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Flesh is Weak

Chapter Text

Friday, Jan. 14th

Carol Dallon sat in her home office, repeatedly tapping the end of her pen on her desk as she read through the notes of her latest case. Even after all her years as both a criminal lawyer, and as the super hero known as Brandish, Carol couldn't help but cringe at the particulars of this case. Several days ago, Taylor Hebert, a teenage girl only a little younger than Carol's own daughters, was found half-dead and mutilated within her school locker.

A preliminary investigation revealed that Taylor had been trapped within her locker the previous day alongside a veritable biohazard consisting of used bathroom trash, namely tampons and sanitary pads, alongside dozens if not hundreds of insects. Despite the fact that several students eventually admitted to seeing the incident occur, no one stepped up to inform any teachers or staff about Taylor's imprisonment.

According to the ER's on-call doctor, he believed that Taylor had broken her left arm and left leg trying to escape, lacerating her limbs, eventually causing her to pass out from pain and blood loss. Now immobile, Taylor was helpless as the insects within began feasting upon her. Infection and eventually sepsis set in from both her wounds and the insect bites. Taylor was left in this condition until she was found the next day by a janitor who smelled something rotting within her locker.

Taylor had arrived in the early morning to Brockton Bay General, early enough that Carol's step-daughter Amy, the world famous healer Panacea, was not there to provide treatment for her. As such, doctors had to treat her the old fashioned way. By the time Taylor was brought in, necrosis had set on her limbs. Both legs and her broken arm had to be amputated, while Taylor's left eye had apparently been eaten out by the bugs. Doctors had also found extensive damage to Taylor's vocal chords, which they surmise occurred due to an infection eating away at the tissue. All in all, Taylor had barely survived her ordeal, and had only come to consciousness this very morning.

Taylor's state prompted a massive investigation by both the police and the PRT. And when confronted by law enforcement officers, many of the bystanders folded and gave up the primary perpetrators, a Madison Clements, Sophia Hess, and Emma Barnes. All three had been arrested and are currently being charged with attempted murder, criminal harassment, and felony assault.

Under most circumstances, Carol would've read about their arrests in the morning paper, snorted at how her fellow lawyer and colleague Alan Barnes apparently raised a sociopath, and gone on with the rest of her day. But when the newspaper was delivered to her home and she read up on the details of what occurred, at how Madison, Sophia, and Emma all but kidnapped and tortured Taylor, Carol couldn't help but feel some internal desire to see the three attackers crucified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

And so, despite the fact that Mr. Daniel "Danny" Hebert had no way of paying her for her services, Carol volunteered to represent both him and Taylor in pressing criminal charges against the girls and against the Brockton Bay School District, only taking a part of the settlement should they win.

With that, Carol had finished reviewing her notes and glanced at the clock. It was currently 7:35 am, and she had planned to meet Danny and Taylor at the hospital along with her daughters at 8 am so they were going to have to leave soon if they wanted to be punctual.

"Girls, are you ready to go?" Carol called out of her door, her powerful voice carrying out her office, down the stairs, to the kitchen below.

"Yeah Mom! We're just finishing up breakfast!" Vicky, her real daughter and super-heroine Glory Girl shouted back up.

"Good." Carol called back. "Don't forget to bring your school work. After Amy heals Taylor you'll need to fly over to your school on your own."

"Yes Mom." Both Vicky and Amy drawled out.

Friday, Jan. 14th

Danny absent-mindedly rubbed his eyes as he sat beside his daughter. He didn't know how long he'd been awake, standing silent vigil over his daughter, but he felt his body crying out for sleep. Sighing, Danny couldn't help but feel like this was all his fault. He knew that ever since Annette died, he hadn't been there for Taylor, not in any way that mattered. He didn't even know that she was being bullied until Taylor never came home that fateful night and was found in the locker the next day. Danny stared at the bandages that were tightly wrapped around the stump where Taylor's left arm had once been, as well as the bandages wrapped around her head, covering her now missing eye. He felt himself grip the rail of Taylor's hospital bed hard, letting all of the impotent anger and frustration out on the innocent plastic.

"Mr. Hebert?" A voice called out from behind him, snapping Danny out of his brooding.

Danny practically shot out of his chair as he turned to face the speaker, an attractive woman with short-cut blonde hair wearing a power suit, quickly recognizing the form as Carol Dallon, his lawyer for the upcoming case.

"Mrs. Dallon, it's good to see you." Danny greeted, straightening out his blue-collared button down as he tried to make himself presentable. Disheveled as probably an understatement for his current appearance, but he's had more important things on his mind. "And please, call me Danny."

Mrs. Dallon gave him a professional smile in return. "Then you can call me Carol. May we come in?" Carol asked, revealing the two teenage girls behind her. While Danny wasn't the most up to date on Capes within the city, even he quickly recognized the two as Carol's daughters Glory Girl and Panacea, just out of costume.

"Oh, yes of course." Danny gave a weak chuckle as he moved his chair to give some more space for the Dallon family. He then turned to face the two daughters and extended his hand. "I'm Daniel Hebert. Taylor's father. You can also call me Danny."

"Good morning Mr. Hebert." Panacea automatically responded, giving his hand a half hearted shake, not really paying attention to him as she grabbed Taylor's chart. "I assume I'm here to heal your daughter?" she brusquely asked.

Danny felt a flood of relief at Panacea's words. He didn't even really care if she was somewhat cagey about it. If anything, Panacea looked…bored. But none of that mattered at all. Danny couldn't help but wonder who was looking out for him when he learned that the lawyer who was working with him free of charge also turned out to be the mother of the strongest healer on the planet. When Carol offered to bring Panacea in to heal Taylor, Danny leapt at the chance.

"Yes, please." Danny practically had tears in his eyes as he spoke.

It was then that Danny heard some rustling behind him as Taylor began to stir in her bed. Slowly awakening, Taylor's remaining, unbandaged eye flickered over her Dad, then to all of the strangers in the room.

"D… Dad?" Taylor rasped out, her voice strained and barely audible, almost sounding as if she were a chain smoker rather than a 15 year old girl.

Danny was immediately back in the chair and at his daughter's side. "Hey there Kiddo." He whispered to her. "Look, it's Panacea! She's here to heal you!" Danny tried to sound excited as he pushed some of the hair out of Taylor's face.

Panacea approached Taylor's bed, looking her up and down, and to Danny's surprise, gave a low whistle. "Damn, those bullies really messed you up. I rarely see anyone this bad outside of an Endbringer fight." She then put down Taylor's chart and walked to her side. "Miss Hebert, do I have your permission to heal you?"

Taylor paused to look at Panacea with a blank stare. Then, to everyone's confusion, the stare morphed into a scowl, and then to a full blown snarl.

"No…" Taylor growled out, grinding her teeth together as her brows knit together.

Everyone stared at Taylor in confusion. Panacea especially seemed to be taken aback, mouth opening and closing with no words coming out as she tried to process the sudden, almost hateful rejection.

Danny similarly had no idea as to where this was coming from. "Taylor, honey." He started as he grabbed her hand, causing Taylor to snap her glare towards him. The viciousness of her gaze shocked him, but he wouldn't be cowed by his own daughter. "Panacea can heal you. She can fix everything! Your eye, your voice, even your limbs!" Danny looked pleadingly at Panacea.

But the heroine seemed to be at a loss, head glancing back and forth between Taylor and Danny. It made some sense to Danny that she'd be taken off guard by this, after all who actually rejects free Parahuman healing?

"I… said… no…" Taylor wheezed out again, this time directed towards her father.

"Taylor plea-" Danny tried to plead.

"Get… out!" Taylor screamed, uncaring about the damage to her vocal chords.

"Taylor!" Danny cried out once more.

"GET! OUT!" Taylor was snarling savagely at all of them while thrashing in her bed, her heart monitor spiking, causing a doctor and several nurses to rush into the room.

"What's going on here!?" The doctor shouted. Seeing the flailing Taylor he turned to one of the nurses, "I want a sedative on her, now!" He then turned to Danny and the Dallon Family. "I need all of you to leave!"

"But… she..." Panacea mumbled out, her voice a lot smaller than when she first entered the room.

The doctor cut her off. "Amy, if you are not here to administer healing, then I need you to leave until Miss Hebert has calmed down. You are all causing the patient unnecessary stress!"

Panacea moved to make some kind of retort, when Carol put her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Of course doctor, we'll be leaving right now." Carol said, looking at both her daughters and at Danny.

While Danny wanted to argue that he should stay, he could tell he wasn't going to win a fight against both a doctor and a lawyer. Not to mention his presence seemed to be doing more harm to Taylor then good. With a resigned sigh, Danny exited the room alongside Carol and her daughters.

As they all entered the hallway, Danny heard Panacea whisper to herself, "I… don't get it. Why did she react like that?" she sounded shaken by the whole episode.

Carol sighed. "Amy, Vicky, perhaps it's best if you two head off to school now. I need to stay here and speak to Danny."

Glory Girl nodded her head. "Yeah, sounds good." She then moved over and took her sister by the hand, "Come on Ames, let's get out of here."

