A Tale of Transmigration
A Worm Fanfiction
For Taylor Herbert, death was just the beginning. Reincarnated into an alternate earth version of herself she awakens to find herself trapped in a very familiar locker. Spoilers abound; sorry.
-/ Chapter 1: Reparation /-
I barely had heard the report announcing the first bullet before my mind rebelled. I toppled. The second caught me before I hit the ground, silencing the formative tendrils of pain.
Blackness. I blinked. My breath was ragged. Something stunk. Correction, everything stunk, everywhere. I tried to move, my elbows and the backs of my hands stung. I hit metal in every direction except forward, the source of the foulness. My legs, rear, back, and neck ached. I've been in this position to long. I tried to raise my head from its stooped position. Something wet and nasty clung to my cheek, I pulled it off as my head banged into the ceiling of my own private hell. I knew where I was now. I screamed, my voice nearly gone.
I cried out as I struggled. The stinging sensation grew. The logical part of my mind told me to stop; I didn't listen. I didn't listen to it guaranteeing me that my hands were bleeding. I didn't listen to that voice telling me if I continued to thrash that the…crud would get in the hurt. That it would fester and infect. I thrashed anyway. I screamed despite being hoarse. It wasn't just a matter of being in the locker again, reliving that experience. Everything from the last few days came tumbling down on me.
"Because I think you have a chance to come back from this," Contessa's words felt so damn hollow right now. The things I did. The things I remember doing as I unraveled, they were evil on a level I didn't want to comprehend. I was a monster.
Tiny sparks of life answered my now silent cries. Every insect within the school, no larger than that; every arthropod within a vast area my mind was in no shape to guess the size of reacted to me. They were converging. Now the logical side of my mind was screaming too, countermanding the subconscious call to arms. In my desperate thrashing I slammed my head against the locker's low ceiling with enough force it made me see stars. Then blackness consumed me once more. I welcomed the reprieve.
Fluorescent lights cut through the safe darkness of unconsciousness. I blinked first trying to get rid of the light so I could slip back into the safety of night. After I realized it was useless, the blinking was to clear my eyes. A ceiling greeted them. I felt a wave of annoyance that I could tell just from the ceiling that I was in a hospital. What did that say about me?
The door creaked open and a nurse entered. She crossed that invisible line at sixteen feet from me and kept moving as if…wait what? I actively focused on my power, my perspective slipped away as I felt the simple minds of every arthropod with four blocks of me. I didn't sense the nurse; confusion swept over me like a wave upon the shore.
"Need anything?" the woman asked me.
I ignored her for a moment as I sought out any indication of my biggest regret. Nothing, it was like my power hadn't ever changed. I was in a hospital. My last memory was of the locker. THE locker.
"A newspaper, today's preferably," I replied, my voice hoarse. I needed to figure this out. This sort of thing made no sense. Before the locker was my 'conversation' with Contessa. Before that? Scion, the battle to survive; my fall. And beyond that? My memory was fading like a fleeting dream. But it felt too real. Even as they disappeared in a hazy mist they were too fresh to say they didn't happen.
"- you want the news, there's the TV in the corner," the nurse replied unaware I wasn't paying her much mind.
"I'd rather the paper," I asserted trying to sound neither rude nor pretentious. She seemed to accept the words at face value and with a little noise of affirmation turned and headed out the room. I tried again in some morbid fascination to assert control over her. Nothing happened she simply kept going closing the door on her way out.
That was fine. If I was some how back before everything I definitely didn't want to have that power, especially given what it cost to have it. I turned my attention back to my bugs.
Four block radius, if I was guessing I'd say twelve hundred feet. That was a little better then I was use to I think. There were somewhere about thirty thousand creepy crawlies within my range and under my control, I could have gotten a more accurate count but didn't feel like it. I let most of them go about their business unmolested. The others, the ones in and immediately around the hospital were my focus. There was a spider in my room, I focused on it specifically.
I opened myself to all of its senses. Its sight was blurry and oddly distorted, colors were off. I felt a vibration along its web as it carefully crossed from one side to the other. Its hearing was a jumble of tiny noises probably beyond the human hearing range. It wasn't just the senses I gathered from it though. I recognized the bug like an anthropologist might; not by its scientific name, but I had an intrinsic knowledge of every molecule, every atom, that made up its very being. I could sense it was bored, sleepy even, and hungry.
I had already ordered a small collection of houseflies thought the building to attach themselves to everyone in an as innocuous manner as possible. Some hid in the cuffs of pants, the folds of pleats, under folded collars, while others blatantly landed on the hands of sleeping patients, still others found elbows, shoes and so forth. I was actively 'piloting' each when I pulled another few flies into a flying wedge formation and sent them towards my room like some sort of fighter squadron. Flight of the Valkyries echoed in my head from memory; it was one of the hardest songs I knew how to play back when I had mom's flute.
As they neared the nurses' station it occurred to me I was navigating the halls with only this group's sight. Somewhere along the way I had made a hell of a leap in translating swarm sight into something I could use. I couldn't remember ever actually being able to effectively use the sight of bugs.
"-and what does she ask for? Today's paper. I'm thinking there's a TV right there in the corner, remotes next to the bed. And you want a paper?" the nurse who had checked in on me said. I found myself interested in the fact that even as my brain was taking the vibrations in the air created by the woman's speech and converting it to language I was hearing the words through the houseflies' ears…well through their audio receptors. There was a good bit of distortion, I wasn't surprised since I was not only using many audio receptors to hear but they were turned to a different range of the wavelength then human hearing. Still combining the two methods of 'hearing' through the bugs meant I could understand more of the subtleties of human speech.
"Maybe the kid likes to read," the other nurse, a slightly overweight older woman, replied as she passed her younger counterpart a rolled newspaper. I ignored the revelation that my swarm hearing was actually useable as I turned my flies' sight to the paper but wasn't able to actually make out anything more than indistinct shapes. Were houseflies nearsighted like me?
"I don't know I don't remember liking to read that much in high school. And I sure as hell never read the paper," my nurse responded as I set my wedge of flies down on the ceiling across from my room ready to send them into my room and the cobwebs my friendly house spider had set up in the corner.
I was shifting my focus around the building trying to find something suitably interesting to occupy myself with. The odd biological familiarity of whatever bug I happened to focus on was somewhat distracting. It was distracting more because it was new, unusual. The basement had an unusually high number of cobweb spiders like my roommate, likely indicating no one came down there very often, on the third floor a few rooms ahead of me two PRT guys were visiting a friend laid up with a broken leg. From the bits of conversation I heard he'd been caught in a recent cape fight.
The paper thumped down in my lap with a simple, "There ya go, hot off the press."
Was she trying to be funny? I gave her a weak smile for her effort and thanked her. She quickly turned on her heel and left the room. I didn't blame her; she might catch crazy if she stayed.
I almost missed Dad arriving. He was carrying a plastic shopping bag, which I quickly realized contained a change of clothes for me. My heart beat faster my mind trying to reconcile the man asking for his daughter's, asking for my, room number with the memory of him being dead. He was heading towards the elevator before I shook myself out of the stupor. I unfolded the news paper as I maneuvered a few bugs to the elevator he was heading towards. The bugs were a varied lot but my emphasis had been on ones I could see and hear with well enough.
