-ooo-

Recoil


Part 1-2: Things Change


The Ocean Road came in to the jetty to a small crowd of onlookers; mainly friends and family of the crew, and of the rescuees. I was fairly certain of one thing; I wouldn't see anyone that I knew from my life in Brockton Bay. Not from twenty years in the past.

Leaning on the rail, I watched as Danny went off on his father's orders to perform some nautical task farther along the deck. I couldn't be sure, but it seemed to me that the older men were treating him with a modicum of respect, slapping him on the shoulder and calling him 'Dan' rather than 'Danny boy'. It seemed that risking his life to save a teenage girl from the ocean had marked some obscure rite of passage among them.


Nina Veder came up alongside me just as I turned to watch the dockside come closer. "You've got glasses," she observed.

"Yes," I agreed. "Danny Hebert loaned a spare pair to me."

"And you can see properly through them?" she asked, with mild surprise.

"Almost," I admitted. "I'm still getting a little bit of blurriness, but it's not nearly as bad."

"That's still a little bit of a fortunate coincidence," she said. "That you can see through his glasses at all, I mean."

"I'm not arguing with that," I agreed untruthfully. Dad had always needed stronger lenses than mine, but of course his eyes had been getting worse with age. It made a certain amount of sense that our prescriptions were similar at such a close age. "I wouldn't have asked, but he did offer, and they do help a lot."

"He's a nice boy, isn't he?" she asked casually.

"Yes," I agreed candidly, turning to face her. My hair whipped across my face in the freshening breeze, and I tucked it behind my ear. "He's nice and sweet and kind. I like him."

"Just 'like'?" she pressed gently.

"Just 'like'," I assured her with a smile. Her expression, which I would not have been able to pick without the borrowed glasses, was appraising, speculative. Upon closer examination, I still could not find any trace of the features of her as yet unborn relative, which was good. I liked Nina Veder; she was firm and kind and stood up for her patients.

"It's not unusual for people in your circumstance to latch on to the first person to show them kindness, to try to form an instant attachment," she observed, her eyes on the approaching dockside.

"Sorry to disappoint," I returned, not sure where this was going.

"Oh, I'm not disappointed," she replied. "I'm intrigued. I want to find out what your life was like, before, that you're so self-possessed now. What challenges you've overcome that lets you face this one without worry."

Fuck, I thought. She's too damn perceptive. I wonder if Lisa was like this before she triggered?

The thought of Lisa, dead in my arms just a few days past by my reckoning, filled my eyes with tears.

"Ch-challenges?" I managed.

She was perceptive, all right. She noticed me tearing up almost immediately, and I found a handkerchief in my hand before I could even start to sniffle.

"Sorry ... sorry," she said as she put her arm around me. The warm gesture, totally unlike Danny's gift of the glasses, undid me altogether. I had just enough self-control to pull off the glasses before I was crying in great gulping sobs, getting the shoulder of Nina's coat thoroughly damp with more than sea spray.

"It's okay," she told me. "It's okay. We'll get this all sorted out. We'll find your family for you, Taylor. It's okay."

I wasn't crying about that, of course, but I found it convenient to let her think so. I'd thought I had cried myself out when I buried Lisa, but apparently I had been wrong. Or maybe it was the concussion manifesting as more mood swings.

Fucking concussions.

-ooo-

By the time I had finished and was wiping my eyes and nose, we were tied up at the jetty. The sun was bright overhead, seagulls were circling and screaming, gentle waves were lapping at the pier, and it looked like a gorgeous day for Brockton Bay.

Meanwhile, I had puffy eyes, a red nose, and my hair looked a fright. Way to make a good first impression.

I had expected somehow to walk off the rescue boat with Danny, but Nina Veder had her hand on my arm. "I've been in contact with the shore," she explained. "If you're a missing person, maybe we can find out where you're missing from." She gestured, and I saw a police car pulled up at the end of the jetty. Great, now they'll think I'm some kind of criminal.

"Can I just tell Danny where I'm going?" I asked. "And see if he wants his glasses back?"

Nina nodded. "Good idea," she said. But she followed me along the deck to where Danny was working.

He turned to look at me. "Oh hey, Taylor," he said cheerfully. "Wow, what's up? You look like you've been crying."

I shook my head. "It's not important," I told him. "Look, Ms Veder and I are going to talk to the police, see if they can figure out who I really am." I took the glasses off, and everything went fuzzy. "Do you want these back, or can I keep them a bit longer?"