Panacea, no, Amy, just silently nodded her head as she let her sister drag her away.

"I'm… sorry for all the trouble." Danny said as he faced Carol. He wasn't sure if that was the right thing to say in this situation, but nothing else really seemed to fit. "I… didn't think Taylor would react that badly."

Carol shook her head. "It's alright Danny. Taylor has been through a… traumatic experience. It makes sense that she'd be distrustful, if not manic after everything she's been through. We can try again later, maybe after the hearing, when she's in a more sound state of mind."

Danny exasperatedly moved his hand through his hair. "Doesn't my authority as a parent override Taylor here? Maybe we could have Panacea heal her while she's unconscious if I consent to Parahuman healing?"

Carol rubbed her forehead, calling up what she knew about medical consent. "Taylor's not an emancipated minor, so technically she does not have the right to consent or refuse medical treatment." She then locked eyes with Danny. "But I would caution thinking very carefully before making such a decision. Taylor's mental state appears very fragile, and having healing done against her will ruin any relationship you have with her. Hell, she could probably sue you, Amy, and the hospital if she felt strongly enough that she was wronged."

"Right. So I guess we should wait then and try to convince her later." Danny dumbly nodded his head before looking at Carol apologetically. "I hope this won't affect your willingness to work on the case."

"Of course not. I only brought Amy in as a favor to you and your daughter. The fact that Taylor rejected treatment does not change the fact that together we are going to nail Winslow and those bullies to the wall." Carol let out a small smirk that made Danny feel a little better.

"Sounds good to me." Danny said as he and Carol walked to the waiting area and sat down. "So, what more do you need from me?"

Carol smiled as she pulled out her files and a notebook as they began to prepare for the upcoming trial.

Taylor glared at the wall in front of her. The sedatives the nurses injected into her calmed her down, and now she was waiting for the embrace of sleep once more.

While she felt the medicine taking effect, Taylor could still feel the residual anger burn within herself. How dare they? How dare her father and Panacea try to give her back her weak, human body?

They may not comprehend why she rejected them, but she did not need nor did she want their understanding. Taylor has seen the truth. Felt the truth carved into her. As her world descended into blackness, the sedative taking effect, she repeated the truth to herself one final time. Her flesh was weak, and she would never be weak again.

Friday, Jan. 28th

Two weeks had passed since Taylor first woke up in the hospital and rejected Panacea's healing. Despite continually rejecting the healing whenever her father or Mrs. Dallon offered it up, Taylor continued to recover as the doctors and nurses of Brockton General did their due diligence in treating her.

As such, Taylor was now considered fit to leave the hospital and was discharged. She would still require a consistent flow of antibiotics and pain medication to deal with her injuries, as well as months of physical therapy, but at the very least she wasn't in danger of dying in her bed.

Once they arrived at their house, her father pushed her down their driveway in the wheelchair provided to her by the hospital, moving forward with Mrs. Dallon and Taylor until they reached the porch.

"Ah, right." Her father sighed to himself as he looked upon the stairs. "Our house wasn't exactly built with handicap accessibility in mind."

Mrs. Dallon returned a polite smile to her Dad. "That's fine. Taylor, do you mind if your Father carries you in? I can take your chair."

Taylor lazily flicked her gaze to Mrs. Dallon, before she gave a slight nod. Her Father then moved to scoop Taylor out of her chair and carried her inside as Mrs. Dallon followed with the chair. Once Taylor was settled in, the two adults moved to stand in front of Taylor, obviously getting ready to talk about the trial. A preliminary hearing had already occurred while Taylor was still in the hospital, and the court had scheduled the trial to occur once Taylor was discharged.

"So Taylor." Mrs. Dallon began. "Today is the day of the trial. As you are still a minor, Danny is the one filing the case on your behalf, which means that technically only he and I need to be in court as the plaintiffs. However, I do believe it would help to sway the jury if you were to make an appearance during the trial as well. But this would only be if you are comfortable with going to the courthouse and making a public appearance."

It didn't take long for Taylor to respond. "I'd… rather… stay." she rasped out.

If Mrs. Dallon was disappointed, she didn't show it. "That's fine Taylor. Don't worry we'll make sure that the school and those bullies are all charged to the fullest extent of the law."

Taylor gave a non-committal nod. At this point she didn't really care what happened to the trio or the school. Not anymore. She just needed her father and Mrs. Dallon out of the house.

Danny gave Taylor a weak smile as well. "The judge seemed to be on our side at the preliminary hearing, so hopefully we'll be back soon."

Taylor only nodded again.

"Well then Danny, we should get going. We don't want to be late, lest the judge think we're no shows and dismiss the case." Carol said as she moved for the door.

Danny gave Taylor another hug and a kiss on the forehead. "We'll be back soon, Taylor."

After Taylor gave a grunt of affirmation, her father finally let go and moved back outside with Mrs. Dallon. Taylor watched as the deadbolt turned and locked the door, then listened to Mrs. Dallon's car start up. She waited until she heard the car drive off to make her move.

She started with the living room TV, a large CRT TV that would be considered out of date by the average American. Then she moved onto disassembling her old computer, a dinosaur of a laptop that still did its job when she needed it for homework. When she realized she needed larger materials like chunks of metal, pipes, and pistons, Taylor let herself fall out of her wheelchair as she dragged herself down the garage stairs and began ripping parts off of her father's pick up truck.

With the assembled parts, Taylor crawled back into her wheelchair and went to work. It didn't even take half an hour for Taylor to finish building her first invention, a bionic left arm. It was a crude thing to Taylor, skeletal in appearance, looking like a prop out of a Terminator movie. It also lacked much of the superhuman capabilities that Taylor knew her augmetics could provide, but for now it would suffice.

Placing the artificial limb on her lap, Taylor then rolled herself over to the kitchen. She drew a large, stainless steel kitchen knife from its storage block, and then turned on one of the stove top burners. She placed the blade on top of the burner, allowing the purifying flames to sterilize the knife. While the knife heated up, she pulled out some rubber tubing she found in the garage and began wrapping it around what was left of her left bicep, turning it into a homemade tourniquet. This was the most important and the most dangerous part of the procedure, she couldn't risk passing out due to blood loss now.

The tourniquet in place, Taylor moved to unwrap what bandages she had around the stump of her left arm. The amputation had removed her left arm just above her elbow, leaving only about half of her upper arm left, and the end of the stub was sewn shut by surgical stitching. Turning back to the stove, Taylor grabbed the sterilized knife and let it cool for a few seconds.

Gripping the knife tightly, Taylor took a deep breath in as she pointed the blade at the stump of her arm. This was going to be painful, she knew that. But she greeted pain as an old friend now. After all, pain was weakness leaving the body, and she would not be weak. With that final thought, Taylor then stabbed the knife into her flesh, grateful that her damaged throat kept her from screaming too loudly.

Chapter Text

Friday, Jan. 28th

"Sophia Hess, in light of the evidence presented here today, you are found guilty on the charges of criminal harassment and first degree felony assault, and not guilty on the charge of attempted murder. As you have violated your parole in addition to this, you have been sentenced to ten years imprisonment. This sentence will be carried out in a juvenile detention facility until your 18th birthday, after which you shall be transferred to a Federal holding facility for the remainder of your sentence. In addition, you or your guardians must pay a fine to the city of Brockton Bay for a sum total of $10,000, as well as a restitution fee to the plaintiff for a sum total of $10,000." The judge read out his sentence to Sophia Hess, who had been charged as the primary ringleader as she was the one who had physically shoved Taylor into the locker.

Sophia had a look on her face that Carol could only describe as feral. Carol almost felt herself instinctively reaching for her powers in case the young teen decided to attack the judge here and now. Before Sophia could make any kind of move, the eldery judge then moved to face Madison and Emma. Madison was an emotional wreck complete with tears pouring down her face, while Emma had been strangely detached from the whole trial, as if she was simply confused as to what was happening around her.

"Madison Clements, Emma Barnes. The two of you are found guilty on charges of criminal harassment and accessory to felony assault, and not guilty on the charge of attempted murder. As such you are both sentenced to five years of imprisonment, first in juvenile detention up until your 18th birthdays, and in a Federal holding facility thereafter. In addition, you or your guardians must pay a fine to the city of Brockton Bay for a sum total or $10,000 individually, as well as a restitution fee to the plaintiff for a sum total of $10,000 individually."

Madison broke down crying once more at the verdict while Emma merely seemed aloof. Alan accepted the charge with as much professionalism as he could muster. While it irked Carol that she wasn't able to get the attempted murder charges to stick, she was more than happy that the felony assault charges stayed and all three girls would be seeing time behind bars.

However, the stone-faced judge was not done as he turned to Principle Blackwell and the attorney representing Winslow the Brockton Bay School District. "Finally, the court has found the Brockton Bay School District guilty of criminal negligence in allowing this campaign of harassment and torture to continue. As such the court orders that the school district pay a settlement of a sum total of $2.5 million to the plaintiff for psychological trauma and physical damages incurred."