The front page of January 3, 2011's issue of the Bay Chronicler was almost consumed by a color picture of a ruined white-grey mech that dwarfed everything but the buildings in the image. Defiant –no, Armsmaster was present in the image halberd held loosely in his hand as he looked on the wreckage looking like the repentant hero I knew him better as. Three other capes were visible in the image but I didn't immediately recognize them though they all seemed familiar. I also recognized the mech's design even without reading the headline 'White Knight Captured After Prolonged Battle.'
I felt a surge of confusion, I both remembered a cape operating under that name and didn't. The part that did was nodding as I read the article. White Knight was until a month ago a member of the local Protectorate in good standing known for his chivalrous attitude and polite demeanor. He was the Bay's premier tinker, after Armsmaster of course, known for the construction of vehicles, mechs, powered armor, and gravity based technology. Every time a member of Protectorate or Wards cuffed some punk and left them floating around a few feet of the ground they were employing his technology.
He went off the deep end sometime in December when his wife and fellow teammate was killed by a villain while in her civilian identity. He avenged his wife by murdering said villain less then a week later in broad daylight and went Antihero. Over the course of the following three weeks he killed eight capes, one of which was a solo hero that tried to stop him.
The elevator door closed and the metal box containing Dad started heading to the fourth floor. I arrayed my bugs about getting a good look at him. I could tell he was angry; his mouth was pressed together in a thin line that only showed up when he was trying desperately to suppress his emotions. Despite that he looked younger and happier then I remember, then again based on the newspaper there was a time difference between the last time I saw him and now of about two and half years. And not two and a half years since I saw him, that suggested I'd last saw him in 2008; no last time I saw dad was 2013. I was some sort of time traveler. Or maybe no matter how familiar the memories and powers were I had managed to dream it all. It did have a nightmarish ending, that's for sure.
Dad left the elevator about the same time my roommate finished cocooning the last of the flies in its web. He didn't stop at the nurse station and was a few doors down when one of the people I had tagged with a fly stopped him with a question. With all the bugs around I recognized the voice of my principal. Another member of Winslow High's Faculty, one whose name I couldn't place back up the principle.
Words were exchanged; Dad tried to ignore them even as his anger festered. I knew from last time, he'd explode. He wanted to see his daughter damn it, make sure she was okay and these two where keeping him from his goal. I wasn't my dad and it was frustrating for me.
"-not to mention she assaulted two members of our faculty. Coach Brains could sue, she nearly shattered his knee; the same one that he injured and took him out of the league."
"Are you freaking kidding me?" Dad exploded as I screamed in my mind. I seethed with the same anger Dad was venting in a triage echoing almost every one of my thoughts. He didn't know how long the bullying had been going on so there were discrepancies between our exact wording but It was still a bit surprising just how similar our thoughts were. A moment of fear spiked through me as a dark thought crossed my mind. I checked how far dad was from me, way more than sixteen feet. I sighed in relief. We were just like minded; I wasn't in his head.
The older nurse at the station moved towards them at a decent clip, I had pegged her as somewhat overweight. I was reassessing her given the way she moved, she was more big boned and less body fat. And she knew how to handle herself, not surprising since this floor was for psychiatric patents. She all but shouted at them killing the argument in its tracks. The woman didn't give them a chance to recover from the interruption. "You two out," she ordered jamming her finger into my principal's chest, "he has a reason to be here. You don't, get out now before I throw you both down the stairs."
"Go see your daughter, two doors down on the left," she ordered Dad. He obeyed as he took a deep calming breath.
The door creaked open, as soon as he was inside I ordered all but one fly off his person and out the bag he carried. He didn't notice. What he did notice was me dressed in a hospital gown and giving him an amused smile.
"You alright kiddo?"
"Yeah. 'Specially now, hearing you defend me helped a lot."
Dad made a face. He obviously didn't like that I heard him blowing up on someone like that. He shouldn't be ashamed, that anger had been perfectly justifiable, "Dad, you were pretty much echoing my thoughts. I don't even remember hitting anyone."
"Do you…" he paused, "Want to talk about it?"
"Maybe after I get dressed, everything was ruined."
"They told me," he dropped the Walmart bag on the edge of the bed and gave me ample room to get out.
We made idle chitchat through the bathroom door while I changed. I took the opportunity to look at myself in the mirror. I had been cleaned up, if I remember correctly, by the older nurse, so there was none of the …refuse that had stuck to me while in the locker present. Even my hair had been washed. I'd have to thank her for that. The thing I noticed however was my body wasn't what I remembered it being like at fifteen. I had all the lean muscle that I had developed over the years during my costumed escapades. How the hell had that happened? Before I could speculate on it being related in some odd way to my…rebirth…resurrection…reincarnation, my mind called up memories of doing morning runs since mom died; it was how I coped. I trained. At summer camp I was one of the fastest girls, and surprisingly agile.
My chest was also larger; according to the bra in my bag, I was a full cup size larger then I remembered being at this age. Hell, I wasn't even this well endowed when I died…that confused me since my mind couldn't fish out any memories to fill in the blanks; it was just there. There were other little things that were different, an extra scar on my left bicep that I got falling off an obstacle at summer camp, my hair was little longer. Things like that. These changes made me more prepared for my powers, along with my previous knowledge of my capabilities I could go out in costume sooner, as soon as I remade my costume that is. And I knew I would go out in costume again, there wasn't any doubt about it; I couldn't see myself as a rogue.
I pulled the hoody on and zipped it up half way, enough to keep me warm, but enough to show off the color of my shirt; an orange-ish yellow not far removed from gold. I exited the restroom. Dad was looking at the news paper, reading the article on the White Knight's capture.
"The union will get to clean the mess up right?" I asked recalling him telling me about how his people did more reconstruction work then anything nowadays.
"Yeah, best part about all the capes in town, there's always repair work that needs to be done and the union gets first dibs."
"Do you know if I need to stay for observation, or can we go get something to eat that's not made in the local cafeteria?" I asked my stomach growling.
"Let's find out."
Despite the attending doctor's objections and requests to keep me overnight we checked out and made our way to the Burger King a block south of the hospital. The Whopper Jr. I had was the best burger ever made. We had barely spoken on the walk here, and once here I told him I'd not talk till he was done eating. I remembered the last time I told someone about my trigger event when they were eating.
The quite gave me time to order my thoughts and plan what I'd do for the next few days; the doctor's excuse gave me three days grace between checkout and returning to school. Dad had agreed to let me stay home as long as I need to get myself together. Considering I was discovering an extra fifteen years of memories that I hadn't had before my last encounter with Contessa and the events that lead me to where I was, I was glad for the chance to decompress and make sense of everything. Or at least begin to.
Explaining what had happen had been difficult, I had two memories of the locker incident, they didn't entirely match. Further I refrained from telling Dad I triggered and seeing his lips draw into an angry line made me try to lighten the mood a little. It hadn't really worked out and I was reminded that I was horrible at the interpersonal skills that lent themselves easily to superhero banter and joking in general.
"I don't want you taking this to the school...well no more than suing them. But no direct action against the girls."
"Why? How can you forgive them for this, Taylor?"
"I'm not forgiving, but I know anything short of expulsion won't help my situation. I get them suspended and they'll just have a three day break from school. I fight back or stand up to them they come back nastier. Escalating the matter won't help me. And if it comes down to you taking legal action against Emma and the others then you'll be dealing with Mr. Barnes. He'll be able to hurt us financially in court. I'm not happy about it by any means, but that's the way it is."
