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The man in the handsome silver shirt lifted his pistol until the end of the barrel seemed as large as a cannon. His voice was gruff, that of a man who had killed many times before and had no intention of stopping any time soon. “When you get to hell,” he said grimly, “tell your brother I said hi.”
He pulled the trigger, and as the deafening boom filled the room, everything went dark. Half a second passed, and then the screen lit up once more as the names of people who had contributed to this latest Lou Devereux action flick began to scroll upwards, accompanied by pounding rock music.
There were a few spots of scattered applause before the house lights came back on, allowing the audience to begin filing out of the movie theater and back to their average, ordinary, dull lives.
I, on the other hand, stood…
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Vim & Vigor 2
World-Building Note #1: Why is Taylor a Tinker?
Due to the Locker Incident, Taylor gained the Tinker specialization of the ‘Bioshock-verse’ shard because she viewed everyone else and everything as useless in dealing with a long-term problem and thought of ways to resolve it on her own if she had powers—along with some other things. Ironically, she’s initially less dangerous with the Tinker specialization because she’s bottle-necked by needing resources and an external fuel source for powers.
Had she’d known Sophia was Shadow Stalker, she would have likely triggered as a Trump who got to choose from a pool of offensive, defensive, and mobility powers depending on the parahuman she faced, with the shard’s reserves fueling them. For example, against Shadow Stalker she would have had Shock Jockey, Peeping Tom, and Stable Teleportation.
Winslow High School, April 8th
I stepped off the bus and fought off a yawn that had been building up in my throat. The morning air was cool for Spring, but not enough that my breath came out in puff. Mild then. I adjusted the backpack slung over my shoulder and then made my way towards the school entrance.
I had slept well last night, even if I was a little sore by the time that I got back home. Dad was already asleep by then, while Mom was just happy that she thought I was getting out more and having fun. I told her I went to this cafe-bakery place to hang out with a gaming club once a week. It wasn’t exactly a lie since I did enjoy myself.
I got to have powers and be a Cape without any of the bad-stuff needed to be one. I mean it sucked considering that Taylor’s trigger event was… yeah, I’m surprised that the school even reused that locker. I don’t even know where they got so many of those disgusting things from, but it gives me shivers remembering when Taylor had to be taken to the hospital.
That was messed up. Especially since no one tried to get the locker open. I hadn’t been there when she was shoved in and, by the time I managed to hear about it, the janitor had already gotten it open. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, even if I didn’t like Taylor. That wasn’t to say I didn’t like her—I mean I do like her, a lot.
She’s nice to me, even if she’s a little distant—a bit of a Tsundere without the hitting and physical abuse. But we had a lot of the same interests, like books and computers. She didn’t play as many games as I did, but she was a Tinker and I heard those types of parahumans couldn’t help but keep at it until they forgot to eat sometimes.
Maybe that’s why she looked a little thinner around her sides, now that I thought about it. It’d be easier to tell if she didn’t dress down so much. And I was sure I’d get slapped if I did. I’d seen enough oblivious anime protagonists get a hand-imprint on their faces to know women didn’t like it when you did that.
I decided to wait for her bus to get here. It’s not like Homeroom would start until around eight, and First Period wouldn’t until forty-five after. Plenty of time to go to breakfast and talk.
It was another five minutes before she showed up. Her bus came to a stop and others filed out before she did last. The cast on her right leg stuck out immediately and probably would keep doing so until it came off. She opted to use a set of crutches instead of her wheelchair, citing it was too much of a hassle for getting around inside of the building or using the bathroom.
“Hey Taylor,” I said as she approached. “Wanna get breakfast together in the cafeteria?”
“I ate at home.” She reached for a door. The crutches made it a little hard, so I opened it for her. She sighed. “Don’t hang over me during school or you’ll draw suspicion, Greg. Everything outside of these walls stays outside until the day’s done. ”
Taylor probably didn’t want to draw any attention like she had before. After all, that was how I found her out and got her hurt. “I’ll try.”
She made her way inside and I followed after her until we split to our different Homerooms.