Carol couldn't help but smirk at that. While it was good to see justice served against the trio of girls, the school district was where the real money was to be earned. Winslow was going to have to fire quite a few teachers and cut quite a few classes in order to pay off this settlement, but Carol thought that that was the bare minimum amount of retribution Taylor deserved. And while no amount of millions of dollars would undo the torture done to Taylor, it could at the very least secure her future, even after Carol took her legal fees. Carol noticed Danny's breath hitch at that number as well, as he obviously never thought that he'd see the day his daughter would become a millionaire. The super heroine put a hand on Danny's shoulder to reassure him

"I do have one last thing I would like to say." The judge began as he looked at all of the defendants. "Some of you may think this sentencing is harsh, but in my personal opinion the jury was too lenient on all of you. The campaign of terror you have committed is nothing short of devious, cruel, and outright villainous. As a parent myself, I can only applaud Mr. Hebert for his self control in not attacking all of you on sight. I want all of you to understand what you have done. You have viciously tortured and maimed a fellow human being. I have been a judge for nearly 20 years, and the last time I had seen such an act of malicious cruelty was when the Teeth were still in the Bay. For all of your sakes, I can only pray that you all come out of your sentences better people than you are today. Court is now adjourned."

With a smack of the gavel, the trial had ended and the court bailiffs escorted Sophia, Emma, and Madison out of the courtroom alongside Alan. Once they were gone, Danny turned to Carol and to her surprise gave her a big bear hug. After the initial shock, Carol allowed herself to return the hug.

"Thank you." Danny could barely find the words to thank her.

"I'm just doing my job." Carol reassured him as she patted his back. As she let go of him, she held Danny by the shoulders and said, "Let's go tell Taylor the good news."

Both Danny and Carol left the courtroom with heads held high as they made their way to Carol's car to return to Danny's home. Carol noticed that Danny was looking far better leaving the courthouse than going to it. By the time they reached the Hebert household, Danny practically leapt out of Carol's sedan and ran for the door.

Danny excitedly unlocked the front door and burst into his home. "Taylor! Taylor, I have great news!"

Carol felt herself smile a bit at Danny's excitable attitude. The past few days, Danny had been depressingly morose, almost cataonic in his legal discussions with her. She'd never seen him with this amount of energy.

This energy seemed to completely evaporate however, as Danny froze at his own front door, his face shifting from joy to one of abject fear. "Taylor?" he whispered out, his voice suddenly small.

Immediately Carol knew something was wrong and acted. She pushed past Danny and into the house, getting ready to summon her light weapon. Surveying the room quickly, Carol quickly understood what made Danny freeze up. Taylor's wheelchair laid empty in the middle of their kitchen, and it was surrounded by blood. A lot of blood. She also saw what looked like a used kitchen knife, similarly stained red, sitting upon the chair itself.

Carol bit back a curse as worst case scenarios went on in her mind. Was Taylor attacked? No, there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle. Suicide? Was the reason Taylor rejected Amy's healing because she had planned on killing herself after she returned home? Maybe, but where was her body then? It's not like she could just cut herself open and go for a stroll, leaving her chair behind. As these thoughts ran through her head, Carol was shoved to the side as Danny ran past her and further into the home.

"Taylor!" Danny shouted from beside Carol, near manic. "Taylor, where are you!?" he continued to shout as he ran around the house, looking high and low for his daughter.

"Danny, wait!" Carol shouted, grabbing him by the shoulder. Danny snapped to her, his face snarling at whoever was keeping him from finding his daughter. "Danny, call the police. I can look for Taylor without disturbing the crime scene."

Danny moved his mouth to snap back at her, to shout something to refute her, but suddenly found himself unable to argue against the logic. "Damnit." Danny frustratedly looked at the ground as he moved to get the kitchen phone.

But before he could take more than two steps, a noise caused him to stop his movement. Thunk. Thunk. Whirrr... It was a heavy impact, a thud that reverberated throughout the house, followed by the sound of machinery spinning. Immediately, Carol moved in front of Danny and summoned a light axe in her hand. Carol's eyes zeroed in on the stairs going up to the second floor of the home, where the source of the noise was coming from.

That's when she saw her. She saw Taylor, and Carol felt her jaw go slack. Taylor was still identifiable by her rather scrawny build and long, curly dark hair. But what stood out to Carol was that she walked down the stairs, standing atop two metallic, skeletal legs. Robotic joints and pistons hissed and pushed like faux-tendons while servos rotated with every step. Her missing left arm was similarly replaced by a terrifying skeletal prosthetic.

Carol's eyes then drifted from the cybernetic limbs to Taylor's face. Covering the lower half of the teen's face was some kind of respirator, shaped like the bottom half of a gas mask. And her ruined eye was now replaced by a glowing light that burned with a crimson hue.

"Mrs. Dallon." Taylor spoke as she looked at her, her voice synthetic and staticy, as if she were talking through a radio. She then turned to Danny. "Father. There is no need to panic."

Both Carol and Danny stared dumbly at Taylor, mouths agape. Danny was the first to find his voice as he ran to his daughter. "Taylor! What… what happened to you?" he asked with nothing but fear and worry as he grabbed Taylor's shoulders and examined her prosthetics.

Carol however, was the one who answered. "My God… you Triggered." she said to herself, just barely loud enough for the others to hear. "That's why you didn't want Amy's healing. So you could do… this to yourself."

"What?" Danny asked in disbelief.

Carol kept her eyes on Taylor as she answered the older man, "The locker must've been a Trigger Event, the worst day in our lives that makes Parahumans, well Parahuman. Because of the locker, Taylor has obviously become some sort of Tinker, I think." Carol explained, gesturing to Taylor's prosthetics. "How… How did you do all of this? Did they just appear or did you have to build them?"

"I had to manually construct my augmetics, Mrs. Dallon." Taylor's mechanical voice hissed out. "As for attaching them, as you can see, I performed the surgery upon myself while you were away." Taylor then gestured to the puddle of blood and the knife in the kitchen.

"Jesus Chri-" Danny mumbled to himself as he stepped back, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Taylor…" Carol's breath hitched as the teen's pulsing red eye focused on her. "Just… just sit down on the couch for now, and we can figure out where to go from here."

Taylor's glowing red eye stared at Carol, before she simply made her way to the sofa couch and sat down. Sighing, Carol felt herself rub her forehead in exasperation as Danny similarly sat down.

"Okay. First things first." Carol pointed to Taylor. "I am going to call Amy, have her come over, and she is going to give you a check up. You cannot be okay after cutting yourself open like that."

Taylor kept a stern gaze on the Parahuman lawyer, and after a few seconds finally responded with, "As long as she does not touch my bionics, fine."

"Good, good." Carol nodded, glad that Taylor wasn't going to be difficult about that. "Now then, while this is up to you and your Father, I would highly suggest the two of you go to the PRT headquarters for registration."

Taylor's one organic eye narrowed on Carol as she said that. "And why would I want to do that?"

"Because Taylor, unless you wish to be labeled as either a vigilante or a villain, you will need to be registered. Independent heroes like my family have to do it, as well as rogues such as Parian. Given the fact that your prosthetics will be very difficult to hide, the faster you get registered the better. Even if you don't wish to become a Ward, being known to the PRT will allow them to come help should a gang come after you." Carol explained.

Danny looked horrified at that thought. "Do you think the gangs would come after us?"

Begrudgingly, Carol nodded her head. "Tinkers are a luxury for any organization. And the fact that Taylor essentially will have no secret identity, there's no doubt in my mind that someone like the E88, Merchants, or even the ABB would come to kidnap her and force her into their gangs, Unwritten Rules be damned."

"The ABB?" Taylor asked, tilting her head. "I am not even Asian."

Carol shook her head. "If it means getting a Tinker under his control, I doubt Lung would care what ethnicity you are. He'll either put a gun to your head or drug you to the gills till you're cooperative."

Danny's jaw dropped further, as he then turned to Taylor. "Taylor, we are going to the PRT after Amy heals you." he demanded, not asked.

Taylor's one narrowed eye then focused on Danny, the teen silent. Carol could only guess what was going through her mind, and to be perfectly honest, Carol very much did not want to know what was going through the mind of a nascent cybernetics Tinker. Probably wondering who she could turn into the next Robocop, or where she's going to get her raw materials from.

That's when an idea dawned on Carol. "Tinkers who are affiliated with the PRT receive stipends for materials and supplies required to complete their projects."

That seemed to get Taylor's attention, as she raised her head to look at Carol with a less intense, almost excited gaze, before Taylor seemed to get her emotions under control once more.

"Fine. We may head to the PRT following the checkup." Taylor's respirator buzzed out.

Carol nodded her head. "Good. Now if you excuse me, I have some calls to make."

Amy Dallon checked her watch for the third time as she waited at the Dallon family front door. Tapping her foot impatiently, she called up the stairs. "Vicky! Come on, we're going to be late! The hospital is expecting me soon!"

"One second, I need to get everything ready for my dinner with Dean afterwards!" Vicky called out from her room.

Amy felt both a spike of annoyance and jealousy run through her, before she shoved the emotions down. It was a well practiced response towards her pseudo-incestual feelings towards her step-sister that Amy made sure to master.