"What would you like?"
"I wish I could get transferred to Arcadia. Everyone there is polite to one another because they don't want to get on the wrong side of a Ward. Even beyond that the school is, well, good. I'd be able to learn more there."
Dad mulled it over; I could see the thought process on his face. He wasn't angry anymore; the fact that the victim was willing to think though things logically had defused him. He stayed quite for almost half a minute before stating simply, "The school should pay."
"I agree, at least the hospital bill. Sue them, I'm fine with that. Just don't name the girls," He nodded in agreement. The expression on his face seemed to covey he was beginning to understand that I was far more level-headed and mature about this then he'd have expected. It didn't surprise me; after all, I did have an extra life to grow up.
A sudden point of inspiration hit me and I knew I couldn't leave well enough alone, "Dad, how much do you want to hurt them?"
"What?" My dad looked surprised at the sudden question for a moment before he started to examine his own mind, "A great deal. Probably more then I should. Why?"
"I don't think Emma's dad knows what she's been doing to me."
"And this is important why?"
"Aren't you and Mr. Barnes pretty friendly?" A dark emotion shrouded his face before I added, "What do you think would happen if you asked him to help you sue the school for letting this …incident occur?"
The grin dad gave me reminded me of a raptor from Jurassic Park, "But I don't tell him his daughter was involved in the incident or that this has been going on since last summer."
I nodded as he continued, "In the least Alan would want to represent me in the suit and knowing how little money we have he'd do so at a drastically reduced rate. He may also try to identify the bullies involved which depending on whether or not Emma tells him the truth could lead to quite a few out comes I'd expect.
"You don't want me directly drawing attention to the girls themselves but this sort of thing would be doable?"
"I think so. If I knew it was triggered by that sort of thing I think I could take even escalation of their little bullying campaign. But I think it'd just as likely lead to Emma stopping the whole nonsense," Dad looked not happy about the situation, but far more agreeable then he had in my last life's memory. I had given him something to do, some way to feel like he was making a difference. I knew that at the end of the day the thing that hurt him the most was his inability to do something, anything, to improve a situation. If there was a just god behind the bestowal of powers then Dad would have triggered after we lost Mom. Life was only as fair as we made it.
The next morning I woke up in a cold sweat. My memories of my previous life, particularly those that occurred after my present time, were always muddled. I'd sometime get glimpses of them in greater clarity when something I saw, did, said, or heard triggered them but beyond that it was like chasing shadows. Memories of my current life before the locker were much, much clearer as if they begged me to pay more attention to them. The only time my past-future memories seemed to really surface with any consistency and detail was when I dreamed. At least that's what I figured since I just had a nightmare involving Scion.
That was another big difference between this life and the last. Scion never existed here. Capes still appeared, but had done so as early as the Twenties. They really came to the forefront during World War Two. We made contact with Earth Aleph in the early Sixties as tinker technology prematurely brought forth the digital age. I should clarify; Earth Aleph was not the same Earth Aleph from my previous life. It was clear enough in the fact everyone referred to our Earth as Earth Bet. I'm glad this me had paid attention in History because I didn't even want to think about the headache of learning an entire alternate history.
I slipped into my …slippers, shook my head at the lame pun and headed down to the kitchen. It was a few minutes before Dad would wake and head into the shower so I got the makings for breakfast out as I made a mental list of what I'd do today. Dad wanted me to stay home, get myself together, but I felt alright. Sure I still had to shift through my new memories of the past fifteen years of my life so as not to say or do something stupid, but yeah. I was mentally okay. I'd tell dad that I intended to go for a run and then stop by the library.
My cover was that I was going to look up what consulted as evidence of bullying and how much I'd need for an airtight case. That wasn't untrue. I was going to check Parahumans Online, my memories indicated that there was a lot more capes in Brockton Bay then I encountered last go around. I needed information to know who I could and couldn't engage when I started going out in costume again. Further I needed information on Shadow Stalker; was she already in the Wards? Was she still as overly aggressive or was she in good standing? I hoped she was just like I remembered her so I could nail her ass to the wall. I had decided that I'd take care of my bullying problem quickly. That would involve getting a hold of some surveillance gear, like wires and button cameras to gather evidence of the bullying that couldn't be refuted. I had a couple hundred dollars saved up from…something; my memories weren't cooperating on that front much to my annoyance.
I was going to do a large circuit on my run, far larger then usual to pick up as many black widows and heavy carapace bugs as I could, this time around I'd be using a larger number per shift to get my costume done sooner than I had the previous time around. I needed to learn more about ways to prepare chitin and was also going to hunt down information on different weaves I could use, the way I'd put my costume together would be just as important as the materials I made it out of.
Dad walked down stairs dabbing his hair dry as he opened the fridge and pulled the carton of orange juice out. I added two more things to my to-do list, make Dad a coat, and figure out what the hell was up with my powers. I had hugged him last night and I got a bit of a shock. Just like I had intrinsic knowledge of any arthropod's biology that rivaled or exceed that of an actual anthropologist, physical contact with my own father had told me everything about his biology. One thing I knew was that he need more vitamin C, hence the orange juice I had him pick up. We ate in relative silence after the chit chat that was me telling him what I'd do today. He wasn't exactly happy about me going for a run so soon after I had a psychotic break but I assured him I had the can of pepper spray he bought me.
I was midway though my run focusing on the swarm I had built up already. Primarily, I was pushing the less desirable bugs out to the fringes of my range where they would fall out of my control as I continued jogging; the more desirable ones on the other hand were called closer to me and if I happen to be moving too fast for them then I'd have fliers air lift them. Every now and then when I'd stop to catch my breath or because of an intersection I fed the pest bugs to my chosen swarm, particularly emphasizing the spiders that would be weaving my costume. I had a lot more bugs in my range then I'd actually take with me and be able to keep them relatively concealed. I planed to step into an ally near the library to have my chosen assortment pile into the empty knapsack on my back.
I was at one of these stops just northwest of the boardwalk when one of my bugs touched the telltale fabric of a costume. The man wearing the costume was racing towards another person whom as I directed a few bugs towards I belatedly realized was also a cape. I focused on my bugs nearby accessing their senses more fully. The costumed man I almost immediately recognized as Vigilant, one of the bay's Protectorate members that hadn't existed in my former life. He bobbed and weaved as his opponent fired energy beams that burned my bugs' eyes. I didn't recognize the other guy but could tell from the white beard alone that he was older then Vigilant.
Vigilant, or simply Vigil if you wanted to be less formal, was a mid-tier Alexandria-type. He had awesome strength but his durability was somewhat lacking in comparison. He was tougher then human but relied on a force field that he could shape to ward off attacks. If he got hit he had a minor level of regeneration; it was more 'fast healing' then the I-can-see-wounds-closing speeds that were typically associated with regeneration. And while he was a Mover, he didn't fly or teleport. Vigilant simply could move fast, running full out he was capable of breaking the sound barrier though such speed tired him quickly. Adding to his mobility was heightened reflexes and noteworthy skill in parkour.
His name however came from two of his secondary powers that helped distinguish him from the pack. First he was a precog; not a very powerful one, but he could do things like sense where the greatest threat was, in combat this translated to a danger sense that synergized well with his enhanced reflexes. The other ability was simply that he didn't need to sleep, ever. He joked in an interview it was only because of the latter he'd been able to graduate high school.