Second Period – World Issues
Mister Gladly was kind of a cool teacher. But sometimes I questioned whether or not he was qualified for his job. I mean, at least with the old teachers you got the sense that they were jaded, but they tended to know what they were doing and kept the class in line. Not so much with him, who reminded me of one of the jocks that was popular with the girls.
It didn’t help that he somehow overlooked Taylor’s usual seat by the door having some kind of glaze to it. Probably invisible glue since that sounds like something they’d pull. Taylor didn’t want me to bother her and draw suspicion, but that was no reason to let her get pranked when I could run interference.
I grabbed the desk and swapped it with the empty one behind hers while one of Madison’s friends watched me. Julia had crinkled red hair that was done up in a way that was cute without going into childish, making it kinda hot. Of course, that was ruined when she gave me a look that basically confirmed my suspicions.
I ignored her and took a seat next to where Taylor would sit as she entered the room on her crutches. She stopped at the desk I had swapped out, no doubt noticing the sheen to it, and then took a seat next to me. I could have sworn I heard a small ‘thanks’ as she sighed, but she didn’t look at me so I wasn’t sure.
Class continued to be boring, so I doodled a bit with some of the printing paper I snuck out of the printer from Homeroom when Miss Crewing wasn’t looking. I needed a better costume once I was fully equipped with as many powers as I could get and working alongside Taylor. Maybe something that would match the one I saw she had that night?
There were a few minutes until the Lunch Bell was getting ready to ring when the teacher announced we’d have homework. He wanted us to list how Capes have impacted the world around us. Since all of us were born after they were a thing, unless someone was older than they looked and had been held back for several years, it wasn’t a hard topic.
“So, what are we doing for the report?” I asked. Mister Gladly always paired me up with her during World Issues, since every other group was basically locked down and he didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad-side. “We’re going to be grouped together, so if I know what the topic is we can split it over the weekend.”
Taylor looked pensive for a moment before she spoke. “I’m thinking the change in Endbringer Engagement and how it affects society since the events of 2008.”
Huh. That sounded interesting enough. “Okay, I’ll cover Scion’s disappearance. You cover the death of Behemoth?”
I went ahead and made an outline of points to cover from my end. Taylor made decent reports and would get her part done easy enough when she started. But mine was a bit trickier since it wasn’t clear if Scion had just gone missing or had died. He was last spotted flying over India when he suddenly started convulsing and then went ‘pop’ like a golden balloon.
Some people speculated he was killed, but that was clearly a lie. No one was dumb enough to attack the golden man who drove off Endbringers. It was more likely he simply reached the end of his lifespan and died instead, if he was dead to begin with and not hibernating or taking a vacation.
There was also the topic of whether or not his ‘death’ was the source of the trigger events that resulted in the death of the parahumans-to-be or turning them into Case 53s. Even if it wasn’t outright stated, his appearance was just before the first superheroes popped up. There had to be some connection there.
It was good that I took this part. There was a lot of speculation rather than facts, and it would take time to sort through them all. Taylor had her hands full enough tinkering, and I could spare a few hours over the weekend to get it out of the way.
When it was time to go to Lunch, I lingered behind to get my thoughts in order for a bit. By the time I left the room, I found Taylor being accosted in the hall by Sophia, Madison, and Emma. You’d think they’d quit while they were ahead with the Locker Incident, but apparently they were finding it just as amusing to bully her when she was crippled.
I never understood the whole appeal of bullying someone. I was gamer and enjoyed beating out others when I played, so I got the thrill there was behind lording over someone because you had higher stats. But I never talked smack or told them how much they sucked, instead offering them some tips on how to do better. It was how I met GstringGirl online and she seemed nice.
But these girls took pleasure in hurting someone emotionally and physically. That was just mean by itself, but doing it when they couldn’t fight back was just… well, cruel. I couldn’t just sit there while she was being picked on because of something I had done. Not anymore.
That was the old Greg Veder. The new Greg Veder went toe-to-toe with two parahumans and came out on top. What were a few High School girls?
“Come on, leave her alone,” I said, standing between them and her. I don’t think any of them were expecting me to speak up because they all looked at me funny. Taylor included. “It’s not funny messing with someone like this.”
