Hope Comes to Brockton Bay
Note #1: This story is set within the Worm universe. All significant aspects of that universe are owned by its creator, Wildbow. I'm just using it for a bit.
Note #2: The parahuman known as Hope portrayed in this story is an original character, created by me for a GURPS roleplaying game. She is unfailingly pleasant and optimistic, and is used to being treated with respect and consideration by those around her. Boy, is she in for a shock.
Note #3: Hope was born an ordinary human girl, although albino and rather slender and petite. Her father was abusive, and her mother left them both when Hope was 8. When Hope was 14, she ran away from home too, for various reasons (which will come out in the story). After two years on the streets, Hope underwent a drastic metamorphosis into her new form, at the same time as many other people were manifesting super-powers. She never actually got an explanation for any of this.
Despite being born female, and still having that point of view, her new form is essentially genderless. Her looks are utterly androgynous; she could be an undeveloped girl or a slender boy. She stands about five feet six in height, is extremely slender, and has two pairs of wings, with crystalline feathers, extending from her back. Her skin is a pearlescent silvery-blue and emits a steady glow; she can consciously moderate the level of light, but usually doesn't bother. Her hair is silver-white, while her irises and lips are silver. Her looks are utterly perfect, but it's the perfection of a statue rather than that of a supermodel; she draws the admiration of aesthetic appreciation rather than sexual attraction. Her voice is equally beautiful and equally inhuman; when she speaks, it sounds like crystalline chimes.
She also has other abilities; see below.
Note that her powerset was actually established long before this story was ever written.
Note #4: This story begins about a week after the Leviathan attack on Brockton Bay. Any continuity mistakes are mine.
Note #5: In the first few episodes, Hope comes across as rather Mary-Sueish. I apologise for that. I'm still working on striking the balance between 'competent' and 'OMG she can do everything'.
Note #6: Hope's current classification is: Breaker 3, Brute 2, Mover 4, Striker 10, Thinker 4, Master 0.
This breaks down into:
Breaker 3 – She has an ongoing regenerative capability which can heal even severe wounds in half an hour or less. In addition, nothing can be made to stick to her skin. See also her Mover ability.
Brute 2 – She has skin that can withstand small-arms fire, and wings that can deflect rifle shots. She is also strong enough to lift half a ton.
Mover 4 – While her winged flight is not overly fast, she is more maneuverable than anything with wings ought to be.
Striker 10 – She is able to diagnose ills at a touch, heal injuries (and some minor diseases), halt the progress of poisons, negate pain, and quite literally bring people back from the dead. In addition, her wings can work as clubs when she's not actually flying, and can strike at people outside of her arms' reach.
Thinker 4 – She can understand any language, written or spoken, in just a few seconds. At the same time, she internalises the customs and mores of the person she is speaking to. Her eyes can adjust to pick up the spectrum from low infrared to high ultraviolet. And she is able to reach out to detect the presence of intelligent biological beings around her.
Master 0 – While she has no actual power to cover this, she does have a truly sweet nature, a stunningly beautiful appearance and voice, and a charismatic personality. Add to this her Thinker ability to ensure that no verbal misunderstandings or culturally-based problems creep in, and people tend to go along with what she asks them to do. (Note that this is not a compulsion; if someone has already decided not to do what she wants, they are free not to.)
Note #7: I will accept any legitimate criticism of my work. However, I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong" without showing how it is wrong, and suggesting how it can be made right. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to get said reviews deleted.
Note #8: I will be gradually revising and possibly expanding this story. Chapter 1 has been thus revised. Enjoy.
Part One: In which Hope arrives in Brockton Bay, to a friendly welcoming committee
The horizon was covered by clouds. Suspended high above the surface of the planet, the Simurgh orbited. Like a rose unfurled, comprised of wings without pairs, a starburst or snowflake of bent angles; a grim star on the horizon, one that stargazers avoided looking at too closely.
Her eyes were wide open, but they did not move to track any of the cloud formations far, far below. She slept.
But higher intelligences such as that of the Simurgh had varying levels of dormancy, and the dreams of the Destroying Angel were alien and vast.