It didn't take long for Vicky to fly down the steps, wearing a pair of tight skinny jeans, and a white designer blouse that Amy spent a little too long examining.

"Okay, ready to go Ames?" Vicky asked, unknowingly interrupting the ogling.

Amy swallowed. "Uh yeah, yeah sure. Lemme just get my-" suddenly Amy's thoughts were cut off as her phone started ringing. Brows furrowed in confusion, Amy pulled her cellphone out, and was surprised to see Carol calling her.

With a button press, Amy answered the call and brought her phone to her ear. "Hey Mom, what's going on? Is everything okay?"

Vicky raised a brow as Carol responded. "Yes and no. Where are you? And is Vicky with you?"

"Yeah she's here. We're at the house, Vicky was just about to fly me over to the hospital for my shift." Amy answered.

"Good. Before you head to the hospital, I need you to come heal a priority patient, Taylor Hebert." Carol ordered over the phone.

Amy scowled and frowned, both at Carol telling her to change her schedule without asking her first, and at recalling Taylor. "Taylor Hebert?" she asked out loud, which caused Vicky to frown at the memory as well. "I thought she refused any Parahuman healing?"

"She did, but I convinced her to see you now. And…" Carol paused, thinking on what to say. Amy then heard her sigh as she said, "Look, you'll see it when you get here, but Taylor has Triggered, and I want to have her checked out as soon as possible."

That statement made Amy's eyes go wide. "Should… should you be telling me this?" Amy wasn't sure how much this kind of thing was breaking the Unwritten Rules.

"I know this is strange, but it'll be easier for you to see what's going on than for me to explain over the phone. This is something of an emergency, so please, get here as fast as you can. I've texted you and Vicky the address." Carol then abruptly hung up.

"Goodbye to you too, Carol." Amy dryly remarked as she put away her phone.

"What's going on?" Vicky asked as soon as Amy hung up.

Amy sighed as she tried to wrap her head around what was going on. "It's Taylor, apparently. Carol says that she needs some healing and has consented to my help. Said it was an emergency." Amy paraphrased. "She texted us the address, wants us to head over ASAP."

Vicky quirked an eyebrow. "Why would she change her mind now?"

"I don't know. " Amy shrugged. "Carol said Taylor triggered, so it may have to do something with her powers."

Vicky grimaced at that piece of information. "Well we're not going to learn anything by standing here guessing." Vicky said as she looked at the address on her phone. "Come on, it'll be a quick flight over. Hopefully you won't be late to the hospital."

Amy nodded, and assumed her normal position as Vicky picked her up and the two began flying for the Hebert Household. True to Vicky's word, the flight only took a few minutes as they approached the smaller home, spotting their Mother's car in the driveway. They landed on the Hebert's front yard before making their way to the front entrance. After placing her sister down, Vicky moved and knocked on the door.

The two sisters stepped back as the door swung open, and they were greeted by their mother.

"Good you're here." she curtly greeted. "Inside, quickly." Carol then stepped back to allow her daughters in.

Vicky raised an eyebrow as she walked inside first. "Geez Mom, where's the fire?" she asked as she moved through the doorway, and to Amy's surprise, freezing as she entered, mouth hanging open.

Curious as to what she was looking at, Amy stepped around her and her jaw dropped as well. There, casually sitting on her living room couch, was Taylor Hebert, half girl, half cybernetic monstrosity. Amy unconsciously moved forward, examining how the prosthetics led directly into the amputated limbs of Taylor. She saw how incisions on the attachment points were still fresh, and her eyes then traveled to the blood staining the floor all around her.

"What the fuck did you do to yourself?" Amy had to ask.

"I made the necessary repairs to my body." Taylor bluntly answered through a grating, synthesized voice that made Amy wince.

"Jesus." Vicky muttered from behind.

Carol then cleared her throat, getting Amy's attention. "As you can see, Taylor's Trigger forced her to take some... drastic measures with her own body. Before we head over to the PRT, I want you to take a look at her, ensure that she is healthy."

Amy dumbly nodded as she turned back to Taylor, whose intimidating red cybernetic eye was staring directly at the healer. "Do… Do I have your permission to heal you?"

The silence was heavy between the two as Taylor's eyes bored into the healer. After several seconds, the teen responded with, "As long as you do not affect my bionics, you have my permission."

Amy swallowed and placed her hand on Taylor's shoulder. Immediately the healer was granted access to the entirety of Taylor's biology, or what was left of it. "Okay, you have three infections, probably from your impromptu surgery, clearing that out now. You're low on blood, but I guess you finished up closing your wounds before you went into shock. I can convert some of your fat cells to replenish that, but make sure you eat a good amount of food to make up for it. Lastly…" Amy's eyes narrowed. "I'm concerned about some heavy metal poisoning from your prosthetics. Your body is being exposed to way more metal than it would ever normally be. I can clear out any build up of excess iron now, but if left alone this can be deadly."

"The poisoning is irrelevant in the long term." Taylor bluntly answered as Amy let go of her. At the healer's confused expression, Taylor continued. "I have plans to replace the current augmetics with less, primitive enhancements that will come with fewer detriments. In addition, I plan on replacing all of the blood within my body with an Autosanguination substitute. This fluid will more efficiently carry oxygen and waste, allowing for faster disposal of such toxins."

Amy's mouth dropped open again as she tried to figure out what to say. "Replace all…" Amy shook her head to clear her thoughts. "How will you ensure that the fluid won't get diluted as your body begins to produce regular blood again. Regular injections?"

Taylor shook her head. "I do not plan on doing injections. As I said, this will be a full replacement, removing as much natural blood from my system as possible at one time. In addition, further enhancements and replacements will reduce the amount of bones and bone marrow in my body, slowing the production of natural blood cells to near nothing."

Amy looked like she was trying to catch flies with how long her mouth remained open. "Wait, your circulatory system does far more than just carry nutrients and remove waste. What about your immune system? By replacing the bone marrow you'll be leaving yourself vulnerable to disease because you won't be producing white blood cells anymore."

"I have already accounted for that. This replacement will also render my current immune system obsolete, as the Autosanguination fluid will be far more effective in combating disease than white blood cells." Taylor swiftly responded.

Amy felt like she should be horrified by what Taylor was saying. Her suggestions were something only someone like Bonesaw would say. But instead, the first thought in Amy's mind was how she could accomplish all of this with her own powers. It was like speaking with Taylor opened up a proverbial dam of bio-tinker inspirations.

In order to create a stronger immune system, Amy could easily remake the bone marrow in her body with something more similar to the bone marrow of reptiles like crocodiles, who have a far more robust immune system. Red blood cells could also be modified to carry more oxygen like Taylor wants, which would increase the rate of natural healing as well, creating something of a minor healing factor. The natural filtering of toxins would be more complex, but could be done more with modifying existing organs.

"What about cybernetic organs? Surely you could create replacements which could do the job of filtering out toxins with less complication than replacing all of your blood." Amy asked as her powers began feeding her new ideas for organ enhancements she could make. More efficient livers and kidneys could also filter out most issues with an increased build up of toxins.

"That is something which I am already having ideas for." Taylor acquiesced. "But there is no reason to only choose one or the other when both are improvements to the human form. Every organ within my body is only as strong as nature allowed it to become, which when compared to what I can create, is nothing."

Ideas kept flooding into Amy's mind. Not just the kidneys and liver, but every organ could be enhanced biologically through her own powers as well. It would be rather simple for her to make the lungs take in air in low oxygen environments, or filter out airborne toxins. She could give eyes superhuman vision that could see in the dark or other spectrums. Heck, she could even create completely new organs pre-programmed with genetically engineered cells that would enhance other existing bodily systems to Parahuman levels. The possibilities were endless...

"Amy!" a voice shouted, snapping her out of her fugue. Amy turned her head and saw it was her sister who called her name. "You okay? You kinda zoned out there."

Staring blankly at her sister's face for a second, Amy recentered herself. "Yeah, I'm good. Just… thinking."

Vicky gave her sister a look of concern, before turning to glare at Taylor.

Before she could say anything however, Carol intervened once more. "So Amy, is Taylor healthy now?"

Amy blinked at her step-mother for a second, before realizing that healing Taylor was the whole reason she came here in the first place. Nodding, Amy said, "Yes. Taylor, I declare you as healthy as can be, given your circumstances. If you cannot get your… enhancements done to prevent the buildup of toxins, call me on this number and I can get you sorted out." Amy then hastily scribbled down her number on a nearby piece of paper.

That got both Carol's and Vicky's attention. Amy almost never gave away her personal contact information, even to friends or other capes. She learned quickly that people would constantly call her for personal healing whether she wanted to help or not. Taylor took the paper and shoved it into a pocket, but didn't vocally respond to the healer. An awkward silence then descended over the group as they waited for Taylor to say something, but didn't.

"Well then." Carol said before the silence went on for too long. "Thank you for the help Amy. I don't want to keep you from the hospital anymore than we need to. We should get going to PRT."