The good news was that they quit surrounding Taylor. The bad news was that Emma started circling me and Madison followed, while Sophia just watched with a scowl forming on her face. Okay, no big deal. What was the worse they could do to me?
“Look what we have here. Taylor has a knight-shining armor,” Emma said. “How cute.”
“Not so much a knight as a plump jester,” Madison chimed in. “Maybe she likes them kind of pudgy?”
“It’s an improvement over not having anyone interested in her,” Emma added, giving me a once over and then looking away in disgust. “Barely. Then again, it’s the best she could do. We can’t all be model-material.”
“She’s better than you,” I said. At least I intended to. The words came out so soft that they may have been mumbled when Sophia gave me a look. I was focusing my senses on gathering my power in my left hand and tensed it to fire before I remembered I couldn’t use my powers without Taylor’s energy drink.
That said something about how Sophia unnerved me when I had just tangled with the Merchants last night. Emma was… well, a little intimidating, I guess. The queen bee who could destroy you with a word, but I didn’t have much of a reputation to start with. Good luck making it worse.
Madison didn’t really do much besides add to Emma’s air of authority when it came to others. She was basically her shadow and nothing else, using her cuteness while it lasted. Neither of them was as intimidating as Sophia, who looked like she could beat me up on her own while I had powers—she’d probably like that even more.
“Oh for fuc—Mrs. Knott!” Taylor called. We all turned to see that the Computer-Lit teacher was indeed coming close. “Can I ask you a question?”
I wouldn’t lie. At first I thought the teacher was a man, an honest mistake that led to me calling her ‘Sir’ once. She’d been a little frosty to me ever since then. But she seemed nice enough to Taylor. “How can I help you?”
“Actually, my leg has been in pain for the last few minutes and I was deciding whether or not to head to the Nurse’s Office,” Taylor lied, I hoped. “Would you happen to know if they have over-the-counter pain medication? I don’t want to make the trip and suffer for no reason.”
“I would not,” she said. “However, I would suggest that you send one of your friends to go check.”
Taylor turned to me instantly. “Greg, could you go and check? I’ll be in the computer lab with the teacher, if that’s okay. I want to do some last minute checking on our homework and sit down.”
Mrs. Knott nodded. “No eating in the lab, but fine.”
Smart. For everything that they pulled, none of those girls had the Computer-Lit class that we did, let alone being in the advanced part of it. They couldn’t go after her there without having a very good reason, and Taylor usually sat in a seat that was directly in Mrs. Knott’s line-of-sight. They pulled a lot of crap off, but even they didn’t do anything straightforward with a teacher there to witness it.
I nodded my head and ran off towards the Nurse’s Office, just in case she really did need the pills. They didn’t have any. I hoped she wasn’t serious about her leg being in pain then, I already felt bad enough about it since the cast wasn’t due to come off for over a month. I made my way back to the Computer-Lit—
“Oof!” The next thing I knew, I was hitting the floor as I stepped off the stairs leading to the first floor and the wind was knocked out of me. My chin hit the ground and I felt my teeth bite into the tip of my tongue deep enough to draw blood from the coppery taste.
“I don’t know or care if your balls suddenly decided to drop, but you stay in your place,” a girl’s voice. Sophia when I looked up. “Or the next time you get in my way you’ll find them missing.”
Bitch, I thought as she turned and skulked away. It was only when I heard the slur that I realized I had said it aloud. Maybe it was a good thing I had bit my tongue. She would’ve probably made good on her threat if that came out clear enough for anyone to hear. In a school where there were likely members of different gangs among the students, it was telling she was the scariest one here.
I rose up to my feet to see other people in the hallway, some snickering and others trying to pretend they didn’t notice. God, I didn’t see how Taylor went through with this sort of thing all the time without burning this place to the ground. I kept my head down as I went to the computer lab and took a seat next to Taylor.
She glanced at me, back to the computer, and then back at me again with a focus on my chin. Was it reddened or bruised by the fall? Mom wasn’t going to like that. I’d just say I tripped on the stairs on my own.
“Sophia,” I told Taylor, figuring that was what she wanted to ask but wouldn’t. At least I tried to, but there was still a minor slur. I think she got it anyway.
