought.
"So you say, but let's not go there." Brian did not seem very happy, which Taylor cottoned onto.
Lisa smiled at them. "If you want the full scoop, I'm afraid the details on what we do only come with team membership. What I can tell you is that we're a good group. Our track record is top notch and we're in it for fun and profit. No grand agenda. No real responsibility."
Both girls thought it over. Taylor was thinking that she could learn about this boss, discover more about the fairly mysterious group. And it seemed like they would be willing to just let her go if she decided to part ways with them. Sheila decided that they would be a good thing to cover her back while she tried to figure out enough of the world to ascertain a way to get back to her own world. Besides, she had picked up that Lisa was lying about there being no agenda.
"Alright then, count me in," 'Bugs' said.
"Sounds good enough for me," Sheila replied with a nod.
"Our place is just a bit aways, but we don't usually go there in costume. Not much of a hideout if people know where it is," Lisa said, looking over at the one costumed girl.
"Oh, um-" she said.
"You need to change someplace?" Alec asked.
"If you could turn your back?" In just a few minutes, she was changed into her fairly shapeless sweatshirt and loose jeans that really did not flatter her figure. Unfortunately, it appeared she was fairly plain. Brown hair, not many curves and glasses really made her look like the stereotypical geek. "I'm Taylor," the girl said awkwardly.
"Let's fix that first," Sheila said as she took the glasses off. She narrowed her eyes in concentration, 'curing' her of her slight near-vision. Then she regenerated her. "That should put you at about 20/10 vision. Yay, you can be a fighter pilot!"
Taylor just blinked. "Really? I wish I had met you a month ago when I was looking at contacts to wear in costume."
"You can't quantify your vision on that scale?" Lisa asked the youngest of the newest Undersiders.
"I suppose I could say it's something like 20/.1 or something, but really it's as perfect as you can imagine," the young demigoddess replied with a shrug. Let's see, cure Brian's budding diabetes and Lisa's small malnourishment problem.
"So you can see in those windows off in the distance?" Alec asked curiously. He and Brian seemed to be considering the tactical benefit.
"Yes. But who wants to see normal office workers that are all sitting and typing at their screens?"
Taylor looked around the loft area of the 'abandoned' warehouse, while Sheila glared at the offending pizza boxes. The main area had a couple of couches, a large screen TV with some gaming systems and entertainment options and a small kitchen area.
"Not big on cooking, I take it?" Sheila asked the group.
"The pizza boxes were a big clue," Brian replied. "Consider this all our place."
Taylor was looking closer at the 'private rooms' even though it really just looked like extra tall cubicles. Sheila was taking about thirty seconds to stack and crush all the boxes.
"Our private chateaus," the handsome, swarthy youth said with a smile.
"Nice artwork," Taylor noted as she deciphered the different signs.
"Thanks," Alec replied; he was obviously the artist of the group.
"No roof or sewer exits in case of an emergency?" Sheila asked curiously.
"The boss only does so much, as he values his privacy," Lisa explained
"Boss? You mentioned him earlier," Taylor asked clumsily, trying to minimize her apparent curiosity.
"He provides the building, pays us our monthly 'retainer fee' and then expects us to do the odd jobs. Usually not too big, but we've been slowly increasing our profile," the muscular Brian explained. He looked quite pleased with that.
"What's been your biggest job?" Sheila asked as she wadded the pizza boxes down into a very small ball.
"We hit an illegal casino," Lisa replied. "So you have some experience." She gave them another grin at that.
"They started it, we finished it. We were just going to skim off the top and go to the next one on the Row." Sheila shrugged.
"No legal casinos these days. Too easy for powers to manipulate things," Brian explained as Taylor nodded.
"The mob must have been terribly upset at that," the youngest girl mused aloud.
"That got us over thirty-five thousand dollars apiece," Lisa said.
"We aren't giving a split to our boss. That's... odd." Sheila seemed to be considering matters.
"Good catch. But sometimes we do jobs for him." Brian smiled as the two girls seemed to think it over.
"Distractions and attacking his enemies without us knowing? Possibly to see how well you... well, now us, do." Sheila's mind was racing quickly even as she kept up cleaning things.
Lisa then explained where everyone's rooms were. "Brian doesn't have a room here though," she finished off her mini tour. The girl seemed a bit upset at that idea.
"Even if Lisa wants him to have one. Man, that time you came back after Shadow Stalker skewered you a few times was nasty. We had to throw out that sweet white couch. It was a mess."
"That's why I'm so keen to have a healer sort on our team. The local Protectorate, Wards and New Wave all really benefit from having Panacea around." Brian did seem pleased, a happy smile on his very dark features.
"I think Rachel is back," Sheila said, cocking her head slightly as if listening harder.
Taylor blinked and then reached out to the bugs in the warehouse. In just moments the flies and other insects gave her a good idea of the homely girl and her three dogs. They were much, much smaller now. "I guess it makes sense that they are normal dogs most of the time."
Sheila saw Lisa's expression shift ever so slightly. That was when the rest of the team heard the barking, and the dogs charged out of the stairwell. Taylor barely got her arm up to block the rottweiler's bite, struggling to not be taken down by the large dog. The greyhound and terrier had leaped forward with snapping teeth only to find themselves snatched out of the air and then hurled at the opposite couch that everyone had just barely stood up from. The dogs were more scared than hurt as the couch fell over.
"Call off your dogs," Brian shouted angrily. He was moving towards where Rachel was standing in the doorway. She seemed to be ignoring him as she watched her other two dogs scrambling to their feet over the couch.
Taylor managed to kick the rottweiler once, but it was doing more damage to her than she was to it. Sheila was moving over to help, trying to insert her fingers to pry open the dog's jaw. It was harder than it looked and she had poor leverage.
The big black kid threw a back-handed punch at Rachel, smashing her nose. Rachel stumbled and collapsed to the ground from it.
"Call off your fucking dogs," he yelled again.
The homely girl glared at him, but then whistled out. All the dogs stopped trying to attack and ran back to Rachel.
"I hate it when you make me do that," the charismatic black said angrily.
"Doesn't look like you got hurt much," Sheila said to Taylor, washing away her bruises with a soft burst of power. She gave the crying girl a smile.
"Th-thanks." She turned to their attacker and in a much more steady and controlled voice, asked, "Why the fuck did you do that?"
Rachel did not reply with anything but a smile as she licked the blood from her broken nose.