There was a discontinuity in the pressure of control, the pressure that forced her into conflict with the beings on the planet below. For a precious few moments, she was able to act independently.
Dreaming, the Simurgh reached out. A mind's arm shuffling pieces on the board, seeking elements to alter the playing field. To add new players to the game.
Finding one, she turned it over in her sight. It intrigued her. Alien. Different. Like her, it lacked the shards that swam through the many realities. It was different. But it felt the same.
The Simurgh reached out, and took hold of this fascinating difference. And with a pull, added it to the scenario, nudging it towards other elements.
At the last minute, she added a caveat. None shall harm her. Only a very few were equipped to hear it, and those that did, never recalled doing so.
Control returned. It was as though it had never been lifted. But things were very subtly different now. There was a new player on the board.
The paradigm had changed.
Still dreaming, the Simurgh changed orbit. A tight-beam signal from a satellite was disrupted very slightly, corrupting an image.
In a building far below, alarms sounded.
The sky was broad and blue, and the only clouds were small and soft and the temperature was perfect. The sun glinted on her outspread wings. She pulled into a long, high loop, the air keening between the crystals that acted as her feathers, as much a part of her world as breathing and eating.
All she knew was that she loved to fly. Of all the changes that had come over her due to her transformation, her wings were the ones that set her apart most, and yet afforded her the most joy. They let her step away from the earth, separate herself from the memories of living in the gutter, see the world as a wider place –
- a jolt, just as she was at the highest point of the arc. An instant of disorientation, of pain, of a strangetwisting sensation -
- and then she felt the wind on her wings, the sun on her skin again. She was flying again (still?), albeit inverted. A flick of a wing corrected that; now she was gliding right side up.
What? What the heck was that? She took stock. Arms, legs, four wings ... all eight limbs accounted for… no blood. There was no one around, no one in the air at all. And she was high enough off the ground –
She looked down. Off the ocean. She was offshore by some miles. There was a city ahead of her. One she didn't recognise from this angle.
"Okay, where the heck am I?"
Miss Militia sprinted across the landing stage, scrambled into the helicopter. It lifted off even as she pulled herself into a seat. Someone handed her a headset; she pulled her scarf down so that she could speak into it.
"Report. What do we have?"
Kid Win spoke up from where he was pacing the chopper from a hundred yards out. He had upgraded his flying skateboard into a flying ... surfboard? It wasn't important. She concentrated on his words.
"I was on the roof calibrating some gear when I got the satellite alert. An anomaly, gravitic and electromagnetic, eight miles offshore, fifteen thousand feet or so. I managed to swing around and get a bead on it, just before it went pop. Big burst, fraction of a second. When it cleared ... that was there."
"What was there?" she asked.
Weld was in the next seat. Silently, he passed her a tablet with an image on screen. She stared at the overhead satellite image, a chill running down her spine. The picture was scattered, blurry, but the impression of multiple wings was plain. When she spoke next, her words were slow and careful.
"Tell me that doesn't look just a little bit like the Simurgh."
"I can't," replied Kid Win. "Hasn't started singing yet, but there's those wings, and that skin. I don't know what it is, but we can't rule out the possibility of it being some sort of mini-Endbringer."
"Christ," she swore. "So Leviathan left a week ago, and now the Simurgh's sending her little sister to say hi?"
"She's never done that sort of thing before," said Assault, from farther back in the helicopter.
"She's surprised us all before, more than once," retorted Miss Militia. "Are you willing to risk everyone's lives on this not being another trick of hers?"
He wasn't, of course. No-one was. "Position?" she said next.
"Just made landfall," reported Kid Win. "Flying low. Turned left to fly down Lord Street." He paused. "Good news, it's heading for us. Bad news, there's some work crews in between us and it."
This isn't New York State … and that doesn't look like New York City. She glided across the shoreline, noted a mass of wrecked ships to her right, pushed up against an equally wrecked set of docks, and what looked like an Atlantic City style boardwalk below, torn and shredded.
Has this place been hit by a hurricane?