"Wait, before that." Vicky interrupted. "You can't just go to the PRT with Taylor looking like… that." Vicky vaguely gestured at the cyborg. "She needs some kind of costume."

Taylor rolled her eyes at the suggestion, and stood up. Everyone got out of her way as she moved towards a nearby closet. Opening the closet, she began digging through the various blankets and clothes stored there, until she found something of use. They watched as Taylor pulled out a blanket of deep crimson color, and threw it over her body like some kind of cloak. She then grabbed a small rope normally used to tie up curtains and wrapped it around her waist as a makeshift belt. All in all she looked like some kind of blood colored monk.

Everyone stared at Taylor for a few seconds, before Vicky shrugged and said, "To be honest, looks pretty good on her."

"Right." Carol sighed. "Well then, I called ahead and told the PRT that we're coming. While technically I was only your legal representative for the case against Winslow, I am more than happy to represent you as legal counsel for the PRT as well."

"We'll be happy to have you on." Danny answered for Taylor, who only shrugged as she made her way to the front door.

"Let's go." Taylor buzzed out. "The sooner we can finish this meeting, the sooner I can get back to Tinkering." She then walked out the door, uncaring for the protests of the others as she made her way to Carol's car

Chapter Text

Friday, Jan. 28th

Colin Wallis aka the superhero Armsmaster strode through the PRT headquarters as he headed for one of the many meeting rooms. While he normally found traveling to the PRT HQ during his free Tinkering time annoying, the fact that he was here for an interview with a freshly triggered Tinker was enough to get his attention. He considered it fortunate that the young Parahuman happened to be a client of Brandish in her civilian identity, so the Tinker was open to speaking with the PRT and Protectorate before one of the gangs found them.

Colin had even been able to convince Director Piggot to let Dragon participate in the interview, as Colin believed the Canadian Tinker was far more sociable and personable than he was, and would have a higher chance of making a good impression than he would. The Director was pleasantly surprised by his suggestion, not believing he had the social insight to make such a call, but even Colin was not so dense as to be so blind to his own failings. Dragon was both a better Tinker and a better people-person than he was, and he could accept that in the same way that he could accept that Alexandria was stronger than him. It was just the way things were.

As these thoughts went through Armsmaster's head, the aforementioned Dragon spoke into his helmet's internal speakers. "Colin." Dragon greeted warmly. "You seem rather chipper today. Are you that excited to meet the newest Tinker?"

Colin's brows knit slightly. He then realized that he was moving at a slightly faster rate than normal, and he had the slightest of the upturning of his lips. "I suppose I am." he plainly stated. He had never seen a reason to lie to Dragon before, and had no reason to start now.

"That's good. It'll be nice for her to have a Tinker she could relate to. Especially since Director Piggot will apparently be conducting the interview." Colin could hear the slight faltering in Dragon's voice as she said that.

Frowning, Colin couldn't help but agree with Dragon there. While he wouldn't call Director Piggot a bad person per say, she was rather… abrasive when it came to Parahumans. And if an emotionally and socially dense man like Colin could make that observation, he knew it had to be true. But with the firebrand known as Carol Dallon representing the girl, the Director wanted to ensure that nothing would be slipped by them.

"So what do you know about the latest would-be recruit?" Colin asked.

Dragon responded immediately. "Taylor Hebert, age fifteen, no cape name yet. According to records, her most probable Trigger Event was when she was locked in her locker and left to rot by her bullies, resulting in widespread necrosis and infection. She nearly died, and thanks to Mrs. Dallon's efforts, they have just won their lawsuit against her bullies and the school district, which included Sophia Hess." Dragon hissed out Shadow Stalker's civilian identity like it was a swear.

Colin grimaced as well. He had hoped that her time in the Wards would've blunted Shadow Stalker's violent nature, but instead it only made her better at hiding it, as made apparent by her months long campaign of torture against Taylor. And when her actions in her civilian identity had come to light, Director Piggot and himself had no issue stripping her of whatever legal protections the PRT and Protectorate had for her. They had already given her a second chance by letting her into the Wards under parole when they first captured her. Only a fool would give her a third after she willingly mutilated another student, her ability as a hard counter to several villainous Brutes be damned.

That was probably another reason why the Director was personally overseeing the interview, Colin idly thought. She would want to ensure that the story on Shadow Stalker would be consistent. Whether or not that meant telling Taylor the truth or sweeping it under the rug, Colin didn't know.

As these thoughts rolled around his head, Colin entered the interview room. It was a simple, off-white office space, with a single wooden conference table in the center and 6 rolling office chairs. Had Taylor been a complete unknown, they would've conducted the interview in one of the PRT's police interrogation rooms, but her relationship with Brandish allowed for some accommodations. Director Piggot was already inside, sitting upon one of the office chairs with a small pile of papers in front of her.

"Director." Colin curtly greeted, standing by her side as he wasn't sure any one of the chairs could support his weight in power armor.

"Armsmaster." She returned just as abruptly.

"Director Piggot, good to see you." Dragon vocalized through a telephone on the conference table, making herself known.

"Dragon." The Director nodded to the Canadian Tinker's voice, giving a barely warmer reception than she did with Armsmater. "Thank you for being here. Now then, before Miss Hebert gets here, I assume both of you have been briefed on the Hess situation?"

Colin frowned and nodded his head, while Dragon replied with a simple, "Yes Ma'am."

"Good." the Director grunted. "Now, as far Miss Hebert is concerned, Sophia Hess was never associated with the Wards and PRT, and Shadow Stalker is retiring to live a quiet life as a civilian. And neither topic will be brought up unless they bring it up first, which shouldn't happen as neither the Heberts nor Mrs. Dallon should know who Stalker was."

"Is that really the best choice, Director?" Dragon asked. Colin could hear the frown in her voice.

"Best to let sleeping dogs lie, Dragon. Hess is going to juvie, and I would rather not scare away a prospective Ward by letting her know we were partially responsible for her Trigger and current situation due to our negligence. Should she join, once she is in a better headspace, we can reveal the truth to her. If she does not, then we lose nothing by not telling her." The Director explained bluntly, not particularly caring about any objections.

Colin pressed his lips into a thin line, not raising any complaints but also not really liking the situation, while Dragon didn't say anything in response. Luckily there was a knock at the door which broke the awkward tension.

"Director, your appointment is here." A young PRT agent stated as he peered in through the door. Strangely enough to Colin, his social-interaction suite stated that the young man's emotional state seemed to be slightly perturbed.

"Hm. Send them in then." Piggot grunted.

With that command, the PRT agent stepped aside and their guests began to filter in. First was the familiar form of Carol Dallon, a prim and professional woman he often worked with, then followed by a tall, lanky man he recognized as Daniel Hebert, and lastly came in Taylor Hebert, the Parahuman of the hour. And what Colin saw made his jaw drop.

"Oh my God." He heard Dragon whisper in his helmet's communicator.

Dressed in blood colored robes, Taylor Hebert strode in, her robotic prosthetics leaving heavy footfalls in her wake. Immediately his eyes focused on her cybernetics, which were crudely sutured into her own limbs. Colin could tell that this was the work of a freshly triggered Tinker as many parts of her prosthetics were of low grade or commercial origin. Metals used in the construction were mostly stainless steel or iron, while motor oil was used for lubrication. Several wires powering the prosthetic were still exposed, and Colin's own power screamed multiple sections which could be more efficiently redesigned.

But all of these fell off in importance as he realized he was looking at a young teenage girl who looked more like a deranged Tinker's pet project rather than a Tinker herself. Colin watched as Taylor took a casual seat at the table, carefully eyeing both himself and the Director. He watched as the girl's organic eye ran up and down his silver and blue colored power armor, as well as his plasma halberd, no doubt mentally analyzing his own equipment as he was doing to her.

Meanwhile, the Director seemed to have gone cold, her demeanor more stoic and hostile than she would normally have with meeting a new Cape. Colin wouldn't say she was afraid of Taylor, in fact Colin was convinced that the Director wouldn't even flinch in the face of Jack Slash and the Slaughterhouse Nine, but Taylor was not earning herself any goodwill by ramping up the Director's paranoia and suspicion.

Luckily, Carol Dallon was able to break the tension as she greeted. "Director, Armsmaster. Good evening, apologies for the suddenness of this meeting." She said, nodding to each one of them. "This is Taylor." Carol placed a hand on Taylor's shoulder.

Taylor paused for a moment, letting the dead silence hang, before she simply nodded and said, "It is a pleasure." It took a good amount of self restraint on Colin's part to not wince at the girl's artificially created voice. It was unnaturally distorted and mechanical in its delivery, as if she only made a half-hearted attempt to make her synthetic voice sound human.

"I'm sure it is." The Director grunted out as she leaned forward on the table. "Well then, Miss Hebert, I would like to thank you for coming in to speak with us. My name is Director Emily Piggot, head of the PRT ENE division, and this is Armsmaster, head of the ENE Protectorate. Dragon of the Guild is also participating in this interview as well. And before we begin, I would like to mention that while we shall record your identity and powers for internal records, we shall not release any data on who you are to the public you should choose not to join us. Even if you were to go villain, unless you perform any especially heinous crimes worthy of a Kill Order, we will not use the data of your identity against you."