Against lasers that could shred his barrier and moved at or near the speed of light, however, Vigilant was at a distinct disadvantage. He performed evasive actions that wouldn't have been out of place in an anime or Spider-man movie as he tried to close in. The laser shooting cape however wasn't about to let him and was easily maintaining distance. Maybe Vigilant could wear out the older cape, or slip in during a break in the barrage, but I couldn't see it happening quickly and the longer he was blasting away with those lasers the more likely someone or something would get caught in the crossfire. So it shouldn't come as a shock when I decided to help. It was stupid, I didn't have a costume, but from where I stood I was over a block away from the action. I didn't need to be in the thick of things to assist. I gathered my swarm, everything in the block immediately around them, as I moved to get into a better position to keep up if the fight started moving again.
Laser-guy jumped across a gap between roofs and immediately returned to throwing volleys of lasers that reminded me of a less effective Legend. An air conditioning unit was perforated as my swarm formed into a more coherent mass. Vigilant caught two shots and lost the protection of his barrier as I finished my preparations. A swarm five thousand strong burst forth from between the alley that separated the two capes. Laser-guy unleashed a barrage at the swarm as he yelped in surprise killing almost a hundred. Vigilant's precognition allowed him to avoid any of the rays that headed his way as he took the opportunity to sprint across the gap, throwing in a tight flip as he crossed the alley way. I saw through the spiders still stationed in said alley that he gave the alley a once over while tucked in the flip. I was impressed.
The swarm formed into a human shape, complete with a pair of unsteady legs. I kept the majority of the swarm, however, buzzing around this form in a manner similar to what they did when I myself was at the center of the swarm. Laser-guy, despite being winded from the chase, immediately sprayed a volley of lasers into my decoy and I split it apart, he killed an easy fifty. The entire swarm surged forward before I reformed the decoy behind him, leaving some behind to harass him. A few wasps stung him.
"Surrender," I ordered, my words distorted as the swarm 'spoke' them. I spotted Vigilant reacting just before the bugs on Laser-guy warmed me of the impeding threat. Lasers fired off in numerous directions. Where my swarm clone was hit I had the remaining bugs spread out before recomposing the humanoid shape. It was the little things like that that served to draw attention and unnerve people.
I split a small group off my swarm sent them to Vigilant as laser-guy ineffectively attacked my decoy. I had the swarm form cross its 'arms' and shake its 'head' even as I sealed the gaps left in its shape. When the group arrived at the speedster they spoke in a near whisper, "feel free to knock him out."
Vigilant chuckled as I scattered my swarm in the face of another heavy barrage and reformed it opposite Vigilant. This time I moved the form like it intended to charge and punch the laser slinger. He tried to turn and run but only ended up meeting Vigilant's fist as the speedster blurred to the other cape.
Laser-guy crumpled, knocked out by the attack, and Vigilant wasted no time in cuffing him as he asked, "What did you sting him with?"
"Common wasps," my decoy responded. I didn't feel need to say what variety they were since in the bay only one type could keep a hive going through the winter.
"You a new cape? Never saw a bug person before."
"Sort of," I replied as my real body crossed the street heading back to my planned route, "I prefer to keep a bit low key."
"I hear you; publicity can be dangerous at times. So villain?" he asked. I took a defensive posture crossing the swarm decoy's arms; his surprise was evident in his voice as he continued, "Hero? What do I call you, Swarm?"
"Skitter," I announced having decided that I'd likely be delivering evidence of Shadow Stalker's continued misconduct to the PRT so I'd need a name. While Skitter did sound more villainous, Weaver could be misconstrued as 'story weaver' and from there 'liar.' I hadn't even considered naming myself Swarm, that was what I mentally called my bugs, it'd be too weird.
"Well, I'd love to stay and chat but I've got a class starting in a few minutes. If I don't get going I'll be late if I'm not willing break the sound barrier getting there. One last question. The bugs; master, projection, or shifter form?"
"Master. I'm over a block away already," I admitted.
"Right see you around…sorta," and he immediately took off heading towards downtown leaving the anti-gravity handcuffs to hold the unconscious laser-guy until a PRT box could come collect him.
An hour later I was sitting at the library surfing the internet. I had already located a few books on sewing and weave patterns that once checked out served to shape my backpack, the rest of the room was literally filled with bugs. My encounter with laser-guy and Vigilant hadn't made the news yet except by way of the PO forums. Some posters had spotted the PRT van taking laser-guy away. I now knew he was Starlight, a usually solo villain that sometimes operated as a mercenary. About the only thing the guy had going for him was the fact that his lasers were actually as powerful as Legend's, though not as versatile so he was capable of wounding Endbringers and had been one of the battery-types known for participating in Endbringer fights since the he first showed up in the 70s. He was also well known for pulling his punches, the output he generally used was enough to pierce flesh but not damage bone or more heat hesitant materials. During the battle earlier the total property damage boiled down to the air-conditioning unit he blasted and a window he melted when driving away my swarm.
Vigilant had posted in the thread confirming his and another cape's presence citing my assistance in subduing the villain. He made a point of stating that he was not at liberty to discus either the cape that assisted him or the battle itself until he was cleared to do so by his superiors. I was glad to have helped the guy out, everything I saw about him online suggested that he was one of those capes that was both well-known and well-liked by the public and a real stand up kind of guy.
I also learned that Sophia, Shadow Stalker, was pretty much the same as I remembered her. If anything she was more vicious. She had a bit of a following on the forums for it too, I wondered if she knew. There were good many pictures of her in costume with fanatics breaking down the components of her outfit. The main difference I noticed was her costume featured a modified black hockey mask instead of the mask of a stern woman's face I was more familiar with; which meant she hadn't been a probationary member of the Wards for very long.
Next I checked various sites detailing surveillance gear. Another point of deviation from my previous life was the technology level. With Parahumans showing up forty to sixty years earlier, tinker tech had more time to filter into reproducible low-maintenance forms for consumers. I spent less time checking out things then I intended as the kind of stuff I wanted was pretty cheap nowadays, only problem of course was finding a place that would sell them to a fifteen-year-old. I found a place locally that looked like it would do and went on to my next research topic.
State anti-bullying laws were pretty much inadequate. Bulling was defined, mostly, in the law; but only really protected against bullying based on sexual orientation or identification. After visiting several anti-bullying sites I found myself more depressed by the prospect of dealing with this issue. Knowing that my opposition included Shadow Stalker meant I couldn't physically retaliate, and trying to go through the staff would result in them turning a blind eye like they had the previous go around. The legal options, suing the bulling student's families for harassment or the school for failure to adequately supervise would see dad and Mr. Barns locking horns in a battle our family couldn't possibly win. Even with evidence of the events, like damaged clothing and possessions, or even audio/video recordings of incidents of bullying I was not guaranteed a positive outcome.
My earlier assumption that I'd have to take things directly to the PRT in regards to Shadow Stalker was reinforced. If I could get her out the picture Emma and Madison would be more vulnerable to other tactics, if they weren't collateral to begin with. I remember learning somewhere that Director Piggot wasn't overly fond of capes in general. The question was how likely it would be that Piggot act on my behalf. I spent a few seconds considering it before I realized I already knew someone could likely answer my question. I switched my browser tab to the PO forums. I had made an account when I first accessed the forums today. A double click later I started typing.