He waved them away. "Keep 'em," he said magnanimously. "You can give them back when you get a new pair."

I smiled. "Thanks, Danny. Uh, how can I get in touch with you?"

"Uh –" he began.

Nina stepped in. "I know the Heberts," she told me. "I'll be able to help you with that. But right now, we need to go and see if you match any missing-persons files."

"Okay," I said. "Bye, Danny. Thanks for everything." I didn't want to embarrass him with another kiss on the cheek, so I shook his hand, and moved with Nina to the gangplank that led on to the jetty.

As we walked along the jetty, passing people who were reuniting with their loved ones, I noticed one young man in his early twenties, with a woman at his side holding a baby. He was fairly heavily-built, and had bright red hair. He looked Nina over, then me, then straight on to where Danny was working on deck.

"Hey, Danny!" he bellowed, waving his hands over his head.

"Be right with you, Alan!" came the faint but distinct reply.

I didn't react. Red hair ... that had to be Alan Barnes, Dad's former best friend. The infant couldn't be Emma; it would have to be her older sister ... what was her name again? I had forgotten.

In any case, I had been wrong. There were people in Brockton Bay that I would know, that I had known in the future.

I wondered if I could use this in any way.

Without my powers, I needed every advantage I could get.

-ooo-

Nina Veder and I rode back to the Brockton Bay central police station in silence. I spent my share of time gawking out the window; the city was an odd blend of the familiar and the not so familiar, just enough to throw me off.

Those buildings and landmarks that I knew were ... newer. Fresher. Lacking twenty years of wear and tear – and in some places, neglect – they looked strange, even when I knew them. And some were missing altogether, of course. There was a bunch of low-rise office buildings where the Medhall Corporation complex should have been, and the Forsberg Gallery simply wasn't there at all.

And of course the lake Leviathan had left in the middle of the city wasn't there either. But then, I had seen that formed. I'd been there when it was formed. I'd nearly drowned in the damned thing.

There was something else strange about the city, something that I couldn't place. It took me most of the car ride to work it out.

No gang tags.


I had grown up seeing E88 and ABB and Merchants tags on buildings. These were just ... absent. Some of the more run-down buildings had graffiti, but it was in no way near the volume that one would see on the same buildings in twenty years' time. But there was nothing there for any of the big gangs.

It took me a moment to figure it out, but then it was obvious. Kaiser would still be a boy, and so would Lung. Allfather would have needed his recruits to build his Empire.

This was Brockton Bay, cleaner, brighter, looking to the future.

I had seen that future. It wasn't anything to look forward to.

-ooo-

"What's the matter, Taylor?" asked Nina. I must have been looking pensive.

I shook my head. "Nothing," I said. "It's just ...weird. I keep feeling like I should know this city." I put a hopeful look on my face. "Could this mean I've been here before?"

She frowned. "Possibly, possibly not. Deja vu is a thing, after all. This could be your brain seizing on to what it sees in an attempt to find anything at all familiar in strange surroundings."

I nodded. "I guess. I still can't remember anything." I smiled at her. "But I can still remember being pulled on to the boat, so I guess that's a good thing."

She nodded. "It is. It means that whatever the cause of your amnesia, it's strictly retrograde."

"Retrograde?" I asked.

Her voice took on a professorial tone. "Retrograde amnesia is where you can't recall anything before a certain point. Anterograde amnesia is where you have trouble forming new memories."

I shivered. "That second one sounds nasty. Can you have both at the same time?"

She nodded. "There was a case where a man had both, after a botched surgery. Not only did he lose the two years of his life prior to the surgery, but he could never remember anything that happened to him after the surgery."

I looked at her. "You're not just an EMT, are you?"

She grinned suddenly. "Well, there's nothing wrong with your ability to join the dots. No, I'm a psychologist in my day job. I just also work as an EMT on a volunteer basis."

"And now I'm your new pet project," I said flatly.

Her eyes twinkled. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so I let it be. Besides, I had other things to worry about, and only a short time to figure out how to get around them.

We rode the rest of the way in silence.

-ooo-

"Name?" asked the police sergeant as he filled in the fingerprint form.

"Taylor Snow," I responded as if automatically, then blinked. I turned slowly to Nina, who was staring at me. "My last name," I said. "I remembered my last name."

Mentally, I apologised to the author of the Ice & Fire short stories; I understand his Earth Aleph counterpart would write those stories into complete novels. But the naming system for royal bastards had stuck in my mind. And they wouldn't come out for another few years, so no-one should get suspicious. I hoped.