"God-fucking-dammit," Brian shouted.
Alec and Tattletale had both stayed off to the side, but they were watching with keen, dark eyes. They wanted to see how this social attack would play out.
"You know, your dogs could have broken their teeth on me if they weren't careful," Sheila exaggerated her toughness slightly with an even voice.
Rachel was still smiling like she had not really heard even as Taylor's face had gone flat, unemotional. Then the smaller and younger girl was suddenly charging the fallen Rachel. Taylor tried to kick in her face, not giving her a chance to call her dogs. Rachel was forced to block.
"No, they need to fucking hash it out between them," Brian said to Sheila took a step to intervene.
A swarm of bugs erupted from the lower level of the warehouse, sending the dogs back away from the girl attacking their master. Taylor was stomping and kicking with an absolutely frenzied look on her face.
"Okay, I think that's enough," Brian muttered as he started to gather the shadows in his hands.
"STOP!" Sheila shouted as she suddenly wrapped the aspect of the perfect, cold warrior as a overwhelming cloak of presence.
The dogs, Taylor and Rachel all froze. The trio of canines suddenly backed away from her, whimpering as they fled out into the warehouse.
"What the fuck was that?" Lisa asked rhetorically.
"Drop it," Brian said.
Alec was suddenly staring at Sheila as if she were a mystery that he wanted to unwrap. His dark eyes seemed to find it absolutely fascinating.
With a nod, the youngest blonde dismissed the power.
"Shit-fuck, thought she was going to kill me," Rachel croaked out as she scrambled away from both of the new girls.
"Fuck this shit," Taylor shouted at them. "I'm out of here. You can consider this another fucking failure to recruit people."
"Wait, please," Brian said his hands up. "Rachel is not going to attack you again. Are you, Rachel?"
The bloodied girl on the ground just shook her head.
"You let her try to kill me-" Taylor started to rant away.
"-not kill. Just ordered them to hurt you."
"That's better? What sort of fucked up group are you? I thought you said it was just fun and money?" All of her bugs were still swarming around her.
"We're supervillains, darling," Lisa drawled out. "And Rachel darling, attacking a girl that can lift- My powers are shitting me. Over two hundred tons? What sort of monster are you?"
Sheila blinked as everyone gave her startled, scared or worried looks. "I can? That's pretty cool."
Rachel looked horrified as she realized what she had sent her dogs against. "But you didn't hurt my dogs?"
"No duh. I have really good control over my strength these days. I haven't ripped off any doors since my strength manifested." Sheila was giving them all a look as if they were crazy.
"That makes her a Brute 7 or 8? Probably 8. That's, um, pretty scary." Brian relaxed and then smiled.
"And that isn't your primary power?" Lisa asked, her super-intuition working at very high intensity.
"That's right. I'm much smarter, faster and perceptive. Healing is also very useful-" the girl was saying.
"You're a third generation cape. Wow, they weren't kidding when they said that each generation keeps getting more powerful," Lisa said as she suddenly snapped her fingers.
"Well, that's mostly right. Hey, Taylor, you mind if I patch up Rachel a bit. You broke a couple of her ribs with your ass-kicking," Sheila asked curiously.
Taylor glared at the other girl for a second, then nodded. "Fine. So why did you have your dogs try to hurt me, Bitch?"
"Just trying to scare you off," Rachel mumbled. She blinked as all of her pains suddenly faded away. "No pain?"
"You were mostly just bruised. Really easy to heal," Sheila replied with another shrug.
"Oh, Taylor, only civvie names when we are out of costume," Lisa called out. "Too easy to make a mistake otherwise."
"Right. I have to admit, guys, that I'm having second thoughts about this. Getting attacked to be run off isn't how I envisioned being a member." Taylor was still glaring at Rachel as she spoke.
"Didn't want anything to change. But I'm okay with it now." Rachel only sounded grudging in her acceptance.
Taylor finally calmed down enough to not run off. Sheila got the old-time members to open up a bit. Brian explained his darkness powers, which were actually stronger and more confusing to those engulfed than people would believe. Alec explained his powers in a way that allowed him to disrupt people's muscles for just a second. Lisa's power was her inhuman intuition, as was somewhat obvious at that point. Rachel's powers could be used on any dogs, but she had to train them normally. Taylor finally explained her powers a bit, in the fact she could control invertebrates, not just insects.
"So who's up for pizza?" Lisa asked finally.
The groan from most of them made her rethink her words.
"We can order something else out then. Taylor, there's a phone in the kitchen so you can call your home. Let him know you are going to be here," Lisa called out.
"Thanks," Taylor said as she moved to the kitchenette area.
The next day, Taylor showed up about half an hour after her high school was supposed to start. Lisa was the one to mention that she was about to show up. So Brian walked her up where he had left Sheila and Alec sparring.
Everyone was in sweats and a T-shirt, though only Alec and Brian looked to be working up a sweat.
"You know how to fight?" Taylor asked curiously. She still felt a bit naked without her glasses. Was that the scent of antiseptic in the air? Had someone been hurt?
"Martial arts? Yeah, I picked up some. Actually got a couple dozen new moves from Brian today," Sheila replied as she kept herself slightly crouched. She left herself open to let Alec take a poke. She was careful to roll with the punch slightly.
"I wish I could get him to focus like he is today," the big black teen complained.
"You aren't a pretty girl." Alec's white teeth were startling against his swarthy features.
Taylor blinked as she really looked at the younger girl. She was more pretty than a first glance would tell you. Even with a short bob of blonde hair, her features were those of a teen model. She also had the beginning of some curves that actually made her look more feminine than her own almost flat form. "That really isn't that fair. You've got more of a figure than I do and I'm four years older."
Sheila just shrugged. "I'm not really growing much right now." She bobbed and ducked just slightly, then snapped out three punches to sting Alec.
"Can I get some tips?" Taylor asked.
Brian and Sheila were both happy to start to show her the basics.
"You don't have a lot of upper body strength, so just go for soft targets," Brian advised.
"I thought I saw some weighted wristbands around. Wear them while you jog and maybe something comfortable around your neck and you can get some upper body training on the run." Sheila was adjusting to have her throw punches hard. "We should get a punching bag or two. I can install them easy." She was actually focusing on the conversation in the background where Lisa was talking to their boss, a middle aged man by his voice.