Taylor nodded her head as her respirator wheezed in. "Ah yes, the Unwritten Rules, as you so call them. Mrs. Dallon has informed me of them."

"Good." Director Piggot responded with a nod of her own. "Now then Miss Hebert. While some vetting of your background will be necessary, I do believe the Wards will be a good fit for you and your powers."

"Wait a moment." Mrs. Dallon interrupted, causing the Director to send her a withering glare. If she was affected, Mrs. Dallon didn't show it. "While the option to join the Wards is not off the table, I would prefer it if you took the time to explain Taylor's other options before browbeating her with recruitment pitches."

The Director's glare against Mrs. Dallon turned scalding, but Brandish did not seem to be intimidated at all. Mr. Hebert even seemed rather composed despite the tension between the two women, which Colin supposed made sense given his position as the spokesperson for the Dockworker's Union.

Surprisingly, the Director was the one who broke first. Going to the pile of papers in front of her, she divided them into 3 groups. "There are three primary ways with which you can work with the PRT, Miss Hebert, as a Ward, a PRT-affiliated Independent Hero, and as a PRT-affiliated Rogue. Independent heroes like your lawyer Brandish here." The Director sent the hero another glare as she pointed to the stack on her left. "Are Heroes who do not work within the command structure of the PRT, but are allied in the fight against the villains. We can help provide security to their homes, and work with them in the field, but they are tasked with handling their own resources, funding, and PR."

The Director then pointed to the middle stack. "Rogues, on the other hand, are Parahumans who look to use their powers for a business and personal gain, usually by selling their powers or products made by their powers. Rogues affiliated with the PRT can receive a stipend of supplies, and some degree of protection, usually depending on how much they are willing to work with us."

The Director then pointed to the last stack. "Now, my suggestion would be to take part in our Wards program. The Wards program is designed to help Parahumans such as yourself. Young men and women who Triggered and need a place to learn how to responsibly use their powers, while keeping a safe environment for both yourself, and those around you. With your status as a Tinker, this is doubly so." The Director then glanced at Colin, indicating it was his time to speak.

Colin stepped forward, taking the spotlight on himself. "The Director is right, Miss Hebert. Most independents only make it a few months before either joining the Protectorate or one of the gangs. As I'm sure you've heard, Tinkers like yourself are exceptionally valuable to a gang and are particularly vulnerable so early in your career. Are you capable of creating Tinkertech weapons in addition to your prosthetics?"

Colin watched as Miss Hebert's eyes became unfocused slightly, no doubt experiencing a flash of Tinkertech ideas. "Yes, I can." she confirmed.

Nodding his head, Colin said, "The gangs would no doubt seek to force you into creating these weapons for them. Besides giving you a place to test and train your powers, you will gain a variety of other benefits for joining the Wards as well. A backdrop of allies within the Wards, Protectorate, and PRT who are committed to protecting you, a Tinkertech-budget in addition to your regular salary, access to our existing labs and workshops, as well as the chance to collaborate with other heroically-aligned Tinkers. Besides myself, within Brockton Bay there is Kid Win, a young driven Tinker within the Wards, and Dragon herself likes to collaborate remotely from Canada." Colin stopped talking to allow Dragon to speak as well.

"Hello Taylor." Dragon's greeting was far warmer than Colin's or the Director's. "But before we continue with the interview, I would like to ask how are you? I can only imagine the process to attach your prosthetics would have been difficult, to say the least."

Miss Hebert glanced at the phone with an expression Colin could only describe as impassive. "My physical state is acceptable, Dragon. Amy Dallon cleared all issues from the surgery." Colin nodded at that, only made sense with Brandish as her lawyer she would have access to Panacea's healing.

"I see..." Dragon spoke, though Colin could tell she wasn't happy with the response. "Well I'm glad to see you are doing alright. I have to say, I am impressed by the design of your prosthetics. They are surprisingly advanced for something created with what you had on hand. I am looking forward to seeing what you could create once you get your hands on higher quality tools and resources. I would even be open to some collaboration, as I am always looking for ways to improve the design of my Dragonsuits."

"And as I mentioned before, I would also be willing to collaborate and help you improve in your Tinkering where I can." Colin interrupted. He already had multiple ideas of how to implement multiple weapon systems into Miss Hebert's prosthetic arms, ranging from grappling hooks and nets to laser blasters and tasers. "By your appearance, I assume your specialization is in cybernetics?"

"Indeed." Miss Hebert nodded. "While I have… ideas for other things, weapons, armor, drones, the majority of what I believe I can create are cybernetic enhancements."

Colin's lips quirked up. A powerful speciality. "Very good. Once you join the Wards, we can get some designs approved by the engineering and science teams and see what improvements we can brainstorm together."

Almost immediately, Miss Hebert's neutral face morphed into scowl, judging by the furrowing of her brows. "Approval?"

Quickly, the slight smile on Colin's own face flipped into a slight frown. Approvals and committees, the bane of all heroically-affiliated Tinkers and quite honestly the primary reason most choose not to join the PRT. Before Colin could justify the practice, the Director spoke once more.

"Yes Miss Hebert, approvals. Tell me, have you ever heard of something called the Machine Army? Or Nilbog?" The Director growled out with no sympathy for the girl's complaints.

Taylor looked at the Director, and after a brief pause, nodded. "I have heard of Nilbog and what occurred at Ellisburg. The Machine Army, I am not familiar with."

"The Machine Army is a swarm of self-replicating, self-enhancing AI that has subsumed the town of Eagleton, Tennessee where they were created. It is extraordinarily hostile to humans, and is considered an S-class threat, putting it in the same category as the Endbringers and the Slaughterhouse Nine." the Director bluntly stated.

"An abominable intelligence." Miss Hebert growled out.

The Director nodded. "Indeed. Meanwhile Nilbog created an army of self-replicating bio-tinkered monstrosities that in my opinion should be nuked from existence. What these two have in common beyond being an existential threat to all human life, is that they were both created by individuals who operated outside of the PRT with no oversight in what they were making. While I understand that most Tinkers resent the necessity of having their technology peer reviewed and approved, you need to understand that these regulations and limitations are put in place so no one creates a planet-ending nuke or a life eating virus without us knowing."

Miss Hebert maintained a blank stare at the Director, making Colin think his superior had taken things a step too far, when Dragon chose to intervene. "Taylor, all Tinkers have to go through this. Including myself and Armsmaster. I have to go through the Guild's approval process while Armsmaster has to work with the PRT's science team."

"And what limitations would be placed upon me?" Miss Hebert finally asked. "Not only do I already have plans to improve my current augmetics, I have designs for further enhancements as well."

"At the very least, you would need to temporarily stop any and all new enhancements on your body." Director Piggot bluntly laid out. "Your existing prosthetics would need to be analyzed, and any further designs will need to be submitted to both Armsmaster and the PRT's science teams. This is a non-negotiable."

Dragon's friendlier voice cut in again once the Director was finished. "Besides Taylor, while I can understand the necessity of creating your prosthetics to compensate for the damage done to your body, don't you have any reservations about additional alterations? Do you not feel as if you're losing something? Some part of your humanity, or that what is left of your organic body is worth preserving?" Dragon's voice was surprisingly pleading. "If you further… mutilate yourself, throwing away more and more of who you are, don't you think that is something someone like Bonesaw or Mannequin would do?"

Everyone sans Taylor winced at Dragon's comment. Generic references to Nilbog were one thing. Being directly compared to members of the Slaughterhouse Nine was another.

"Now hold on Dragon." Brandish called out. "Don't you think you're taking this too far? Taylor has done nothing yet to deserve any comparison like that."

"Everything my daughter has done was to fix her own body. I resent the fact that you said she is anything like that monster Bonesaw." Mr. Hebert indignantly cut in as well.

"Of course." Dragon immediately placated. "I apologize for the analogy, but it was a point I felt that was necessary to make. Such plans for enhancements must be taken with caution and consideration so you do not lose sight of what makes you human."

In all honesty, Colin didn't understand where Dragon was coming from. Perhaps it was just a base ideological difference, but Colin could only see benefits in getting cybernetic enhancements. And Taylor seemed to share his ideals.

Taylor audibly snorted, a strange sound given her respirator, and crossed her arms as she sat back, the action drawing the attention of everyone there. "If you truly believe that, then you are a fool." The teen growled out.

Everyone gaped at that. This may have been the first time they heard anyone ever call Dragon a fool.

Taylor however, was not finished. "You say I am losing something by sacrificing my body, but you are wrong. The base, human form is not something to aspire to, but to detest." Taylor hissed as she leaned forward. "In the locker, as the insects feasted on my body, I understood the weakness of my flesh, and it disgusted me. I craved the strength and certainty of steel, the purity of the machine."

Taylor's head then snapped to Armsmaster, her one organic eye laser focused. "You all cling to your flesh like it won't decay or fail you." Her head then shifted to the Director, sneering at her. "For some of you, it already has. Your temples of crude biomass will wither, and when it does, you will beg those like me to save you. For I am already saved. For the Machine is immortal."