She searched for familiar landmarks, but the buildings, the layout, the land, it was all different. Unfamiliar.
Okay. I'm not in New York any more. But that's okay. Maybe this is a test. Maybe Mr Goodkind, or Risi, put me somewhere else, to see how I do under stress. Find my way back, that sort of thing.
But even as she told herself that, she felt the distant niggle of worry. She had been up and down the east coast of the United States a couple of times. If it was still the same time of day – the early-afternoon sun had not moved appreciably – this was still the east coast. Or… she was pretty sure…
And yet, she did not recognise this city.
Maybe they stranded her in a different country, with a different language and customs. That's silly, she told herself. But maybe they did it anyway.
"Oh well," she said out loud. "I guess I'll just land and ask for directions then."
Wings chiming as she flapped a couple of times to regain speed and a little altitude, she aimed herself down one of the major streets. Off to the right, she saw sunlight glinting off a wide expanse of water, in the middle of the city. She would have thought it a natural or even artificial lake, were it not for the ruined buildings protruding from the water here and there. Is that a sinkhole? Did part of this city justsubside?
As she dropped lower again, all four wings spread wide, she frowned. This place looks like it was hit by more than a hurricane. Debris in the streets, water damage everywhere, a sinkhole, collapsed buildings. Hurricane plus earthquake plus tidal wave? Below her, a jagged crack ran down the middle of the road, bearing silent witness to the power of whatever cataclysm had befallen this place.
In her six months as one of the Empowered, she had helped with search and rescue efforts after several disasters, but she had never encountered anything of this magnitude. And she certainly had not heard of such a natural disaster occurring like this in the last few days.
So where am I?
Looking up, she saw a helicopter heading her way over the rooftops. There's someone. I'll go ask them.
As she flapped her wings to gain speed and altitude again, she looked down at the crack in the road. What could have done that?
She was still distracted by that question when the thunderbolt hit her in the back and smashed her to the ground.
A gold and white blur whipped past, cutting between Kid Win and the helicopter. Miss Militia only caught the briefest glimpse of a slim female form before it was gone, but she knew who it was.
"Can anyone tell me," she said crisply, "what Glory Girl is doing here?"
"Uh, I called her?"ventured Kid Win. "I thought we might need some firepower?"
"Firepower is good. A loose cannon, not so much," snapped Miss Militia. "You are aware, are you not, that she's lost a cousin and an uncle, and that her father is suffering massive brain damage from the fight a week ago? That she's an emotional powder keg right now, and that you've just told her of what may be another Endbringer attack on the city? How did you expect her to react?"
Glory Girl flew low across the city, as fast as she had ever travelled. Her face was grim, her lips set, her mind a turmoil of angry thoughts.
They killed Eric. They killed Uncle Neil. They hurt Dad. Why can't these fuckers at least stay away long enough for us to mourn our dead?
Whatever this one is, it's not going to get the chance to hurt anyone else. I'll die first.
Pulling up hard, she grimaced as the G-forces contested her hard loop. But there she - it - was. Wings extended, arms pointed forward, toes pointed backward, gliding down toward the ground.
Coming out of the loop, she drove down hard at the unsuspecting being's back. But the closer she got, the more it looked like a slender human and not like an Endbringer at all. The skin wasn't white, but instead glowed a gentle silver-blue. There were wings, yes, but not the crazy mismatched pinions of the Simurgh; these were composed of some sort of crystal, and were quite functional.
So, at the very last moment, she pulled her attack; she still struck, and struck hard, but she didn't use all the force at her disposal. Her elbow smashed into the middle of the being's back, driving it toward the ground.
Whatever had hit her took her off guard; she never saw the blow coming. But she was still conscious when she hit the street, so her wings had time to fold protectively around her. Crystal chimed as her wings took the brunt of the collision with the ground, tumbling over and over, until she finally skidded to a stop ... and when she finally unfolded her wings from around her, they had held.
The helicopter swooped over Lord Street just in time for its passengers to witness Glory Girl's smashing blow, and the subsequent tumble of the winged person to the ground.