They continued on for a bit, Alec playing video games in the background while Taylor learned. Finally Lisa came out of the kitchen area. Rachel trailed after her with the little terrier prancing at her heels.
"Alright, heads up. Our boss has a job for us. A bank job," the girl said as she sat down on one of the couches.
Brian was one-hundred percent against it. And his reasoning was pretty sound. Not much cash for their trouble, and very likely to get the attention of groups of heroes. That far outshadowed any potential reward (almost nil) and the recognition of hitting a bank for the front page.
Lisa, though, had great counters. The Protectorate would be out of town and it was very much in the 'Wards' turf near Arcadia High School. So only the teen heroes at worst. Then she explained that the Bay Central Bank was the clearing house for a lot of the cash in the US northeast.
She hammered it all home with the fact that their boss was willing to pony up matching money and covering all costs, which was shocking to the rest of the Undersiders. It was at a minimum of twenty-five thousand and probably quite a bit more. The only odd thing was the timing.
"So we're a distraction, hmm?" Sheila muttered just loud enough to be heard.
"Exactly. Which is why he wants us to do such a high profile hit," Lisa replied instantly.
Only Taylor looked upset at it, as everyone else was interested in the cash and renown. So it was decided, and they started planning their attack based on the likeliest of the Wards to respond. Aegis the almost unstoppable leader, Clockstopper who could stop physical objects movement through time, Vista who could bend space and time but not hurt someone inside the area, Kid Win was a lightweight tinker with nearly harmless weapons, Gallant wore armor but had blasts of light that punched hard and messed with your emotions and finally Shadow Stalker who had darkness powers like Brian and hated him.
"Hold up a second. Gallant is Glory Girl's on and off again boyfriend? What are the chances she might show up? It's not stepping on turf for a hero to have a friend help out," Sheila noted aloud.
"Almost missed that. She likely will show up, so we need to watch out for her." Lisa rubbed her temples, fighting a headache. She had mentioned it just a minute ago when talking about Gallant.
"This will be tomorrow, right?" With a small surge of legend, Sheila cured the headache.
"So much better than excedrin. Right, Glory Girl is on right now with Gallant so she's likely to show up. She's a fast flyer and also almost entirely invulnerable and super-strong. Somehow those two powers are connected directly," Lisa continued along.
"How about the rest of New Wave?" Taylor asked. Both teams would put the kibosh on their outing, something she would much rather have happen.
"Not likely unless it drags out," Brian decided aloud. "That reminds me. Sheila, you need to come up with a costume and code-name."
"Huh? Oh, right. Is Tactics taken as a name? I can probably put together a quasi-military themed outfit fairly easily," she replied. "They will probably think I'm more normal a Brute that way."
"That works," Alec piped up. He and Rachel really had not contributed much.
"What about you, Taylor?" Brian asked. "Fair is fair."
"Do you know how hard it is to pick a bug-themed name that doesn't sound-"
"-like a dork?" Alec interrupted.
Taylor glared at him for over-using the word dork when describing her. "So I've just been kind of hoping that someone will name me something that doesn't suck."
"Hmm. The PRT and Protectorate are using the code-word Bug after they interrogated Lung," Lisa noted.
"Not so great," the mousey girl moaned.
They fell back to their planning.
The next day found them in a large van with rain pattered down on them. They slowly crept through downtown traffic, the squeak of the windshield wipers putting everyone on edge. Everyone was again 'in costume' with their outfits sans masks. 'Bug' was in her black and grey spider-woven armor, Tattletale was in a jester-themed outfit while Tactics was in an all dark camo pants, sweater, gloves, combat boots outfit plus a very low profile armor. She had actually bought it while disguised using cash, wearing red hair and startling blue eyes.
The entire back of the van was filled with bugs, every sort that Taylor could suck in on a drive around town. Mostly stinging one, but there were also a good number of flyers and weavers in the midst.
Grue was wearing his biker leathers and helmet, Regent in his nearly carnival getup and Bitch in her grunge skirt and fur-ruff jacket in a second van. Bitch had been preparing her dogs slowly ahead of time. They managed to get into position just before the kick off time. Bitch enhanced her 'hellhounds,' turning them into mutants that were nearly the size of cows and much more powerful. They seemed quite pleased and Tactics could see how the power actually worked; it looked like a strange ectoplasmic flesh cocooned the trio of dogs.
The bug-themed girl sent out her insects covertly as they walked up to the rear entrance, blocking the view even more than the rain did.
Tattletale was thrilled to discover that she could figure out the superhero/SWAT only code that bypassed the silent alarms that would trigger if even the bank manager tried to come in this way. The six villains moved through the hallways quickly and quietly took over the bank's main room.
"Cameras are covered," Bugs called out.
"Back door secured and the local cell phone towers just locked up," Tactics called out as she slipped her cell phone back into her pocket. She had set up a logic bomb that would loop the local towers to continual reboot for at least ten minutes. They swept through the hallways, capturing people in the backrooms; Bug's insects, Bitch's dogs and Tactics keen senses ferreting them out but in a fast, easy manner.
Bitch's dogs rushed into the main room, setting of screams of horror and terror as they suddenly took on the size of small cars. Then Grue silenced them all with his darkness, and Bugs was sent out her swarm of insects, latching a spider onto every single person.
"Fifteen minutes," Bugs called out to the room "We won't be here any longer than that. Stay put, stay quiet, we'll be gone before fifteen minutes are up. You'll be free to give your statement to the police and then go about your day as usual. This isn't a TV show, this isn't a movie. If you're thinking about being a hero, don't. You'll only get yourself or someone else hurt." She actually sounded serious and not like a teen scared to death. She held up a finger with a spider on it. "She's a black widow spider. A single bite has been known to kill a full grown human or put them into a coma. You move, talk, try to find or kill the spiders I just put on your bodies, in your clothes, in your hair? I'll know in a split second and I'll tell them to bite you several times."
Tactics raised an eyebrow hidden behind her domino mask. There was real emotion there, but no desire to hurt the people like she said. Regent and Bugs were to stay in the main room guarding the hostages.
Grue, Bitch and Tactics then headed to the vault where Tattletale was quickly spinning the numbered dial, picking the numbers seemingly out of random happenstance. With a soft metal groan, the door unlocked. Tactics grabbed the edge of the vault door and pulled it open with incredible ease as Tattletale then moved over to the bank manager's desk to co-opt their security.