Taylor rolled her eyes over the frame of her glasses and sighed. “That’s why I told you not to draw attention to yourself or to defend me. You’ll only give them ammunition, Greg. Sophia’s just looking for a reason to lash out.”
“I just wanted to help,” I said. This time it was clear.
“And it made you a target.” Her fingers flew over the keys as she entered something into a calculator program she wrote and refined not too long ago. It didn’t look like anything Mister Quinlan was making us do. “There’s a reason I didn’t fight back—because it’s pointless. Emma, Sophia, and Madison have the teachers wrapped around their little fingers, and picking a fight is only going to get me hurt when they decide to try and gang-up on me before getting off scot-free.”
It made sense. That had to be the only way they could have gotten away with that locker thing. No wonder she didn’t normally try to get a teacher involved, but why not the police? Oh, didn’t I hear once that one of their daddies was a lawyer?
That would probably drag things out, and fighting a legal battle would be expensive… then again, would someone close to the case even be allowed to act if it was brought to court? Maybe not, but a lawyer would know how to squeeze out of a tight scenario. No wonder there were so many evil lawyer jokes.
“That sucks,” was all I could really say after thinking about it. Then things got quiet. I couldn’t stand it and finally asked, “Why not just… you know? Zap them?”
Taylor whipped her head around sharply and gave me an incredulous stare. I knew she said not to mention anything about powers in class, but that was before Sophia threatened to emasculate me for just getting in her way. After a deep breath, she pressed her lips thin, looked over her shoulder to make sure Mrs. Knott wasn’t listening in, and then leaned in close. “If I did it… what do you think would happen?”
The first words that came to mind was ‘zap them until they stopped bothering you,’ but somehow I got the feeling that wouldn’t be the right answer. I thought about it some more, rubbing my left fingers together. It was a bit of a habit I formed from how my hand always felt weird from the different powers. The answer came to me eventually. “The PRT would get involved.”
“Exactly,” she said. “A parahuman attacking a regular person is jail-worthy, and you can bet Emma’s father would try to sue my dad. The PRT would force me into the Wards to put me on a leash and make me a rank-and-file Tinker. They would look over everything I do, criticize it, and force me to bend to their rules. They would decide who got which Vigor and when. I’d be giving up the last bits of my freedom for them when I can do more as an Independent.”
She turned back to the computer and started typing again, still talking. “That’s why I don’t fight back. I’m not going to lose my freedom for petty revenge when I know I’m better than them. What happens here for maybe one or two hours of the time I spend here disappears the moment I get on the bus and get home or to my lab.”
Taylor really thought that out. I couldn’t think of anything to really say except, “Oh.”
I didn’t want to bother her again after that, so I went online to the PHO website to see if what happened last night made any waves. Someone had to have called the police, so someone had to have seen us. Since the Merchants had their own thread it would likely be there.
There actually was something, a shaky camera-phone video taken after I had crashed the van. The discussion led me to the speculation thread on Capes in Brockton Bay in general, where there was currently a mild discussion going on about me. Everyone presumed I was new to it because I had basically gone out in a black-hoodie and pants, with a mask on to cover my face and utility belt around my waist, when common sense dictated having a costume at least—preferably bullet-resistant. I couldn’t fault them there.
What I could fault was the discussion on whether or not I was a hero or a villain—with it leaning heavily in the latter direction. The basis for the argument had been that I stole from the truck and the police retrieved money from it shortly after I left and the Merchant pair got away. Was someone who robbed criminals a criminal himself?
Better not bring it up to Taylor, she looked busy enough now. I didn’t want to break her rhythm. Or get her mad at me again. Besides, it’s not like I didn’t want to go and be a hero.
We needed the money to make new powers and the Merchants were bad people. Not to mention costumes weren’t cheap either. Taking from them and putting it to good use wasn’t a crime. I refused to let Taylor’s work and myself be seen as villainy.
I cracked my fingers and got to typing.
End Notes: I now have a semi-decent outline and plan, so welcome to A/U Ladies and Gentlemen—where Greg is a protagonist, the Golden Idiot is missing as far as the populace knows, and Endbringers can be killed.