Nina smiled. "That's marvellous, Taylor!" she said happily.

I nodded, my own smile matching hers. "Maybe they can find out where I come from, now," I agreed.

Not that I had any intention of that happening.

-ooo-

For some reason, I had envisaged a police interrogation room, stern officers surrounding me, probing me with awkward questions.

The reality was much different.

I sat in a comfortable chair in a conference room like virtually any other. Nina sat beside me; I had a steaming cup of tea in front of me.

Opposite us were two police officers, one male and one female. Their questions were gently worded, and directed as much to Nina as to me.

I didn't look quite as much the invalid as I had on the boat; Nina had changed my dressings and decided that the bump on the back on my head had gone down sufficiently. While the cut on my left cheek still needed a covering, it was much less prominent than before. Nina had told me that it would leave a scar, but that it would fade with age. I wasn't overly worried.

"So how do you know your name is Taylor Snow?" pressed the male officer.

I shrugged. "Taylor's what came to mind when I went to tell him my name, and Snow just popped out when I wasn't thinking about it," I said.

"Tell who?" asked the female officer.

"That would be young Danny Hebert, the one who rescued her," put in Nina.

"He was the first one she spoke to?" asked the female officer. "Perhaps we should speak to him."

I smiled wryly. "Probably not necessary. From what I recall, I told him my name, he told me his, then I closed my eyes for a second and opened them an hour later."

They both looked at Nina. She nodded. "She's been suffering from a mild concussion, but the symptoms seem to have more or less abated."

"So this Danny Hebert didn't know her from before the incident?" asked the male officer.

"He says not," confirmed Nina. "She was a stranger to everyone aboard ... including the yacht crewmembers we rescued."

Both officers looked at me. I shrank a little in my seat, under the combined stare.

"According to them, of course," she amended her statement.

They didn't have pictures of all the yacht crews, but they brought in as many as they could, faxed in from various locations. I looked at them each in turn. None, of course, were familiar to me. However, I frowned once or twice over pictures of people I knew were from yachts which had gone down with all hands.

"I'm sorry," I said, handing the last one back. "Some of these, maybe ... but nothing definite."

I had been brought sandwiches with my second cup of tea, and I nibbled one now.

"Taylor," said the female police officer suddenly, "do you believe you were abducted?"

I thought about that, then looked at her. "I don't know. I don't think so. Ms Veder found bruising on me, and there's the cut on my face, but ... I could have gotten that being tossed around inside a yacht in heavy weather, right?"

Both officers looked at one another, then back at me. "It's plausible," said Nina carefully. "What are you saying, that you might have been on one of the boats voluntarily?"

"It's a possibility," I pointed out. "Say I was the girlfriend of one of the crewmembers. I'm fairly sure I'm not eighteen yet, so it would cause problems if anyone else knew about me, so the crew kept it a secret that I was on board. It's night time, I'm trying to sleep, the yacht gets in trouble, I get thrown around, I struggle out as it sinks, and I get picked up by Captain Hebert's boat."

There was silence as I finished speaking, then went back to my sandwich. Ham and tomato. Not bad, actually.

Nina and the two officers looked at one another.

"It's definitely plausible," said the male officer.

"Fits all the available facts," added the female officer.

"But it still leaves the question of who Taylor Snow is," said Nina. "Where she's from."

"Well, we're checking around for missing persons reports, but nothing's come through with her description on it yet," said the male officer.

"Why don't you put it on-" I said, and stopped. I had been just about to say 'put it online', but I recalled just in time that 'online' barely meant anything in this day and age.

Nina looked at me. "Put it on what, Taylor?"

I hunched my shoulders. "It's just a stupid idea," I muttered.

"No," she said. "It's not a stupid idea until someone says it's stupid."

I shook my head. "I was just going to say, why don't you put my face on milk cartons, like they do with missing kids, but in reverse."

The male officer frowned. "We could. But ... "

I nodded, caught his drift. "But then any creeper who wanted to get access to a teenage girl with no memory could just pretend to be my dad or uncle or whatever."

Both Nina and the female officer gave me appraising looks. I sipped my tea, and pretended not to notice.

-ooo-

"But how could she simply ... not exist?" asked Dorothy, Danny's mother.

"I've seen it before," said Nina. "Hospital records are damaged or destroyed, people fall through the cracks all the time. Snow might not even be her recorded last name; her mother may have divorced and reverted to her maiden name."