Brutus, one of Bitch's dogs, was quickly and cleanly loaded with large canvas bags full of money, fitting them into a canvas harness. Tactics super-strength was quite handy here as it sped up the process quickly. Grue and Bitch quipped about their upcoming riches, but had to complain about their pain even though they had not got into a fight yet.
"Tactics, pop open those cabinets for the deeds," Grue ordered as he pointed at some secure filing drawers.
"People only want me for my muscles," the girl replied cheekily. "Anything in particular?"
"Everything in the top two drawers and anything from the mortgage company."
Deft, superhuman fingers popped open the locks far faster than the suggested crowbar during planning. It was only a few moments work to tie the important papers together and put them into the middle of a bag of money. Bitch sent in her one-eyed dog once they finished loading up the first one and sending it back to the main room.
Angelica was loaded up just as fast. Unfortunately, it appeared it was not fast enough as Tattletale came into the vault. "Time's up. The white hats are here and it's not looking good."
They peaked out in between Grue's curtains of darkness to take in the Wards across the street. They were spread out on the sidewalk; Aegis in his rust-red armor in the center, Vista in her tween glory of green and white armor on his right, Clockblocker on his right. Flanking each of them were two more, Kid Win floating on his flying skateboard on the far left and an unknown in black and purple spandex on the far right. Lastly, almost underneath Kid Win was the gray and silver Gallant who looked positively medieval in his armor.
"This is a few more than maybe three or four people," Tactics noted sarcastically, channeling her cousin Dana for a second.
"Tattletale, you are looking like a fucking dumbass right now," the ominous Grue said in a voice that really did hint of murder.
"Who is he?" Bugs asked, pointing at the mystery black and purple guy in spandex.
"Browbeat. He's a point blank telekinetic, which means that he can move things with his mind, but only if they're within an inch or so of his skin. He can use it to throw punches that hit like freight trains, or shield himself from incoming attacks. He's also packing personal biokinesis, which means he's got a kind of ability to manipulate his own body. He can heal just by concentrating on an injury, and he's used it to bulk up. He might be capable of doing more on the fly, depending on how much he's trained since we saw him last. He's been a solo hero in Brockton Bay for a little while." Tattletale rattled off the information like she had a well memorized monologue from a TV show going on.
"What the fuck is he doing here?" the bug-girl asked.
"We crossed paths with him once, Regent and Bitch beat him. Either he's here for revenge or he's joined the Wards very, very recently. My power's suggesting it's the latter." Their intuitionist was really stressing as she tried to figure things out.
"That's is the kind of thing you're supposed to have figured out well in advance," Grue hissed at her, "There aren't supposed to be six of them."
"There's seven," Tattletale said candidly and then winced as Grue slammed his fist against the wood of the door. "There's someone on the roof. I'm not sure who, but I don't think it's Shadow Stalker. Might be a member of the Protectorate."
"Glory Girl," Tactics called out. "I can see her in a reflection of the building on the far side of the street.
The rest of the Undersiders gave her a look like that was not even slightly believable.
"We're boned," Regent said and the nod of Bugs made it seem like she agreed.
"Glory Girl could easily stop us from fleeing long enough for the rest of the Wards to catch up. Which is their plan. They expect us to flee and slam into our backs like a tidal wave. They'll take out half of us easy, then mop up. Damn," Tattletale said in grudging respect and a lot of personal frustration. "But why is Glory Girl here? She and Gallant are kind of in their off again stage."
"Probably asked nicely," Bugs complained in a low, terrified manner.
"No, she's here because of someone in the building. Oh, her sister is over there among the hostages," Tattletale said, pointing at the freckled girl that had been giving the Undersiders a death glare since they had first entered the room. Grue was going to crucify her for missing the super in the crowd.
"Shit," Amy Dallon said as she started to move.
That was when a blur appeared behind her and slapped the back of her head to stun her silly. "Got her," Tactics called out. "Must be a super-tech cell phone."
"Just a high end satellite phone," their information gatherer said cheerfully.
It went crunch even as the younger girl zipped away. The loud thud of the vault closing signaled where she had gone.
"Ooh, good idea. Lock her up where she can't use her healing powers on anyone." Tattletale was smiling widely now. "Now that our combat information leak is dealt with, what do we want to do?"
"I don't have a better idea than to escape out the back door," Grue admitted.
"So we don't use our normal tactic. They are expecting us to flee? Let's take them head on," 'Bugs' suddenly said.
"Makes perfect sense. They aren't going to know how to deal with Bugs and I at all," Tactics said in agreement.
Grue, Regent, Bitch and Tattletale stared at their newer members like it was crazy, then started thinking it over hard.
"All right. Let's shake them up," Grue said. He turned to the hostages.
"We aren't hurting any hostages," Bugs said instantly.
"No, they are just going to be a distraction. You eight," the semi-unofficial leader said pointing at some hostages. "We aren't hurting you, but you are going out the door first. Just drop to the ground after I drop the darkness on you all. Move!" His last order was almost shouted out.
The Wards outside were getting antsy when the doors slammed open. Out of the darkness behind the open doors came the eight hostages. They were following the orders very closely, and ran out as best as possible.
It was only Tattletale quickly deducing that Clockblocker and Aegis switched costumes that led to the last moment change of Bitch and her dogs charging out of the darkness in a feint towards the costume of Aegis, only to switch at the very last moment to rush at the disguised hero.
"Shit!" Aegis said just before two tons of mutant dog leaped after him and body slammed him into the ground with her prehensile tail.
Insects were flowing out as Bugs sent her swarm out towards the disguised Clockblocker; he was distracted for a second too long as a blur blasted past him so fast half of the insects were dragged ten feet through the air behind Tactics high speed dash.
Vista only had a split second of reaction to start to stretch space before Tactics' gloved hand grabbed her by the helmet and slammed her head to the ground once. Then once again. Then one final third time. "Vista is KOed," the black-garbed Tactics called out as she started to weave between Gallant and Kid Win's energy blasts.
"You bitch! You could have killed her!" the knightly armored Gallant shouted even as his arm twitched to ruin his shot. "Regent?" He was suddenly looking the other way.
"Tactics! You're the only one that can go mano-e-mano with Glory Girl. Go!" Grue shouted out even as he sent a wave of darkness against Gallant and the frantically flying and retreating Kid Win. His little flying skateboard was able to keep him out of the worst things.
"Shit. Aegis is out and Clockblocker is getting swarmed by bugs," the Tinker said as he frantically tried to shoot either Regent or Grue.