From: Arthropod Lovers Anonymous
Subject: Skitter has a question
Hi. Met earlier today fighting Starlight. I need to how trustworthy Director Piggot is. How much she believes in serving justice and upholding the law? Everything I've seen or read about you suggests I'll get an honest response.
I sent it off and went to start researching my final topic. While I still intended to run every day like I had been one thing I knew from experience was that I ended up in close combat a lot. I needed more hand-to hand training.
I was getting annoyed at the number of schools mainly focused on teaching Kung Fu, Taekwondo, and Karate -or at least 'Americanized' bastardizations of those martial arts- with an over-emphasis on forms and sport competition techniques. None of them seemed to even attempt to take into account the problems associated with an encounter with a parahuman. Superhuman strength would shatter bone against any block that didn't redirect the attack; on the other end unyielding defenses would cause damage to the hands when executing strength-heavy straight attacks. They were living in a bubble that could be potentially dangerous to anyone who went to them to learn self-defense.
Right as my frustration was peaking an alert popped up indicating that there was a private message for me at my PO inbox. I switched over. Waiting for me was an invite to a chat room from Vigilant. I accepted.
Arthropod Lovers Anonymous (ALA): has joined the chat room.
ALA: We alone?
Vigil: Yeah, private chat room only us two here. Nice username. Why are you asking about piggy?
ALA: Piggy? I need to know if she's more devoted to her own people or the law.
Vigil: She cares about her people especially the wards, even if she doesn't generally show it. But it sounds like you're talking about someone being corrupt.
ALA: In a manner of speaking. If she has evidence of an abuse of position and/or corruption what would she do?
Vigil: If it's a cape, especially one on her shit list and not in good standing, she'd make an example of them. A normal human or a cape that's too important wouldn't be thrown to the (media) sharks. Tell me what's going on, I can help.
ALA: Can't. Well, I could use her e-mail or phone number. Phone number preferably. I want to avoid dealing with anyone but her with this.
Vigil: Her e-mail is public knowledge it's on the local PRT branch website. It's….
ALA: Thanks. That'll do. …did you need anything from me for your report about the incident earlier?
Vigil: Haven't filed one, still at school. Though I was wondering how you knew the fight was happening.
ALA: A dragonfly told me. I'm not entirely lying there either.
ALA: I have access to any bug's senses I can control. A dragonfly landed on your costume. I investigated.
Vigil: Wow. Recon specialist?
ALA: Never really considered myself one. There are serious limitations when it comes to using bug senses. Primarily that they don't translate well. I had to get more bugs in the area whose vision was more closely related to our own to be able to ID you.
Vigil: I kinda get what you're saying; still it sounds like you could be one hell of a recon specialist if you were looking to join a group.
ALA: don't bother pitching the Wards/Protectorate to me yet.
ALA: Yet. My time's up. Got to go.
Vigil: K Stay in touch.
I signed out of the chat room, then Parahumans Online proper. I wrote down a few notes as I close tab after tab out. My 'time' being up wasn't entirely a lie, I spent a good deal of time here it was after lunch. If I was going to pick up any of the things I needed and finish the full length of my run I needed to get going soon.
I got home around three and my dad wouldn't be home for another few hours. That gave me time to work out the fact that I'd screwed up and brought a fairly large population of black widows home with me. I'd forgotten to disperse them over the parks near my routes. I'd have to do it tomorrow. I let the bugs out of my backpack feeling a wave of relief from them as they departed. Well, it wasn't really relief it was more just a drop in their level of agitation. The other spiders and bugs I picked up during my run caught up filtering through the neighborhood before finding every opening in the house to make their way inside.
I blamed this oversight on my bullies; I had been distracted during my return trip with planning my next move. I needed get evidence of Sophia bullying people to turn into Piggot. In the best case scenario I'd encounter Shadow Stalker and tail her long enough to get a shot of her using her favored brutal tactics and preferably lethal ammunition. I wished I could just follow Grue and wait for when he'd be shot by her. I remember the Undersiders telling me about the incident, but it was more about the aftermath then the circumstances. And it wasn't like I could just go over and ask Brian for clarification, they didn't know me which was in many ways very depressing.
My shopping spree was largely spent on surveillance devices, particularly a pair of 'spyglasses' which were little more than tricked out eyeglass legs that could be fitted to my own glasses' frame. One leg featured a mic the other a micro camera. Each had ample memory storage, battery life, and a well-concealed on/off button and micro USB plug. The rest of my money went towards supplies for my costume, specifically goggles, a set of mics and camera and a very cheap cell phone that would serve more as a hard drive for the devices. For the electronic work I was planning I was going off of information gleamed from the internet, not exactly how I'd like to do it but with what little money I had I'd have to make due.
Like anywhere there were some bugs already infesting my house, most of them having moved in to overwinter. None of them, however, were really the types I found useful so I set my swarm upon them to fatten up the ones I did. While the swarm flowed through the walls of my home some encountered a hairy… a mouse. I added it as another target and spread the majority of my swarm out across the house to find anymore rodents. It didn't take long and soon a small colony of the dead animals that had likely moved in during the winter was carted into the basement by my helpers.
While I had the majority of the swarm combing my home I organized my widow collection into three groups. Breeding was the first thing on the agenda, shortly after that they'd all start weaving different portions of my costume. The mask and gloves were pretty much the bare minimum I'd wear as a costume; until at least they were complete I wasn't going to use my powers in public. Even then the mask and gloves combination were going to be more of an 'emergency costume' then anything. It had been stupid to get involved today; while I was safe given my distance from the encounter there was always the possibility I'd be identified because of some innocuous thing I did. I didn't intend to make another public appearance again until I had a proper costume put together and that was going to take some time. I needed to cool my heels.
The heavy carapace bugs that would in the future donate their shells to make the armor panels for my costume largely consisted of various beetles. I had a larger number of them then I could reasonably hide here. I could manage the black widows I had found during my run, but the beetles would be a problem with them numbering in the middle hundreds. I hadn't realized how many I picked up. Some would stay in the house to be devoured by the spiders along with the dead rodents, the rest of my swarm I need to get out the house. Luckily I had a temporary solution.
As I headed upstairs to get one of my empty journals to start making notes I began guiding the mass of bugs out the house. By the time I was starting to transfer the notes I had made in the library earlier that day my swarm had covertly reached the only derelict within range of my house. Oddly enough it was another point of divergence, the house in my past life was occupied by the Grovers; one of the few black families in this subdivision but never the less good people. I recalled that one of the family's children had been seriously injured during Shatterbird's 'performance.' This life's memory indicated rumors that the family had been driven out by Empire Eighty-Eight. While the derelict house would serve to be a good place nearby to stow my bugs part of me burned with anger at the small injustices of the world.
By the time the last of the bugs had safely slipped into the Grovers' house I was about done writing in my journal, well journals. I detailed the locker incident in my 'incident journal' that would go towards the evidence of the ongoing bullying campaign. My 'hero journal' on the other hand now included design sketches pertaining to my costume as well as some preliminary ideas on adjustments I wanted to make to my costume over the original. I was going straight for the edgier, sharper chitin plating I had adopted after taking control of Brockton Bay not just for the look either, one of the library books I had collected detailed chitin hardening techniques used in the past. Hardened platting with sharp edges meant any striking I did with the protected section would be focusing the strike's force on a smaller surface area.