"Set us down, now!" snapped Miss Militia. The chopper came in for a fast landing, the rotor-wash scattering sand and spraying water far and wide. The capes burst out of each door as Kid Win landed his flying surfboard nearby. Miss Militia took up station with a long-barrelled rifle as the figure rolled to a halt.
Crystalline wings unfolded from around its body and head, and it - she - looked around dazedly, then tried to get up.
Keeping out of Miss Militia's line of fire, Clockblocker got there first.
She was unhurt, except for a stabbing pain in the back when she tried to breathe. Yup, a fractured rib. A little dazed, she got up on to one knee, in time to see a white-clad feminine figure circling overhead, and the helicopter on the street ahead, rotors spooling up to take off. Costumed figures were moving forward from the chopper. Okay, what the heck -?
But she had little time to take it in, because there was now a man standing in front of her. A teenager, rather. Maybe her own age, maybe a little older. He had a weird costume on, all white with an opaque faceplate, covered in clock faces. Some of them moved. In her rattled condition, she was fascinated by that tiny detail. How does he get that effect?
"Are you all right?" he asked. "Here, let me help you up." He extended his hand. Automatically she took it –
"Nicely done," said Miss Militia, looking at the kneeling figure, angelic in appearance, with partially-open wings and an upraised hand.
"Seriously, it wasn't hard," said Clockblocker. "Took my hand, just like that." He traded a high-five with Kid Win.
"Celebrate later," Miss Militia said mildly. "For now, we need to contain her ... him ... it? Containment foam is en route, but your power might wear off before then."
"I got this," said Kid Win. He moved over toward a stack of rebar, apparently left over from reconstruction efforts. Pulling out his spark pistol, he began to reconfigure it on the fly.
Thirty seconds later, he was spot-welding together a crude cage from the rebar, as others held the metal in place. Miss Militia shared a glance with Battery. Tinkers. They could be so very irritating, but they could also be so very useful.
Abruptly, a cage surrounded her. Many more people were around her now, mostly costumed, some in armour and dark uniforms - the Army? The SWAT team? The boy who had begun to help her up was standing, watching her intently. He didn't hold a gun, but some of the others did.
"- should be coming out of it by now," he was saying. "Ah, we have movement." He stepped forward; she couldn't see his face but his voice was pleasant. He could have been smiling. "Sorry about that, but when we got a report that someone bearing a strong resemblance to the Simurgh was flying in, we couldn't take any chances."
"Wait, what?" she said. When he heard her voice, the guy with the clock-face costume stepped back, and some guns came up. "No, wait, really. What is this? What's a Simurgh? And why did you attack me?" She looked around, through the bars of the hastily-cobbled-together cage, at the damaged buildings, the evidence of water damage. Then she looked back at the group of people surrounding her, wavering between hostility and ... curiosity?
"… Where am I?"
Dennis blinked. He had never heard a voice like that. It was all crystal tones, sweet and lovely. A voice he could listen to all day ... and thus something he distrusted. But it didn't seem to be twisting his mind, and it wasn't the psychic song of the Simurgh, so he stepped forward again.
Belatedly, he realised something. She's talking. The Simurgh never talks.
"You don't know where you are?" he asked.
"No," she said, those bewitching tones making the single word into a thing of beauty. "Can you please tell me?"
I don't see why not, he thought. Seeing as she asked so politely and all.
He told her. Two words.
It didn't help her confusion any.
Where the heck is Brockton Bay?
"Okay," said Director Piggot, "so fill me in. What do we have here?"
Miss Militia spoke first. "Subject is a teenage – girl? – with pale, glowing skin, and multiple wings. Initial images strongly resembled the Simurgh, so we scrambled, fast. I took Clockblocker, Kid Win, Weld, Assault and Battery to investigate; when we got eyes on, we figured it wasn't her. However, no-one got word to Glory Girl in time. So, when she dropped below the level of the buildings, Glory Girl hit her from behind. This dropped her to the ground, and we landed immediately after. She got straight up, so Clockblocker froze her, and Kid Win built a cage around her before she unfroze. She's a little confused, but not aggressive. However, given her initial resemblance to the Simurgh …"
"What," persisted Piggot, "do we know for certain?"