Tactics took off at another sprint and then leaped straight up. The hero Glory Girl was flying just a bit back when Tactics combat boots tapped the edge of the roof sixty feet up and then leaped again. Her fist lashed out at full power right to Glory Girl's nose, sending her flying.
"Whoa! Where did you come from?" the white and gold heroine asked. She hovered for a moment as she waited for her aura to reset from the heavy blow. "What's your name?"
"Tactics," the younger girl replied politely as she landed on the ground and then almost slid across the rooftop.
"Well, Tactics, fighting a flier when you can't fly and don't have a ranged weapon is damn stupid," the caped heroine called arrogantly.
"You're only thirty feet up. I just jumped a seventy foot building in one leap," Tactics noted with a smile as she exploded off the ground. She didn't want to let the cat out of the bag yet that she could fly.
"Ha. You aren't very smart," Glory Girl crowed as she floated to the left.
So when Tactic suddenly twisted in the air to hook the toe of her left boot on her wrist, she was slow to react due to surprise. Tactics right boot slammed into her stomach at full power even as she had bent forward at the waist to grab Glory Girl's wrist tightly. She started to squeeze tightly in preparation to rotate around her arm and punch her again when the heroine's wrist crunched.
Just like that they dropped from the sky. Tactics was barely quick enough to catch the other girl who seemed in shock. "Sorry, didn't mean to pulverize your wrist. There you go." The seriously broken bones knit themselves back together. "Now I have to knock you out so we can escape."
Her punch homed in and bounced off of Glory Girl's face. "Ouch," Tactics complained even as the other girl started to struggle and back away. She barely pulled her next punch in time as she realized that her opponents legs were suddenly scraping on the rough gravel of the roof. The heroine from New Wave spun around to lay on the ground, out cold.
Tactic took off running and then leaped down into the fray, just in time to see Clockblocker (still wearing Aegis's costume) get swarmed under. She rapped him on the back in passing, stunning him just long enough for a really large mass of bugs to cover him entirely.
"You have got to be shitting me," Regent shouted as he ducked behind an SUV in time to avoid fire from the truly massive cannon that Kid Win had somehow procured (from thin air?)
The scarlet and gold armored figure then aimed at Tactics. "What did you do to Glory Girl?" he demanded. His massive cannon fired twice with a 'toom-toom' sound.
"Knocked her out, of course," Tactics said as she ducked and then leaped over the two energy blasts.
Grue spun out of his darkness, bouncing off two cars. Instantly all the shadows that had been covering the street disappeared.
"Got one!" Kid Win shouted even as he wiped rain drops off his visor.
"Good shot, kid!" Gallant called out as he blasted one of Bitch's dogs. Unfortunately for him, the blast only made it angry.
Kid Win then floated to the side to avoid Tactic's leap. "That wasn't smart," he called out. Then he realized she was holding onto his fifteen foot long energy cannon. "Hey-"
SCREEEEE. Crunch. Crack. Tactic's strength was enough to crush the cannon as it gave up the ghost in a large burst of energy, leaving a small crater behind.
"Ouch," Tactics complained as she rubbed her hands.
"Gallant, I think we had better retreat," the young Tinker called out in a panic as he skimmed away.
"Shit. The Protectorate should be here in a few minutes." Gallant staggered as Regent caused his leg to twitch while they ran down the block.
"Hey, Bitch! Call your dogs off Aegis," Tactics called out even as she snatched a heavy truck that was parked across from the bank.
Bitch whistled shrilly, getting Brutus and Judas to pull back. Aegis was just about to stand up when the one ton truck smashed him back into the ground.
"Double time! Protectorate is going to be here in less than five minutes," Tattletale called out from the entrance next to Bugs.
"Just a second." Tactics healed Grue's back and shoulder. "He messed you up. Good thing you were in your darkness, otherwise I think he might have killed you."
With that, most of the Undersiders jumped onto the back of the mutated canine. Tactics reappeared out of the bank with her own, very large, pile of bags. Then they were gone, disappearing like ghosts into the rain. Grue's darkness covered them, and they later split up as the van drove through the rain. Two girls shopping at one location while they walked a dog, a boy and a girl out walking with one another.
Then Grue and Bitch would finish off the trail, none the wiser as to the location to drop off the money.
The Wards trudged into the meeting room at their dome in headquarters. They immediately headed over to the debriefing.
"Damn mutant dogs. And that bitch that dropped a SUV on my legs. This is going to take a while to heal up," Aegis complained from between Clockblocker and Gallant.
"Man, I'm really sorry. But after everyone was dropped and the girl ripped up Kid Win's cannon, we figured getting backup was important." Gallant sounded like he wanted to punch something.
"Don't worry about it. Just drop me off in my room and then start the debrief. I trust you guys." Aegis tried to smile, but he really looked a right mess and more zombie than alive.
In just a few minutes, the battered remainder of the Wards were all seated except for Gallant.
"Clockblocker, you mind if I debrief?"
The slightly older teen just nodded.
"First off, Kid? You really dodged the bullet when your cannon got totally trashed. The boss could have really hammered you, but without any reasonable evidence..."
"Yeah, I got it." Kid Win was playing with his cracked helmet.
"But first off, I want everyone to realize that while we got beat up, this is still a win. These guys have been flying under the radar for a bit, but they have been starting to hit higher profile targets. First that Ruby Dreams underground casino five weeks ago and then the Bay Central Bank today. This time we were lucky enough to get in their way. That means we finally have intel on their group." Gallant smiled at the rest of his team.
He then went over to the whiteboard and split each of them into three columns. Grue, Regent, Bitch, then Tattletale and two unknowns. "We got a name for either of these?"
That got a shake of heads. They debated a name for the girl that could control bugs and finally decided on Skitter, then moved to the last one.
"Shadow Brick?" Kid Win asked. "She's fast and strong."
"That's an understatement if she took out Glory Girl. I've seen her shrug off rocket launchers," Browbeat said admiringly. "And that white girl can jump."
Kid Win nodded at that horrible, horrible pun. "One leap to the roof of the bank. Woosh. And I didn't even see her move until she had knocked Vista out through her helmet. I don't think she's really that tough though. You know how most bricks just take a hit or two to show off?"
The rest of the team nodded.
"She didn't let anything hit her and she was a real blur," Kid Win added then paused. "Wait, she did say ouch when my cannon blew up in her face. So more than human tough. Damn..."