She then leaned back and gave the room a look of pure contempt. "The locker taught me a lesson I shall never forget, one that was carved into me. That there is no truth in flesh, only betrayal. There is no strength in flesh, only weakness. There is no constancy in flesh, only decay. There is no certainty in flesh but death."

Silence reigned over the conference room as everyone gawked at Taylor, no one knowing what to say. There was only one pervading thought running through the minds of everyone in the room, and as well through the mind of one villainous mercenary hiding outside of the Toronto area, watching this scene unfold through Dragon's systems. What the fuck?

Colin stared at the teenager, and saw not the face of a girl gone mad due to the circumstances of her Trigger, but instead a young woman who seemed to wholly and zealously believe in the philosophy she spouted. Taking a sneaking glance at the Director, he saw that Piggot was far from amused, her stern frown no doubt indicating that she had already written off Taylor as a mad, unstable Parahuman.

Both Mrs. Dallon and Mr. Hebert were taken aback by Taylor as well. Mr. Hebert gawked at his daughter like she was a complete stranger, while Mrs. Dallon seemed to be completely taken off guard and was still trying to process what Taylor said. Meanwhile, Dragon was completely silent. Colin could only guess how his friend was taking Taylor's declaration. The silence passed painfully until the Director recovered her wits enough to speak.

"Well then Miss Hebert, I do believe we have been getting off track." The Director began, taking a deep breath. "So tell me, what is it you want to do? How do you wish to register with us?"

"I believe joining the Wards is out of the question." Taylor bluntly answered.

Colin sighed at that answer, but Piggot curtly nodded as she said, "I think that was rather obvious. So what is your plan? Are you going to sign up with New Wave?" she asked, turning her head to Mrs. Dallon with raised brow.

Brandish seemed genuinely taken off guard at the Director's sudden proposal, gazing moving back and forth between the Director and Taylor as they both looked at her.

"While I could bring it up with the team, I don't believe that Taylor exactly... fits the image... we are trying to push." Mrs. Dallon fumbled out, even having a slight cringe at her feeble excuse as Mr. Hebert looked at her betrayed.

"It matters little." Taylor grunted. "I shall register as a PRT-affiliated Rogue."

The Director gave another short nod as she slid the appropriate paperwork over to Taylor. "Just so you know, while we do not have the oversight to review all of your Tinkertech as a Rogue, should you wish to sell your tech to the PRT, Protectorate, or any other affiliated organizations, it will have to go through review and approval anyway."

Taylor shrugged as she took the paperwork and began filling out answers, her cybernetic fingers showing a surprising amount of dexterity.

"Taylor, honey, are you sure this is what you want to do?' Mr. Hebert pleaded with his daughter.

Giving her father only a sparing glance, Taylor responded. "Yes, I believe this is the best path forward for myself and my research."

"And what about the gangs?" he countered.

Without missing a beat Taylor said, "I have plans for defenses."

Colin nodded his head at that. If Taylor could develop enough defenses for her home, turning it into her own Tinkertech Lab, even the heaviest hitting gang would hesitate to attack her directly. However, the issue with that was the fact that Taylor would be vulnerable until she had time to gather the necessary tools and supplies to construct her lab. Immediately, Colin pulled up a messaging application within his suit and sent out a message to the Rig's engineering team, requesting them to gather two crates of supplies and tools from his personal stock that a nascent Tinker would require.

"Excuse me, Miss Hebert." Colin interjected, drawing all eyes to him. "While I can respect your decision to not join the Wards, I cannot in good conscience allow a Tinker such as yourself to return home without any means to defend yourself. I am having something of a Tinker start up kit being assembled right now to aid you in your work. You may pick it up from the front desk before you leave."

Taylor's eye rose up in surprise at that, while Piggot's face became thunderous. Colin chose to ignore the Director. This was a gamble he knew, but if it worked out it would be a gamble that pays dividends.

"I see." Taylor spoke, her monotone voice hard to pick out any emotion from. "What is in this 'start up kit,' as you call it?"

"Raw materials, metals like high-carbon steel, aluminum, and titanium, a few industrial chemicals, as well as boxes of various circuitry and electrical parts. I have also included a variety of power tools, nothing Tinkertech but higher end civilian-grade equipment. Diamond reinforced power saws and drills, a plasma torch and an arc welder, along with the necessary safety equipment, as well as a few pneumatic grinders. I even included a higher end 3D printer and a laptop with the necessary design software on it." Colin casually listed off.

Everyone now gawked at Colin rather than Taylor, he could even somehow feel Dragon incredulously looking at him, and the hero could at least partially understand why. The total cost of everything Colin was just giving to Taylor was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. While not a large amount in the grand scheme of Tinkers, it was not an amount of money one just casually gave away unless they had millions saved up, which Colin did not.

"Hold on Armsmaster." Director Piggot spoke up, holding up her own hand. "You do not have the Authority to just give away Protectorate equipment, even to an affiliated Rogue."

Colin shook his head. "Then it is good that these are not Protectorate equipment. They are tools and supplies I purchased with my own money. There should be no issues about me giving away my own private property."

The Director opened her mouth to give some kind of response, but Taylor beat her to it. "I accept." the cyborg teen said. "Thank you for your gift, Armsmaster. I will see to it that they are used well."

The Director shook her head, sighing as she allowed the transaction to take place. With that there was a short lull in the conversation that allowed Taylor to finish her paper work. Sliding the stack of papers to the Director, Piggot thumbed through the documents.

"You missed one important piece of information, Miss Hebert." Piggot said as she glared at the teen. "You still have yet to pick a cape name."

Taylor scowled. "I care little for these games, and it will be impossible for me to have a secret identity regardless. Must I choose one?"

"At the very least, we'll need one for our records and for any communications to the media. Even outed capes like Mrs. Dallon here have a cape name."

Taylor sighed, and then closed her eye as she thought for a moment. When she opened her organic eye, she had a look that Colin could only describe as one of inspiration. "Then you may call me Tech-Priest." Taylor then stood from the table. "Now, I believe that is all the business we had?"

The Director and Colin shared a glance, and Colin nodded.

The Director then spoke with as much professionalism in her voice as she could muster, which at this point in the conversation wasn't much. "Yes, the rest of the paperwork seems to be in order. While I am, disappointed, you are not looking to join the Wards, Tech-Priest, I am glad to have another Tinker affiliated with the heroes. When you leave, a PRT escort will take you back to your vehicle." Every word the Director spoke was practically said through clenched teeth, her displeasure in Taylor simply walking free completely obvious even to someone like Colin.

Taylor however, either didn't notice or didn't care, as she nodded her head. "Excellent. And should you wish it, Director, I'm sure I could do something about the damage done to your body. Kidneys are easily replaceable after all."

Colin swore he could hear the Director's teeth grinding as Taylor gave a small bow and exited the conference room.

As soon as Taylor, Brandish, and Mr. Hebert left the room, Piggot's head instantly snapped to Colin as she snarled out, "Colin, what the Hell was that!?"


Chapter Text

Colin stood at full attention as Piggot furiously yelled at him. "Tell me Armsmaster, did we just conduct two separate fucking interviews in the same goddamn room?"

"Not that I know of, ma'am." While Colin knew Piggot was being sarcastic, he believed answering her straight was the best course of action here.

"Then why on God's green Earth did you hand that child a fucking Tinker starter kit!?" The Director was seething, but Armsmaster remained cool and impassive under her shouts. "What part of that interview made you think that she was anything less than an unhinged menace to society!?"

"Ma'am, with all due respect, Tay- Tech-Priest has not done anything yet which would quantify her as a menace to society." Colin smoothly countered. "She is now affiliated with the PRT, and I merely did what I believed to be the best choice in order to build good will between herself and the Protectorate. In addition this will ensure that she has the best chances for survival in a city that would seek to destroy a new Tinker like her." Colin delivered each line with clear precision.

Piggot's eyes narrowed on Colin as she dissected his words. Eventually she spoke. "I don't know what game you are playing here, Colin. But mark my words. That girl…" the Director then pointed to the door. "She is a danger. PRT affiliation or not. If this comes back to bite us, this is on your ass." She then pointed her finger right for Colin's chest. When Colin didn't respond Piggot wordlessly walked to the door and exited, leaving Colin alone.

"Colin…" Dragon's voice then cut into his helmet, reminding him that he wasn't actually alone. "As… brusque as the Director was, I find myself agreeing with some of her points. Are you truly sure it was a good idea to give Tech-Priest those supplies?"

Sighing, Colin allowed himself to relax a bit. "Would you rather I leave her defenseless for the gangs?"

"You know that's not what I meant." Dragon fired back. "But you must have also seen that the Tech-Priest is… disturbed. What she needs is psychological help, not for you to enable her by giving her more tools to mutilate herself with."