My measurements were easier then ever to obtain, when I cracked my neck I learned that my new power wasn't blocked by the Manton effect. In that simple skin to skin contact I knew more about my body then any doctor could, I was able to recite things like my measurements, body fat index, and past injuries. I had broken my left leg sometime in the past…that was new. This new capability was nice but it was also worrisome; after all from my frame of mind only a day or so had passed since I was controlling a massive force of parahumans. I didn't want to become that… monster again. I brought some beetles upstairs, both to spread out the population in the house a little and to give me something to do after Dad got back. I needed them on hand to test a hypothesis regarding this new aspect of my power.
I was still considering the implications of these new additions to my parahuman arsenal when I heard the front door creak open. Dad never used the backdoor; it was almost like he wanted to skip over the rotted-out bottom step in front our house. I could hear him easily though the thin walls of the house as he shuffled through his end of day routine. I had just glanced at the clock when Dad called up, "Taylor?"
"I'm here," I set my hero journal down on some beetles left on the floor and they shuffled themselves and their burden under my bed as I left my room. When I got downstairs Dad was checking the fridge to figure out what we'd do for dinner. It wasn't likely to be a case of lack of options, but a larger then average amount, we had stopped by a grocery store on the way home to by some soft foods incase I had trouble keeping things down. I thankfully wasn't.
"You weren't here when I called earlier. Did you spend the day at the library?"
"Yeah. Most of it; got home a few hours ago." I leaned against the wall as I tried to figure out what to say next. Dad began preparing dinner as I mulled things over and I couldn't help but notice that he was more at ease with me then my previous life's version had been. But that was understandable, I told him sooner about my bullying problem, given him a way to help, and he hadn't seen me kill a person right in front of him with my power. I'd have to come clean about triggering sooner rather then later as well, but not today.
I related what I learned we could do legal wise regarding the locker incident and the bullying beforehand. I of course kept the fact that I'd be working around the problems our particular circumstances presented; it would raise too many questions I was uncomfortable answering yet.
"I'm thinking I might take some self-defense courses," I stated as I helped out by getting down the bowls and utensils for dinner.
"Oh Taylor. You're no thinking of-"
"Not fighting them. No. I was thinking about my runs and you always being concerned when I was out."
He nodded, I could only see him in profile but his expression seemed to suggest he was coming around to the idea.
"More than that, it'll help with the bullying indirectly."
"You know, all those Karate Kid shows and such that talk about the spirit of martial arts. Boosting self confidence, morale, respect, discipline, ect, ect. It'll help me endure," I explained knowing full well that I actually wanted to learn to be able to fight better. My survival as a cape might depend on it.
"That sounds good," Dad said, "You've already looked at local schools? Dōjōs?"
I shrugged, "I looked online. Tomorrow I was thinking of visiting some of the better sounding ones in person."
Dinner went by in companionable silence and before long I found myself back in my room after a shower. Dad was downstairs watching the evening news or rather flipping between it and a football game on another channel. I called some bugs to me to test my theory. If I could already detect everything about a particular bug through the swarm sense, but could only discern a human's physiology by touching them then it was reasonable to assume that actually touching a bug would either give me access to another facet of this new power or more information.
I prodded a particularly healthy specimen of the group in my room. I felt a 'hum' of my power but didn't see any noticeable results, in fact checking it before and after confirmed the only thing I managed to do to the beetle was annoy it. Feeling the same way I leaned back throwing my arms behind me to rest on. As my hands splayed out to better support my weight a finger bushed against another beetle. Like the previous I had a reminder of its individual characteristics. My passenger must have realized I didn't know what the hell I was doing because I felt my power hum again and this time I felt a difference.
With a spark of recognition I reached out and touched a beetle that had lost its right elytra, the hardened forewing that served to protect the actual flight wings. My power activated again and I watched as the elytra started to spontaneously regrow. As it happened I could sense that I was burning the beetle's fat stores for the material, in short order they ran dry and the beetle was left with a new elytra that was half as large as its other. Curious, without breaking contact with my 'patient' I touched the first beetle I had attempted to use my power on with my other hand. Its fat stores began burning to fuel my patient's rejuvenation.
Without really considering it I cracked open my window and let the three bugs I tested my power on fly out and search for food. After all I had just burnt most of their fat stores while dealing with the law of conservation of mass. It was about that time I realized that I just healed a bug. I could heal bugs. But healing I knew was actually a beneficial side effect of more encompassing power. Capes who could reverse the flow of time on a target could heal an injured target if they could rewind the target to a point in time when it wasn't injured. I had noticed that a larger number of capes in this new Earth had powers that could be utilized to heal wounds. Brockton Bay had two, Panacea and Testament. The latter hadn't existed in my previous life to my knowledge and played up the whole knight angle a lot of armored capes seemed to enjoy. Both of their 'healing' powers centered on manipulating biology to induce rapid healing, like I was doing.
Crap. That was a big can of worms to open. I'll need help figuring it out and from memory I knew that Testament was in the Protectorate and served as both a front line combatant and combat medic. I distinctly remember seeing an image on his Parahuman Online's profile showing him regenerating Armsmaster's hand, which had been blown off by whatever villain they were fighting or something, while also taking and regenerating damage himself. I wondered if I could ask Vigilant to put me in contact with the hero. If not I'd have to find some way of contacting Panacea. Perhaps get input and training from both?
Another thing added to my to-do list for tomorrow.
-/ Interlude 1: Vigilant
I sped up, pouring on the speed, and then leapt. Below me four lanes of traffic flashed complete with grass median and a sign indicating that drivers were entering Brockton Bay's Augustus University grounds. AU was pretty much the closest thing to Preston and Harvard many would ever see; it was the top of the class of colleges right below those with the famous names everyone had heard used to say 'this character is super intelligent' in media.
I bled momentum by spreading my arms as if I was in freefall. I hit the roof of my target going just over 100 mph, that probably sounds fast to normal people but I was barely at a jog considering my top speed as I maneuvered across the roof building up speed again. This was the problem with the university in my opinion, while most buildings were the same general height the roads between them tended to be wide enough I had to get up some speed before jumping them. I wasn't putting my strength into it, just moving my legs fast, if I was recorded and slowed down I'd still look like I was running. Compare that to how I moved while approaching Mach 1 and well that was more the odd long strides that look all kinds of awkward. Most Alexandria types knew that stride as the 'runway' since they usually used it to slow down after landing or get some speed before taking off. I couldn't fly. Not that I was complaining, most Alexandria types couldn't hit mach 1 for any length of time, I could hold it for five minutes before tiring myself out so much I wouldn't be able to slow down without tripping. Not that I'd use that kind of speed in the city; the first time I did I lost an arm, broke a few bones, buildings, cars, and a lot of windows…because I tripped on a curb.
I mantled over a ventilation duct and leapt almost as soon as my feet touched the ground. The momentary delay was to extend my barrier to the surface of the roof to prevent from collapsing it as I took off. I was now outside school grounds; half the length of the city to go before I got home and dinner. Dinner. Wonder what Mom had cooked tonight.