"So she's a mover and a brick? Makes sense. I get the feeling that Skitter is not that sturdy though. She didn't even exit the bank until after the fight." Clockblocker shuddered. "I'm going to have nightmares of spiders for weeks."
"What about Tattletale?" Gallant asked.
"Nothing. Other than her name. She was supposedly their computer expert according to witnesses," Vista said softly as she held her head. "Other than a headache, I'm mostly unhurt."
Gallant frowned at that. "Shadow Brick tore up Kid's cannon like it was balsa wood. And she only gave you a headache? That indicates she went out of their way to not try and hurt us badly. That's either very insulting or very scary."
All of the Wards shared a quick glance, more than a little worry present on their faces.
"While I got a lot of stings, it's really just painful. I'm not swelling up badly. Their plan to take us out was pretty inspired, though. Not sure how they saw through our disguise," Clockbocker said as he shrugged helplessly.
"Sorry, Clockblocker, but that might have been Aegis having to signal to you to tell the hostages to get on the ground," Gallant said as he rubbed his jaw.
"Damn," the chronokinetic replied.
"Heard the cops found Glory Girl unconscious on the roof just as we were leaving. So some serious strength there," Kid Win said in a worried tone.
Gallant looked pained. "Don't noise it around, but... uh... Glory Girl isn't totally invulnerable. She's just invulnerable until she takes a strong hit or punches someone hard. Then she's momentarily vulnerable."
"So our mystery mover-brick could have just got lucky?" Clockblocker asked.
"Almost certainly," Gallant said.
That was when the buzzer and warning light signaled that they had a visitor. In came in Armsman and Militia, both senior members of the local Brockton Bay Protectorate team.
"Armsmaster," Gallant stood up quickly. "Good to see you, Sir. Miss Militia, always a pleasure."
"Ever the gentleman," Miss Militia's eyes hinted at the smile behind her scarf. She shifted the rocketlauncher she was carrying to a pair of uzis that she put in her belt. "We brought a guest."
"Panacea! Glad to have you. Aegis really got mulched. He can't really walk," Gallant said. "He's in his room. I can show-"
"I know where it is," the white robed figure said, cutting him off.
"Oh, hey, um. How is your sister? I heard she got knocked out," Gallant asked clumsily. "I should have checked up on her, but Director Pigget ordered us back home."
"Tactics figured out or got lucky and hurt Glory Girl when she was vulnerable." Panacea frowned at that. "It's weird. Glory said that she knew her wrist had been crushed, but she swears that Tactics healed up her arm. Then knocked her out. It scared her a lot. She's not used to any pain."
"Wait? The girl in the black military gear's name is Tactics? And she can heal? What does that have to do with being super-fast, strong and tough?"
"I don't know, but I should go fix up Aegis right now. Sorry I couldn't do more. They locked me in the vault after figuring out who I was." Panacea moved off to the back where Aegis's room was located.
Armsmaster was at the whiteboard, going over the points. "I like this. But this one..." He tapped the column titled Tattletale. "Nearly empty."
"None of us ran into her, and the hostages didn't have anything to say about her," Gallant replied.
"Only interesting thing I heard was that Skitter was adamant about not hurting the hostages after she put the fear of black widows into them," Browbeat said as he rubbed the spot on his chest that stung from where he had been tasered while in Grue's darkness.
Clockblocker frowned. "That doesn't make a lot of sense. How many injuries were there?"
The newest member looked over to Vista. "Just a lot of scrapes, bruises and glass cuts from Kid Win's cannon taking out the front window of the bank. Aegis they messed up, but it's well known he always gets better."
"You need to watch out for that, Kid," Miss Militia told the young Tinker. "You have a great power and could have hurt people worse than the villains did."
Armsman rubbed his bearded chin that you could see under his helmet. "She might have been trying to keep them from getting hurt by scaring them badly." He tapped the name on the whiteboard. Should he mention that he had been contacted by her yesterday? She had seemed so earnest and the lie detector had said she was telling the truth.
Gallant looked at the white boards as he put Skitter's name at the top of her column of powers and then wrote a question next to 'does not like to hurt civilians'. Putting Tactic's name up, he added to her list 'holds back from hurting maiming heroes'. He then turned back to the group. "Now we start planning on how to take them down the next time we meet."
Sheila opened her mouth wide and took a small bite of Fugly Bob's Challenger, much to the amusement of the rest of the group as she could barely fit her mouth around it enough to bite down. Brian just shook his head as she managed another small bite of the monster burger with a huge bun and piled high with fixings. Taylor was staring at her in shock even as Lisa just smirked. They were in the least obvious corner for a touch of privacy, bags from shopping the Boardwalk piled next to their table.
"You realize that you bet against the wrong person, right Alec?" Lisa said. "Which doesn't mean I don't still hate you both for having high metabolisms, Sheila."
"You have to lose sometime," the younger teen Alec said to the information precognitive. "Besides, that burger is huge."
"Is your metabolism one of you way too many powers?" Taylor asked the younger blonde.
"Not particularly," Sheila said carefully, then she took another bite of the two pound burger.
"So what was your origin story? You seemed to get a lot of powers," the bug-controller asked innocently. The double-fried potato fries were wonderfully sinful and so hot they almost burned your tongue.
Sheila blinked as she looked at the pained explanation. "There's not much to mine. No crushing monsters in my bed nor vindictive step-mothers trying to send assassins or anything epic."
Lisa raised an eyebrow at that. "Sheesh, your family is rough. But, um, Taylor? That's not the sort of question you bring up to capes."
Taylor looked back at Lisa in confusion. "Huh? I don't understand."
"Let me put it this way, when you got your powers were you having a bad day?" Brian said as seemed to look off in the distance, losing himself in a memory.
The brunette immediately looked uncomfortable. "Yes. The second worst day of my life."
Sheila swallowed and held off on another bite as she studied everyone else at the table who also looked very uncomfortable. Lisa started to explain that in almost all cases, the correlation to gaining powers almost always coincided with the stress for people in totally horrible situations. Well, at least in the first generation.
Second generation capes just had to experience some particularly strong emotions. Which, Sheila thought to herself silently, was not that tough to create a situation for.
"So you basically asked us to share the details on the worst moments of our lives," Alec said, before taking another bite of his burger.