"And you think this happened here?" asked George gruffly.

She nodded. "It's the only feasible explanation. I've heard of any number of cases of children, her age and younger, who only enter the system when they end up in court. I've handled a few, assessing their mental state for trial purposes."

I sat quietly on the sofa with Danny, while the adults talked in the kitchen.

"So what's going to happen now?" he asked quietly.

I sighed. "Ms Veder says it'll be another twenty-four to forty-eight hours before they get back all the replies they're going to get. So I'm sort of in limbo till then."

"Damn," he said. "That sucks."

I nodded. "She says that if I had been reported missing, the police would have gotten the notification by now. Whoever my parents are, if they're still alive even, they either don't know I'm missing, or don't care."

"So where does that leave you?" he asked.

"Well, once they make sure I don't have a criminal record ..." I began.

He snorted. "You, a criminal?"

I chuckled. "Yeah, me. Taylor Snow, criminal warlord of Brockton Bay." God, if only he knew.

A mental pause. He did know, once upon a time.

And he accepted me, even then. Even when I had kept it from him.

Danny was studying me intently. "You looked so serious all of a sudden. What is it?"

I shook my head. "I was just thinking, I can't imagine being a criminal." I shrugged. "Anyway, once they clear that possibility, they can start working out what documents they can get issued to me by court order, and I stop being a non-person again." I rolled my eyes. "So I can have the right to attend school, apply for work, and pay taxes. Whee."

"Yeah, whee," he agreed. Our eyes met, and I met his grin with my own.

Danny and I had always been able to connect on a certain level, even when he was my father. Now, he was my contemporary, but that connection was still there.

It was a good feeling to have. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.

In the kitchen, voices were being raised. Or rather, a voice. That of George Hebert.

"You can't be serious! You want us to put her up here?"

"Now, now, dear," said Dorothy soothingly, "calm down. Your blood pressure, you know."

"Damn and blast my blood pressure, Dot!" snapped George. "Why can't the girl stay with you, Nina?"

"Because my home situation is unsuitable for a girl of her age," said Nina crisply. She looked to Dorothy. "You know who I live with."

"Ah," said Dorothy. "You have a point." She turned to George. "She has a point, dear."

Danny touched my arm. "We'd better go and sit on the steps or something," he murmured. "Let 'em think we heard nothing."

We rose, went out through the hall to the front steps. The bottom one, which would become rotten in later years, was perfectly sound, though it took an effort of will to rest my weight on it.

With the closed door at our backs, we sat down and looked out at the road.

"So what does Ms Veder mean, her home situation is unsuitable?" I asked.

He grinned. "Don't tell anyone, but Mom told me that she lives with a pair of, uh, you know, women who like women."

"What, lesbians?" I asked bluntly.

He nodded and flushed. "Mom doesn't like that word. But yes, them. They're apparently very ... strong-minded about it. And she occasionally has to bring a man home, just so they are aware that she isn't that way inclined."

"Oh," I said. Realisation dawned. "And if she brought a teenage girl home, however innocently ..."

He nodded. "Yeah. They'd get the wrong idea."

I raised an eyebrow. "Hm. That could pose difficulties." I decided to change the subject. "So, how long have you guys lived here? It's a nice house."

It was, of course the house I had grown up in. There were a few changes, or rather, a few things that would be changed in the next twenty years. The sofa was not made to fold out into a bed, for one thing. And the TV was the old-style cathode-ray type. Also, the paint job was different.

In many small ways, it was different.

Not the same house.

But it was familiar enough to make me feel homesick.


"Oh," said Danny. "Dad bought it last year. It's real nice. I like it a lot better than the old place."

I patted the wall. "Yeah," I said. "I think I'd enjoy growing up in a place like this."

He looked at me, and didn't speak. I looked at him. The moment stretched.

"Taylor," he began. "I –"

And then the door behind us opened, and Dorothy stood there.

I didn't know for a fact what Danny was about to say, but I would have bet on it being remarkably awkward, and so I was quite glad of the interruption.

"Well, it's settled," she said brightly. "Taylor, you'll be staying with us for the next few days, at least until Ms Veder can arrange alternative accommodation for you. If that's all right with you, of course."

I rose and smiled at my grandmother. "Of course it's all right, Mrs Hebert," I said gratefully.

"Sweetie, you call me Dot, okay?" she scolded me gently.

I nodded my head. "Dot," I amended.