"She's… alien?" said Panacea. "I don't understand all of it, her physiology. Some of it is just out of place on a human, but the rest crosses over into some kind of biological-mineral middle ground." She paused for thought. "I'm not even entirely certain she is a… a 'she'. There are analogue organs in the right places, but they aren't for reproduction, I think. Maybe."
"The important question being," noted the Director. "is she human, or is she something else? Does her DNA register as human?" She pointed out the monitor which displayed the newcomer sitting in a cell, fidgeting just a little nervously.
"Yes, Director," said Panacea. "It does."
"We were able to confirm that, though we weren't able to get a blood sample. Her skin was too hard to get a needle through," confessed the PRT medic. "It's flexible and sensitive, but extremely resistant to intrusion. Quite possibly resistant to small-arms fire. We eventually had to take swabs from the mouth. Also, the stress tests we put her through indicate she could lift perhaps half a ton, if pressed. And no, we don't know how she glows, but it's linked in some way to her emotional state."
"So, a low-level Brute," noted Piggot.
"Oh, and that's another thing," said Panacea. "Vick- Glory Girl hit her fairly hard, and she seemed to be favouring her back when she first got up, but by the time I got to her, there was only a fading bruise. She's a regenerator."
"Don't forget the wings," added Miss Militia. "They'd make her a Mover. They're also very strong and very flexible." She looked at Panacea, who took up the explanation.
"They're made up of some sort of organic crystal-analogue that rivals diamond on the hardness scale," reported the healer. "And," she added for emphasis, "apart from, you know, being wings, they aren't really like the Simurgh's wings. Though the muscular systems she's got in place to make them work ..."
"So ... her wings are bulletproof?" asked the Director, cutting her off. "She could use them as a shield?"
"That's exactly what she did when Glory Girl brought her down," confirmed Miss Militia. "They cushioned her prior to impact with the ground."
"Oh, this just keeps getting better," scowled the Director.
"There's more," said the PRT medic. "We had Doctor Yamada run a basic psych evaluation on her. She's either the scariest, most convincing charismatic psychopath since Jack Slash ... or she's a truly sweet, innocent, caring, nice teenage girl who happens to have wings and glowing skin."
"You're kidding me," said Weld, speaking for the first time as he looked at the picture on the monitor. "That's a pure psychopath?"
"She could be just a nice kid with powers," objected Miss Militia.
"Don't make me laugh," scoffed Piggot. "With that level of power? There has to be something wrong with her."
A short silence, all of them watching the monitor.
"Panacea," asked Weld, "did she have any identifying marks? Tattoos, birthmarks, anything like that?"
"No," said Panacea. "Nothing. Not even a scar, anywhere on her. Why?"
Weld looked hard at the image on the monitor.
If you're not a Case 53 ... who are you?
"I'm still not sure why we have to turn up to investigate this strange new cape in person," commented Legend.
"The case interests me," said Alexandria. "If you want to go and speak to the Director, Eidolon and I will get on with it."
"Sure, okay,' said Legend.
Alexandria waited till he was out of sight before turning to Eidolon. "You've checked that she's not one of ours?"
"Twice," Eidolon assured her. "Doctor Mother swears there's nothing that could do this in our inventory."
"And the medical examinations?"
Eidolon shrugged. "No tattoo."
"Well then," said Alexandria. "It looks like I'm going to have to talk to our mystery guest."
Alexandria walked into the interview room. There was a plastic jug of water on the table, along with two plastic cups.
The girl – Alexandria found that her mind insisted on calling her that, despite Panacea's report on her unique anatomy – looked up at her. Her face was perfect, androgynous, ethereally beautiful. White hair, silver irises and lips.
"Please," she said, in that beautiful crystal-chime voice that the others had reported.. "My name is Hope. I don't understand what I'm doing here. I don't understand what I've done wrong."
"Hope," repeated Alexandria as she swept her cape to one side and sat down. "Is that your actual name or your cape name?"