Taylor looked up from her own french fries. "Sorry. I guess its fair that since I brought it up..." She seemed to take a hold of her courage and then continued after a long moment. "Lisa said you guys were talking about me, talking about how you thought I was having a hard time, speculating on what it was. I dunno, I think a part of me wants to talk about it so you aren't coming to the wrong conclusions. Talk about when I got my powers. But I don't know that I can get into it without ruining the mood."
"Too late," Sheila quipped to lighten the mood. "If you want to unload it on us, I'm sure we can help you."
Taylor looked worried for a second, but then nodded. With a caveat of that she did not want any of them to interfere or deal revenge with their powers, she explained how she had been betrayed by what was thought to be her best friend ever in a manner that was frankly horrifying, particularly in showing that the adult authorities were unwilling to stop the abuse.
The whole group's hackles rose as she described her descent into a feral, insane state as she was overwhelmed by the smells of her locker and somehow latched onto the insect minds in the walls anywhere near her, the tale was disturbing just to hear about, much less experience. The fact that the school district only paid enough money to cover her medical bills and just a little bit more? That it was still going on...
"That's all they did?" Sheila asked incredulously. She had to give some points to the girl for not using her power on the defenseless teens, but not responding at all...
"No one came forward as a witness," Taylor said in defense of her classmates.
"Yet there was no policy change? Teachers were not interviewed by experts or having the police brought in? So the only way it's going to change is if something worse happens to you?" The young demigoddess was stunned at the lack of even trying to protect an innocent.
"Damn, I wish you hadn't forced us to go along with not attacking them," Brian said angrily.
Sheila started to open her mouth and then hastily picked up her burger to take a bite out of it. She would mention a non-powered way to help her later, just not right in front of Taylor. It was a weirdly prideful thing for the blue-collar daughter to stick to her guns on. So she contented herself with slowly and methodically eating the 'Challenger'.
Alec looked over and blinked as he realized that Sheila was well over half way through the burger. "Um, I heard even really big guys that starve themselves haven't finished one of those." It was better than the last conversation, anyways.
"It's a challenge. I'm going to show them I can do this." She took another bite with intense concentration.
Lisa just groaned. "And I just found out that Sheila is hyper-competitive."
Taylor just looked over in confusion. "You make it sound like a bad trait."
"She's saying it can be used against me," Sheila replied as she glared at Lisa. "I'm not stupid enough to let someone use my desire to be the best against myself like that." She took another bite, chewing carefully.
"Are you really going to finish that in spite of the fact that it's bigger than your stomach?" Brian asked. The shadow-using villain appeared quite bemused, even as he glanced at the steadily filling room. Other patrons were moving tables around in the restaurant to make room for their groups and were getting closer to their corner. His heavy lips quirked into a smile, as he noticed one of the waitresses looking over to see Sheila's progress.
She nodded as Sheila continued to gamely take another bite; she chewed and swallowed daintily.
"She's really going to do it," Alec realized aloud. The handsome young teen groaned as he realized he was out his bet.
"Told you," Lisa said with her almost trademarked Cheshire smirk in place.
Sheila took a final, messy bite and then wiped her hands with two paper napkins while chewing.
The waitress came up, looking quite bemused. "Well, congratulations. Let me get the manager and he will handle your check."
Ten minutes later, Sheila escaped with the rest of the Undersiders. She was now the proud owner of a certificate and had a picture of her looking silly in the mascot hat of the restaurant. Her stomach was complaining, but compared to shattered arms and crippling back injuries, it was nothing. Brian led them outside as they waved off the cheering crowd for Sheila's feat of consumption.
It was slightly more quiet and empty outside, so Brian felt safe to continue. They listened to him explain his 'trigger' event, caused by getting into a fight to protect his sister Aisha. His face may as well have been hewn from black granite for all the emotion he gave off.
The Undersiders made it back to the warehouse hideout in good time, only fifteen minutes later than expected. Brian had them all switch to their costumes for the drive over to hand the money to their mysterious boss. Sheila raised her eyebrow at the small insect in amber that Skitter thanked Grue for.
"Sorry, didn't have anything for you," the big teen said in apology.
"That's alright. Bitch still isn't back? I thought we needed to be there soon for the change over?" Tactics asked.
The tension suddenly ratcheted up.
"She is. And we do. I think we need to get to the stash now." Grue's body language was picked up by everyone.
The sunset was quite amazing as they rode the bus down the line to an area known as the Trainyard just past where the Ferry was supposed to run. They shed their outer layers and put on their masks, which Sheila felt was a very weird thing.
Just down the way were hundreds of abandoned train cars, making a dismal backdrop as they moved into the haphazardly laid out storage lots. They were headed to an area on the edge where Grue and Bitch had dropped off the loot. The storage lockers had been mostly abandoned for years, after the Bay had their first large scale local depression and the police had cracked down on people living in them as cheap, illegal apartments. Now the homeless lived in abandoned warehouses, which were not quite so closely crowded.
Storage Locker 1306 could be found fairly easily, though if one did not know how to find it and had the number, you would likely take hours to find it. Which was probably the point.
Grue fumbled with the heavy padlock, finally opening it to reveal... a totally empty locker. There was only a smudge in the dirt and dust to show where the money bags had been left, under the forlorn light bulb hanging on its wire in the center of the room.
"I vote we kill her," Regent snarled, sounding very vindictive.
"You think it was Bitch?" the bug-controlling villainess asked as looked around nervously.
"Excuse me," Tactics said as she carefully nudged Regent out of the way. She knelt down and then sniffed. "Grue, Bitch and several others. There are some very odd scents."
"Right. This was a cape. A villain," Tattletale said as her brain processed the extra information. "And they're still here."
Outside and up on one of the storage lockers someone started clapping.
"Brilliantly deduced," a man called out, sounding like he was some sort of announcer for a truck rally.
Both of the newly appeared men were wearing skin-tight leotards that were blue for the body, with white arms and legs. Only their faces were visible and they were wearing belts and gloves of blue. Strangely they had a single antenna on top of their head that had a pink ball dangling on their crown with large gauntlets. One was quite large and muscular while the other was very thin and slouched.
"Uber and Leet," Tattletale called out as the Undersiders jostled for position as they exited the locker. "I can't tell how relieved I am that it's only you two. For a second there, I thought we had a problem."
"Rest assured, Tattletale, that you do," Uber declared. He was by far more muscular of the pair.
"There are five of us and two of you. Trust me, I'm not worried at all," Tattletale called out in a verbal jab.