I was landing, again extending my barrier to the surface I was touching down on to prevent damage to it, when my mind screamed. The vision came hard and fast, the latter being a case of my mind always working fast. My perception slowed down as I drastically reduced speed, the two was laterally tied together; the faster I moved the faster I processed my surroundings. It allowed me to operate normally when moving at relatively human speeds instead of being trapped in a perpetual world of slow motion. I was immensely thankful for of that.
I pulled out my phone, tapped the screen, slid the little button on the bar to unlock it, and input my pass code…twice. The first time was too fast and missed the third digit's input. A tap later my phone connected to protectorate HQ, "Control, Vigilant."
"Anything going on?" Miss Militia asked. She seemed to be perpetually on call like I was, but then again we both didn't need sleep. So it did make a good deal of sense in that regard.
"A disturbance on the west end of University. Jamison Street near the north edge of University. A mugging I think," I belted off as I paced around in a circle.
"You're the closest," I started running in that direction as she continued her voice slowing down before my helmet noticed my speed and compensated speeding up the audio playback, "Assault and Battery are on patrol heading into the Docks."
"Not worth getting out of bed, only felt one perp," I answered as I angled towards an ally that would allow me to easily skip from building to building.
"Remember your visions aren't infallible," Miss Militia reminded me uselessly. My 'visions' weren't really visions; I got a sense of where trouble was going to occur and the level of danger involved. A mugging was pretty much a non threat to me, so it was an 'off-white' feeling. I got 'pitch black' feelings a few minutes before Endbringers showed up. Usually. The first black I had gotten was when my mom found my costume. I still got a kick out of that five years later. My mom, a normal human, on the warpath was the same threat level as an Endbringer.
"I know," I replied jumping from a rooftop, extending my barrier to the wall next to me and wall running across the back of a high rise that was notably larger then its neighbors. I saw the reflection of my golden, almost hoplite-style barbute complete with a plume ridge. I bounded off the wall, bounced off the corner of a rooftop, and crouched down arresting my momentum by transmitting the energy through the building around me.
I let my consciousness tug on the recent vision and it came back to the forefront of my mind's eye. I reoriented myself and took of at a much slower clip. With my precog sense taking up most of awareness I guided myself towards the scene of the soon-to-be crime. I knew the event hadn't happened yet, but it was always hard to judge how much time was left until it did. I preferred to get there before hand and let my helmet-cam record the initiation of the crime after I got in trouble for preemptively stopping crimes a few times; by trouble I mean sued several times by the would-be perps.
I spotted a woman cutting though an alley way. Fairly attractive uphill type garbed in expensive looking clothing. I tabbed my helmets optics. A limited X-ray like vision activated turning the woman into a skeleton decorated with ghostly jewelry on her neck, ears, wrist and ring finger. The rest of her was only the most basic phantom indications of flesh, clothing, and her purse. I focused on the purse; cell phone, change purse with a fair amount of coins within, keys, a tube on the key ring. Pepper spray?
Still she easily fit the role of victim in the scenario. Another person appeared from a doorway that cut off my vision. He blocked her path and she stopped. As she started backing up the way she came, the man called out to her, "Shouldn't be out alone Miss Norton."
I focused my vision on him, his right hand was jammed into what must have been his pocket it held a snub nosed revolver. I could see a watch and a chain around his neck. The woman kept backing up as she tried to decide how to handle this. It was obvious that this guy knew her, so she'd have to deal with him someway at sometime. I switched back to normal sight as he spoke again, "Were do you think you're going doll?"
"Was this guy serious?" His lines sounded like he'd been watching way too many gangster films. Still he was rapidly approaching the point where he'd be legally considered committing a crime. He quickly closed the distance his arm pulling the gun from his pocket, "Go time."
I sprang out of the crouch I had settled in, twisting in mid-air. I landed behind him facing my target without trying to cushion my drop so my heavy boots would make a notable sound. Miss Norton gasped in surprise her hand coming up over her mouth. The perp on the other hand whirled around his arm already extending to point his gun at my head. His eyes, a grey-blue, widened as he took in my gold and red costume even as he fired. His night vision was probably ruined from the muzzle flash in the dark alley so he didn't get to see the round literally ping off my helmet. He may have heard it.
"Drop the gun and surrender. You don't want me to punch you." I ordered. The gun lowered fractionally as the words crossed his mind. I could see the moment he decided to try to kill me. His face turned into a snarl he was close enough that there was no way he could miss and by lowering the gun he was aimed at an unarmored section of my chest. He fired repeatedly.
I knew where the shot would go before the primer was even ignited, with my super speed aided reflexes, a fair amount of flexibility, and good old fashion training I twisted out the way. The gun could drop my shield in three hits, my bodysuit could probably absorb the next and my inhuman toughness would likely mean the last bullet in his six-shooter would lodge in the dense muscle under it. But why let him get that far? He corrected his aim like a champ, firing again and again as I seemingly casually avoided the shots. His gun clicked empty just in time for me to notice Miss Norton had readied her pepper spray. She wanted to help? I'd let her.
He threw a sloppy pistol whip at me, I didn't even need powers to react in time, but it helped. I stepped to the outside, grabbed his wrist as I spun close towards his back, and grabbed him by the head in the process. I ended up completing the revolution having spun the creep so his face was directly facing his would-be victim. Miss Norton didn't hesitate to spray him full in the face. He screamed earning a grin from the pretty redhead. Redhead? Too bad she wore a wedding ring. I released the thug letting him sprawl on the tar covered alleyway, "You'd think he'd never been pepper sprayed before."
"Probably hasn't," she replied naturally.
"Mother fucking bi-" I kicked him in the side of the head silencing and knocking him out cold.
We chatted casually as I cuffed him. I signed an autograph and she handed me her business card. She was a defense attorney. She wasn't married. A widower, her husband died a year before in a Behemoth attack. I had fought in that battle. She offered dinner. I declined, not because of the helmet, the cheek guards could part and slide back to allow me to eat normally without revealing too much of my face. Rather it was because I'd likely eat way too much. My metabolism was crazy. It had to be to keep up with everything else. I gave her my card. I should have given Skitter my card.
The police arrived, not a bad response time. I signaled them when I was waiting for the thug to make his move. Less than ten minutes. With a cape already on scene they tended to be a lot slower in responding. Statements were given. I signed an autograph for one of the officer's children. I said my goodbyes and left.
Five minutes past seven. It got dark at twenty after six this time of year. I headed home. Brockton Bay is a traceur's paradise. I know a lot of capes who navigate by roof top hated the constant changes in building height, and in the more extreme cases downtown I totally agree. Rooftop routes can be very stop and go if you don't have a feel for the terrain, move through the path of least resistance, not the most. If anything the city rewards those who pay attention to it and learn its ins and outs.
The motions came naturally to me, vaulting over this, sliding under that, running along that wall, mantling that obstacle, rolling with it. Everything was as natural to me as running is to the average jogger. I'd been doing this since I was 14, when I put on my first mask I was already leaping, gripping, and flowing up buildings as naturally was water flows in a river. Okay maybe I wasn't that good at the time but my reflexes helped a good deal and I quickly picked it up.
It shouldn't be surprising then that I lean towards Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do's general principals and philosophy when it comes to… well a lot. I frequent more than a quarter of the local dōjōs learning techniques and so forth whenever I'm not in class, fighting crime…or eating. Granted that's not a large percentage of my time but it happens. Techniques I learn get used in combat; at least once I've got a good enough handle on it to not kill regular humans. If it's functional it gets added to the arsenal, if not it's discarded or I go back and try learning it again.