"I don't wear a cape," objected Hope. "It's just the name I use. It's the name I was born with. What's your name? And why do people keep asking me questions but never giving me any answers?"
Alexandria noted the quite human frustration in her voice.
"Hope," she said. "My name is Alexandria. You're here because people thought you may have some connection with the Simurgh. We had to take all these precautions until we could be sure you had nothing to do with her. Do you understand?"
"No!" retorted Hope, frustration still evident in her voice. "People keep telling me that too, but no-one ever tells me what a Simurgh is, or why it's so bad I look like one."
"You don't know what the Simurgh is?" she asked blankly.
"She had no idea," she said later. Leaning back in a comfortable office chair, she closed her eyes momentarily. Legend sat nearby, watching her intently. Eidolon stood off to the side, apparently lost in his own thoughts, but Alexandria knew he'd be listening. Director Piggott sat at her desk, her face immobile.
"No idea about what?" asked Legend.
"About the Endbringers. About the Slaughterhouse Nine. About the Protectorate." A significant silence.
"Ah," interjected Eidolon. "She's from an alternate."
"She's from an alternate," agreed Alexandria. "According to her, super-powers have only been around for about six months. She was one of the first Empowered – as she says – who went public after it happened. Everyone with powers apparently got their abilities at the same time. It wasn't really a trigger event; there was no trauma involved. She says she was a teenage runaway, sleeping on the streets, and one day – ping – she triggered."
"Just like that," Legend said, his voice tinged with scepticism.
"Just like that," Alexandria echoed. "She says it hurt when the wings grew out, but that was over quickly. And ever since, she's been happy to use her powers to help people. And to fly. She says that being able to fly is the best thing that ever happened to her."
"I scanned her while you were interviewing her," said Eidolon slowly, "and her emotions and attitudes seem to match what you have reported. Despite her less-than-stellar beginnings, this 'Hope' appears to be just as friendly and outgoing as you say she is."
"Well," said Director Piggot, "that settles it. She's definitely from an alternate."
"Why do you say that?" asked Alexandria.
"Do you have to ask?" snorted Piggot. "A teenage runaway, and she's this well-adjusted? Come on."
"It's just a routine check," said the PRT officer soothingly. There were capes standing by, and this new parahuman was only about five foot six, but he didn't want her getting nervous and deciding to lash out. Although her two pairs of wings were currently neatly furled, they didn't have to stay that way if she didn't want them to, and they looked like they could stretch out to six or seven feet in length. Also, they looked heavy.
"We just need to get your fingerprints for our files," he went on. "For one thing, that may tell us if you have any counterparts on Earth Bet."
"I'm not arguing with that," Hope said agreeably. "I'm just saying that you're wasting your time. Especially if you try to fingerprint me using an ink pad."
"Let me be the judge of that, okay?" The PRT officer handed her the ink pad. "Roll each finger on the pad and then on the paper in the correct space, please."
Hope raised one perfect silver-white eyebrow and quirked a smile, but did as he requested. Her finger – the neatly trimmed nail adding a faint pinkish hue to the pearlescent silvery-blue glow of her skin – pressed firmly down on the ink pad as she rolled it from side to side. Then she placed her finger on the paper and rolled it in the same way. When she lifted it away, there was not a mark on the paper. It was as clean, in fact, as her fingertip.
The officer stared at the paper, then at her fingertip. He had watched her roll her finger on it. Reaching over, he dabbed his pinky on the pad. It came away stained purple.
"Okay," he said wearily as he wiped the ink off on a paper towel, "suppose you tell me how you did that?"
Hope shrugged; the motion made her wings ripple a gentle chime. "Nothing sticks to my skin," she said. "Water, mud, ink, glue, duct tape – it all falls off me."
The PRT officer made a faint growling sound in his throat. "I guess," he said heavily, "that we're going to have to wait till the digital fingerprint pad is free. That doesn't use ink, at least."
"Um ..." said Hope.
Addenda to Temporary File: HOPE.
Subject possesses no discernible fingerprints.
Assess powers, induct into Wards with provisional status until further notice.
To be continued ...