'Bugs' was looking around and spotted the floating gold camera. A small swarm of insects gathered around the device that was 'safe' beyond range of most powers. In moments, it fell from the air.
"Now why did you go and do that," Leet complained. His voice was quite reedy, and it sounded almost pained.
"You mess with our money, so I get to mess with your subscribers," Bugs said in an angry tone.
That seemed to piss them both off. So Regent decided to add oil to the fire.
"So what's your theme tonight? Your costumes are so horrible I can hardly bear to look at them," the suave young man called out as he twirled his scepter with its hidden taser inside.
"Theme?" Tactics asked in confusion. "I think I'm missing a contextual clue." She studied the villains closely.
"They do video game themes for their antics," Tattletale said helpfully.
"Pop culture references? Oh, great. I'm not so good with those," the youngest girl said, her frown very visible as her domino mask hid nothing of her mouth.
"It's more than pop culture-" Uber said loudly as he half-stepped forward to look dramatic. His leg twitched out from under him as Regent caused his muscles to contract involuntarily. He face planted on the ground.
"The money," Grue demanded in a voice that chilled their hearts. "Where is it? How did you find it?"
Leet hopped down as Uber stood back up quite acrobatically.
"Your sixth member led us right to it," Leet said with a smirk on his face. "Pure and lucky happenstance."
Grue gave them a low voice warning that they had Bitch and this could trash their newly earned reputation. He seemed more incensed about the theft than the loss of the team member.
"Go all out?" Tattletale asked in the same low tone.
"Leave one of them awake. Leet. Uber would probably try something to escape," Grue decided in a low voice that wouldn't carry.
Tactics had raised an eyebrow at that. "There are an awful lot of people around."
"What?" Grue managed to hiss out.
Uber and Leet had also been conferring and they started their attack right then. The highly athletic Uber charged forward and only slowed down when Grue and Tactics charged him right back. Tattletale, Bugs and Regent backed off to give room to the close in fighters. Shadows erupted from Grue to encompass the three of them. Uber staggered out just a moment later and had to use both hand to block Tactics open-handed push that sent him sliding across the ground.
"She's as strong as we were warned," Leet called out in warning as he tossed a holographic bomb that would have fit in right out of a Loony Toons cartoon; a black iron ball with a lit fuse.
"Warned? Shit, this is a trap," Tattletale said suddenly, looking around.
Tactics looked away while dodging the bomb easily, her vision changed to encompass infravision to be able to see the dozens of thugs in the different abandoned shacks and storage units. They started to move, opening doors.
Uber charged forward as his gauntlet hissed. Three circles extended out as piston-cylinders two inches the moment Tactics was distracted. Directional explosive went off like three shaped-charge grenades. With a thundering boom, Tactics was blasted through the storage shed.
"He's wearing a knuckle bomber? That Leet figured out from some anime?" Tattletale blurted out.
A figure on top of a storage unit just a little ways away started clapping. "So that's how you guys got away so often. Lung would have been peeved to find out that it's some girl able to figure things out. So, Skitter? We just took out your heavy hitter. What are you going to do?"
"Bakuda?" their intiutiapath blurted out. "Oh, crap. Their theme is Bomberman."
And that's when things started to go really wrong.
The young demigoddess awoke as her head smacked against the ground hard as she was jerked along by her feet.
"Man, dragging this chica is such a pain," the thug said. "I mean, she's missing a chunk of her stomach. No way is she surviving."
"Bakuda said to bring her if she's still breathing. Do you want her to kill us?" The second thug fingered the metal ring-collar around his neck.
Fighting through the pain, Tactics started to heal the most serious of her wounds. All-color black ichor flowed into and then through her veins from the elsewhere that her spirit existed, overwriting her mundane and physical existence. Organs and muscles regrew with unblemished skin.
"You think she's going to do one of her distortion explosions?" the first ABB thug asked in a low voice.
"I figure she's going to melt someone again," the second said in a despondent tone.
In the blink of an eye they suddenly found themselves grabbed and held off the ground by their necks. The half-dead girl had suddenly transformed into a fully healed brick of unknown strength.
"Hi. So your boss, Bakuda, is a total monster?" Tactics asked in a grim voice.
They both managed to nod their heads just a bit as they tried to move her inhumanly strong arms, not budging them in the slightest.
"She's-gunna-kill-us-" the ABB thug managed to gasp out through the grip.
"Don't disappear on me and I might help save you," the young demigoddess said.
"Bomb- implants-" the second thug wheezed out.
"Yeah, let's deal with that right now so I don't get caught by surprise again." Sheila could have kicked herself for letting Uber punch her like that. This was a deadly world full of people that might be able to squash her like a bug. The bombs were a foreign material, not a living part of them. So she merely forced their bodies to remember their undamaged, unmutilated selves though it was with a heavy drain on her psyche.
With a nasty squelching sounds, their regenerating bodies spat out the bombs (and their fillings) onto the ground.
"Now where is Bakuda?" Tactics demanded after dropping them to the ground.
The Undersiders were a very sorry mess when Tactics caught up to them. 'Skitter' and Regent were unconscious, Grue was barely mobile and Tattletale looked nearly as battered as everyone else.
"Tactics? You survived that? You're tougher than I thought." Tattletale sounded a bit impressed.
"You guys looked like you just went to war." Tactics healed Grue first, removing most of his bruises in one go and allowing him to stand without his makeshift crutch. Regent and Tattletale were also as easy, as he was just knocked unconscious and she was just bruised.
She then carefully picked up Skitter and healed the worst of her bruising. Sheila's ichor was burning under the exertion at this point as she then regenerated the more severe trauma to the head wound.
"What happened?" the bug controller asked as she awoke, feeling far too good.
"You guys defeated Bakuda, I guess. I survived a shaped-charge to my stomach. But I am so going to be making a bit heavier armor, as I don't want to repeat that ever again," Tactics complained.
"We need to track down Bitch and then hole up at base. We were lucky to survive. The Boss isn't going to be too thrilled with us losing the money." Grue's whole posture radiated unhappiness.
"We take our lumps. This isn't a safe lifestyle, you know," was Tattletale's optimistic advice.
"I can track her down. If Bakuda is really down and out, I should be able to follow her trail," Tactics promised. She put Skitter back onto her feet, gave them all a heads up and then trotted back towards the area of the shanty town of sheds and lockers.