I gathered speed and launched myself high. A second later I was diving into my room though an open window, rolling with the momentum, and catching myself on the walls to either side of the doorway. My force field shimmered and collapsed back onto my body disappearing from sight. Helmet and gauntlets came off as I called through the apartment, "I'm home."
"Dinner's on the stove!" dad shouted back from the living room. We didn't have to worry about neighbors, the apartment was essentially the entire floor done in a penthouse style with a ridiculous amount of space between our floor and the next. Mom was a computer programmer, or rather head programmer for the company she worked for; Dad was a low ranked tinker who was particularly adept at making mass producible redesigns of other tinker's work. He was technically a rogue and his business practices involved a lot of legal hula-hoop jumping. Any redesigns he made were partially owned by both him and the original inventor. He avoided a lot of attention by only working on devices that were not immediately designed for causing harm, highly destructive, or so forth. A lot of the PRT's gear went through Dad's workshop for 'idiot-proofing,' standardizing, and all that other stuff.
He also made my costume after Mom threw a fit when she saw what I was going out in. It wasn't that I was risking my life to stop crime; it was that I was doing it in spandex and a modified prop that drove her up the wall.
Even with the kind of cash they raked in I made it a point to pay rent, just like I made a point of donating to charities and paying for my stuff myself. It wasn't me shoving how much money I made around or anything, I knew that with my power set I wasn't going to be able to retire without going insane. Just the visions would be enough; the fact that every time it happened my body instinctively readied itself for combat didn't help. Further between my durability and my speed I was pretty hard to stop, but when something finally did put me down it would be hard and without mercy. I resigned my self to the fact that I'd die relatively young a long time ago and decided to live for the day and make sure to leave the world better then I found it.
Dinner was hotdogs; I hadn't but glanced at it before I pulled another can of chili and pack of franks out to supplement it. We bought groceries in bulk because of my metabolism; not lying. I heated things up while I finished stripping out of the red and gold bodysuit that served as my costume and called out, "Dad, earlier my HUD flickered when some punk hit it with a .32. Loose connection?"
"Probably," he commented as he moved into the kitchen. I was already fixing a line of hotdogs to make room in the pots for the next serving. Dad shook his head at the sight, "What happened to your field?"
"I dropped it so the bullet would 'ping' off. I wasn't five feet from the guy. I was safe," Dad at least understood the need for the presentation of overwhelming capability. I was the ever-watching unstoppable defender of the city. It was a myth, but it was one that acted as a deterrence for crime, "I brought it back up before I dodged the other five bullets."
"Good. Saw the paper, you teamed with an 'unknown cape' to take down Starlight this morning."
"Skitter. The cape's named Skitter; if they waited for the PRT report they'd know that."
"When's that going to be delivered?"
"After my bath."
"And this new cape?"
"Controls bugs. Lots of bugs with a great deal of precession."
"No clue, he said he was over a block away when we took down Starlight. Dude had made a humanoid shape out of bugs. Played distraction, talked through the swarm. Like made the various bug noises into actual coherent words."
"Yeah. And he can sense through the bugs. Said some senses don't 'translate' well. But damn if that doesn't sound like effective recon."
Dad nodded, I scarfed down the sixth hotdog having eaten one every time Dad got a word in. I had to remember to take it slow, not to prevent myself from choking, but so my perception wouldn't speed up. I actually enjoyed talking with my folks unlike most twenty-year-olds.
Dad put on the next round of hot dogs on to cook as Mom came out the bath; robe wrapped around her as she alerted me to the fact the bath was free. I know what you're thinking, "you have a whole floor but only one bathroom?" Yes but we have two more restrooms. It works…easily.
I sped about gathering the discarded bits of costume, grabbing a fresh set of underclothes and went into dad's workshop. I laid out the costume I wore today on a half empty table. The primarily red body suit had enough gold highlights and black lines to be a nice looking costume by itself. My gauntlets and boots were rather similar to one another, smooth unadorned golden plating made up the greaves and bracers before flowing down in large-segmented sabatons and gauntlets. The plating hid cushions that helped to dampen my strikes to both protect my body and that of my target from the forces I could generate. The boots and gloves themselves were made of the same material as my body suit, but almost as thick in most parts as the chest and abdomen were. The contact points like the palms, fingertips, bottom of the fingers, and sole of the boot were threaded like tires to provide ample friction. Obviously it was thinner and more flexible on the hands to maintain dexterity. Following that was the utility belt with all the PRT required gadgets including my phone. The gorget, roughly described as a metal turtle neck that extended down to cover half the sternum and the clavicles, would plug into the high tech barbute that served as my helmet. I tagged the helmet with a yellow sticky note and wrote a reminder of the HUD flicker I had experienced. Dad would go over it.
That done I headed for the bath.
-/ Author Notes:
Right. So… This was a three-day experiment of writing in the first person. I usually use third and missed a lot of the little ways I could have identified the characters. I could for example have described Vigilant with things like 'the gold and red blur,' 'the speedster,' and so forth during the interlude. I didn't like that I never used Taylor's name unless someone was calling her by name. And let's be honest, in the real world that doesn't happen too often.
The other thing I realize now is that I don't know all that much about bugs. Specifically I didn't realize how many bugs Taylor uses in Worm are mostly only active during certain times of the year (spring and summer). Given that I likely had Taylor collect way too many; especially the beetles. I guess I could hand wave it as she ran a very large circuit to gather them all. I still think 30,000 bugs in and within four blocks of the hospital (which I assumed was surrounded by other multistory buildings) was probably being on the conservative side.
I briefly mention Taylor being near sighted, it's never expletively stated in Worm. But there's appoint during her reveal as weaver when she describes the sight of the news crews becoming blurry when she removed her glasses. So yeah, Taylor is nearsighted.
Vigilant…just spawned. Really. Like as I wrote the scene he's introduced in. I had the idea to show that there's a lot more parahumans in Brockton Bay this time around on both sides of the equation and that Taylor was wanting to jump right back into things, maybe a bit too quickly. Normally when I write I tend to make my cast before hand, both Starlight and Vigilant however wasn't even remotely premade when I started writing the scene in which they're introduced. From there Vigilant just spilled out of my head without much consideration. Well…I did look up the name of the type of helmet he wares.
I'll probably write more for this. I've got a nice set up I haven't see used yet for a Worm fanfic and already put wheels in motion and showed some world building. If you want to see more, review. Tell me what you like what you don't. Egg me on. Give me some feed back and all that jazz.
-/ Additional AN:
So I've updated this chapter 'bout six days after publishing it. An extra thousand or so words help flesh out Taylor's reaction to...well the premise. Yes, she does 'get over it' a bit quickly but from what I read in Worm she was always good at compartmentalizing and generally subduing her emotional response. That's not to say we've seen the last of it.
I'm starting to hate the formatting here. As those who read the original draft of this chapter can attest to, there was a lot of wall of text syndrome going on. That was me trying to enforce the way I type things in word. the margins and page breaks really go a long way to making things more readable. The reason I hate the formatting here (and by here I probably mean online in general) is due to the fact that I can't use some of my formatting standards. like I use a line of '-'s to break chapters and things like the Author Notes what's left is that little '-/' you see above. It also mangles text size and color formatting, and most grievously for my most recent attempts and making this readable, it ignores empty lines.