"Perhaps it's not what you meant, and I agree she does need help. But neither of those change the fact that the gangs will come after her. Had I not given Tech-Priest the tools at the very least, she would've had to resort to either stealing or purchasing them, both of which would trigger flags for the gangs." Colin justified. "At least this way, Taylor may be able to get a decent amount of tech built before she falls under the radar of the villains of this city. "

Dragon was quiet, spending several seconds in silence as she thought on Colin's words. "Colin… What's your real plan here? I understand that you are a driven man, and want to be the best hero that you can. So can you honestly say that the whole reason you helped Tech-Priest was just to keep her safe?"

Colin grimaced. Dragon had caught him out on his lie. Well, not a lie per say, as his desire to keep Taylor safe was genuine. But it was not a protectiveness that was born out of compassion or empathy or any similar ideal, but one born out of pragmatism. By giving Taylor these resources, despite the fact that he was under no obligation to do so, Colin hoped he had ingrained himself in Taylor's mind as a positive figure. And if he was a positive, allied figure in Taylor's mind, she would hopefully be far more willing to grant Colin augmetic enhancements if he asked for it.

Colin hadn't originally planned on giving such an extravagant gift to Tech-Priest, but her words during the interview struck a chord with him, awakening something inside. Colin had spent decades of his life training his body to near perfect physical condition in addition to both his advanced Tinkertech and admirable martial arts skills. But he knew it would not last forever. He was already showing signs of plateauing, both physically and in his career.

He would only have a few more years before his body would no longer be able to endure the rigors of his extreme lifestyle. And his inability to navigate the politics of the Protectorate, combined with his lack of major successes against the E88 or ABB, Colin had felt that he was doomed to fall into obscurity as the next generation of heroes took his place. Heroes like Dauntless, who everyone admired and loved so much more than him.

If Taylor and her augmetics could stem the flow of time, grant him power beyond what he was capable of providing for himself, why wouldn't he try to work with the young Tinker? Everyone else, Dragon included, seemed to be taken aback by Taylor's words, seeing them as abhorrent. But everything she said rang true to Colin. Colin's flesh was strong right now, but it was only flesh. Soon it would weaken. And even at its peak it is nothing compared to the powers others have. If steel could grant him strength, why shouldn't he take it?

"Colin?" Dragon's voice once again broke him out of his internal monologue.

"Apologies Dragon, I was just thinking." Colin spoke softly as he considered what to say to his friend. "And you are right, I do have some ulterior motives with Tech-Priest. No actual plans yet, but I do believe good relations with her are the most important thing right now. And did you see her reaction to my gift? It was probably the best response we got from her the whole interview, and now she may see me as some kind of ally, rather than a hindrance to her Tinkering."

Dragon sighed. In fact he could hear the frown in her voice as she spoke. "Colin, just… promise you'll be careful when you work with her. I understand we need to give her a chance, as well as keep her away from the villains. But don't lose sight of who you are and how much you've accomplished because of what she can offer you."

Mulling over her words, Colin eventually sighed and said. "I'll think about what you said."

Colin could hear the small smile return to Dragon's voice. "That's all I ask."

Nodding his head, Colin moved to exit the conference room. He would think about what Dragon said, but he would still think about what Taylor said. Weigh more pros and cons for enhancements over no enhancements, and come to his own conclusion of what he would do to engrave his name as one the greatest heroes in the world.

Amy slowly climbed out of her sister's arms as they reached Brockton Bay General. While Amy was usually rather dour about having to go to her shifts, she was especially gloomy as her sister Victoria landed at the hospital after leaving the Hebert household.

Vicky, picking up on Amy's melancholy sighed and said, "Hey Ames, I know everything with Taylor has been weird, but I think it'd be best if you just… forget about it. That girl has a whole host of problems, but you also have a whole host of problems, and she should not be one of yours. There's no point worrying over someone who doesn't want help."

Giving only a noncommittal shrug as her response, Amy chose to let her sister misunderstand her problem. Amy wasn't wholly concerned with Taylor and the damage she had done to herself. It was more what she plans to do, the changes she wants to make to herself which had been causing a veritable flood of ideas now swirling within Amy's mind.

Ideas for a whole host of improvements she could make to the human body. It started with the idea of changing a person's bone marrow to improve the immune system, but that alone has sprouted dozens of ideas in her mind. Why stop at changing the marrow alone? Why not strengthen the bones themselves with some kind of organic-ceramic compound to make them nearly unbreakable?

And if she's changing the bones, why not change the muscles as well? Stronger bones meant the body could support both a greater amount and denser muscle fibers, further increasing physical strength. But with the sheer amount of mass being added on, she'd need a larger heart. Or perhaps a second heart. That would ease the strain on the first heart of pumping blood through all of the extra mass, and that way should even the primary heart fail, the subject could stay alive.

So many ideas were running through her mind that she felt like she was going to go mad if she didn't get a chance to implement them. Extra lungs, super eyes, tougher skin that could absorb more damage or even radiation and heat, an improved digestive system to allow someone to eat a far wider range of foods all while ignoring toxins. It was only her discipline that she developed over the course of her years of healing while sticking to her rules that kept her acting out on these ideas.

"Yeah, I know." Amy finally sighed out as she caught Vicky looking at her worriedly. "It's just… it's complicated." She then gave her adopted sister a weak smile. "I'll tell you about it later, once I get my thoughts in order."

Vicky frowned, not liking Amy's answer, but she slowly nodded her head, accepting that her sister needed time. Floating over, Vicky gave Amy a big hug saying, "Just remember Ames, you can talk to me about anything."

Flashing her a practiced smile that hid her underlying feelings, Amy said, "Thanks Vicky. I'll see you in a few hours."

Returning with a big grin of her own, Vicky flew off, returning to their home. Amy then turned to the hospital entrance and walked inside. She would do her diligence, healing dozens of patients over the next few hours, but Amy was on autopilot. Her mind was on all of the changes she could make. On how easy it would be to turn a normal human into the transhuman, a being of superpowered abilities but not a Parahuman. Idly, Amy hoped that Taylor would call her. If there was anyone who she could talk to about these ideas of enhancements, it would be the mad Tinker seemingly obsessed with modifying her own body.

Coil watched the footage of Taylor Hebert aka Tech-Priest as she moved through the Rig, Brandish, her father, and two PRT grunts carrying boxes following behind her. His spies within the PRT had already gotten him access to the entire interview, which he had recorded and sent to Tattletale for analysis.

This girl had a powerful specialty, and if she could create Tinkertech weapons as well, she would be an extremely valuable asset. No longer would he have to invest millions of his own dollars into Toybox for their laser rifles and tracking devices. He would get Taylor on his side, whether as an employee, or a pet, if need be.

The phone beside Coil rang, and he answered it immediately. He knew playing games with Tattletale would only result in her figuring out he was trying to play games. "Tattletale." he said in the most neutral way he possibly could. "Have you finished reviewing the footage?"

"Hey Boss." Tattletale greeted, her voice professional. "Yeah I did. Hell of a find, this Tech-Priest."

"Indeed." Coil dryly remarked. "So tell me, what is your opinion on the girl? Do you believe she would be open to working with us? Either as a direct employee of my own, or perhaps a member of the Undersiders?"

Tattletale took a deep breath before responding, mostly likely to calm her nerves. "Tech-Priest has a more heroic inclination, given the fact that she still registered with the PRT, but with the right motivation, I think she'd be more than willing to turn against the Protectorate."

"And what is this motivation?"

"Tech-Priest is obsessed with her tech. As in, Bonesaw levels of obsessed. Complete with all the derangement. Her powers did something to her mind, changing the way she thinks and what she values. In the span of a couple of days she went from bullied, introverted girl to a fanatical zealot." Lisa explained. "Getting a chance to make more upgrades takes complete precedence over anything. If you want to go with the business recruitment, give her a blank check for supplies, a fully kitted out lab, and an ample supply of, subjects," Tattletale shuddered at that. "And she'll flip the double birds at the heroes and build you an army of cyborgs."

Coil nodded at that. While having a Tinker as volatile as a member of the Nine may prove troublesome, Coil believed he could find ways to keep her in line. "And if I want to forcibly recruit her?"

Coil heard Tattletale's breath hitch, obviously surprised he was being so forthright with her.

"If you're gonna hardball this, you'll have to do it now or in the near future." Tattletale supplied, though the reluctance to share this information was clear in her voice. "She's already planning on building a lot with what Armsmaster gave her. Anymore than a few days, she'll probably have her own lab set up already, complete with all of its Tinkertech defenses."

"Very good Tattletale. Thank you for your hard work." Coil then hung up and split the timeline.

In his primary timeline, he would exit his base, drive to his home, drink some wine, and then go to sleep. In his throwaway, he would send a team of mercenaries to Taylor Hebert's home and see whether or not the Tinker would be worth actually kidnapping.

The path has changed.

It's not often that it would change so much like it has, but it has happened before. Usually when someone or something extraordinarily powerful enters the scene, like a powerful new Trigger, or an Endbringer.

So much of the world's fate now hinged on some strange Tinker from the city of Brockton Bay. Ironic, considering the experiment they had in place there. Regardless, the others needed to be informed. Questions had to be asked, numbers had to be processed, and decisions had to be made.

"Door me." Contessa spoke two simple words, and a rectangular portal opened up in front her. Contessa stepped in.