She smiled again. "That's better," she said. "Come on inside now. I'll show you where you'll be sleeping."

-ooo-

The bed in the upstairs spare room was narrower and harder than I recalled, but it was still quite serviceable. Nina helped Dot make it up for me, then hugged me goodbye.

"I'll be back in the morning, all right?" she said.

I nodded. "I'll see you then," I told her.

With another hug for Danny and a kiss on the cheek for Dot – George was still sulking in the kitchen – she left.

"Well," said Dot, brushing her hands off briskly. "Who's hungry?"

-ooo-

Dinner was a slightly strained affair; I spoke easily with Danny, and politely with Dot, but George was a glowering presence at the end of the table, one who was manifestly displeased at having his will overturned by two women. The fact that he was married to one of them was apparently not a mitigating circumstance.

After the meal was over, he stood abruptly. "Come on, Danny boy," he said. "Need a hand in the basement."

Whatever his personal flaws, George Hebert was a man who liked to work with his hands, and the downstairs workbench suited his purposes perfectly. In my day, it had been more or less disused; here and now, it had racks of tools over it, a vice, and several ongoing projects, each in their own space. I'm not much of a craftsperson myself, but I know good work when I see it.


So when he ordered Danny to go down with him, I was of course interested, and went to follow.

But Dot put her hand on my arm, and said quietly, "Best let the menfolk talk alone, dear. Help me with the washing?"

So I went and helped her wash the dishes. But the basement door let into the kitchen, and through it, I could hear the strong tones of George Hebert.

" ... don't care what you think. While she's in this house, you'll not go sniffing around after her, you hear?"

I didn't catch Danny's reply; the basement door was too thick. But I caught his father's next words.

"Call it what you will, boy. Now, you listen to me, and listen well. Yes, she'll be sleeping in the spare room tonight. But by the living Jesus, boy, if I catch you sneaking into her room, or her sneaking into your room, you will by God regret it. And so will she, because sixteen or no, homeless or no, if she breaks the rules of this house, she's out the front door, never to return!"

This time I heard Danny's voice; raised apparently in my defence, but not strongly enough to hear the actual words.

George's voice, however, came through loud and clear. "This is a Christian household, boy, and while you live under my roof, you will abide by my rules. Is that clear?" Danny must have mumbled something because he repeated himself, more loudly. "I said, is that clear?"

This time, he must have accepted the answer he got, because after a few moments, the basement door opened, and George came out. Danny followed him, and after one frightened look toward where we were innocently washing dishes, went and sat on the sofa. George went upstairs, and soon we heard the shower running.

Dot looked at me with a kindly expression. "Don't worry, dear," she said softly. "He's really a big softy underneath."

I nodded agreement, but underneath I wasn't so sure. George Hebert was a man with a lot of anger in him, and I doubted he often made threats that he wasn't prepared to carry out.

-ooo-

After washing up, I sat for a while on the sofa with Danny. By unspoken agreement, we kept a decorous distance between us, and kept the topics of conversation to strictly small talk. He didn't seem inclined to complete whatever statement he had been about to make out on the steps, which relieved me. After all, he was always going to be my father, even if this Danny would never be my father. Any conversation along the lines that I suspected it was going to go would be incredibly awkward to at least one of us.

So eventually, I made my excuses and headed up to bed.


The bed, as noted, was hard and narrow, but I was worn out. Stripping down to my underwear, I lay down and pulled the covers over myself. And then I reached over to the nightstand and grabbed the pad.

I wished I had not lost my powers. This far back? I would be one of the more accomplished capes around, in a fraternity that numbered a hundred at most. In fact, this was so far back that Vikare, the first superhero to appear after Scion, had been killed just earlier this year.

But when I tried experimentally, again, there was nothing there. My powers were gone, probably for good. Whatever gave them to me had been stranded in the future, twenty-two years away.

So there was nothing for it. I had to make do with what I had. Nina had loaned me the pad and pen, and I needed to write down everything I remembered. Everything Lisa had told me.

So I stared at the pad, and scribbled down stuff I recalled. I used the back of the pad, writing forward, and I used the simple cipher that I had devised for my original notepad, all those months ago.

But more often than not, I found myself drawing a blank. Lisa had told me lots of stuff, but in between the time travel, the ocean and the hit on the head, I was not retaining much of it. And I needed this stuff. If I was going to change the world, I needed leverage. An edge. And that knowledge would give me the edge I needed.

If only I could remember it.

Fuck.


End of Part 1-2