Chapter 23 Chapter notes: Mental Communication

texting – AMY: It looks like this

voice – "It looks like this."

voice with emotional overtones – confusion "It looks like what?"

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

I awoke a little later than normal, just before 4:00 am, when I would normally wake up an hour earlier. The long day in Atlanta had tired me out more than the actual healing had, but I was still very much looking forward to spending the day with Taylor.

Sitting down at my desk/vanity I brushed out my hair and pulled it back into a single, long braid that when I had finished, fell down to the middle of my back. I stood up and walking over to my closet, I quickly picked out a comfortable pair of jeans and a light green tee shirt and quietly got dressed for the day.

Picking up my school bag, I emptied the contents out onto my bed, and put my hoodie and the containers with my modded spiders inside before silently heading downstairs.

Once in the kitchen, I poured myself a bowl of cereal, the first of four, and sat down to eat an early breakfast. While I ate, I used my phone to send Taylor an email letting her know that I was going to be coming over on my bike in about an hour and that I was wondering where she planned on us riding for the day.

After I finished eating, and still waiting for her reply, I pulled the spiders out of my pack and put a box of power bars in the bottom with 4 apples and 2 bananas wrapped in a dish towel, then placed the spider containers carefully around the fruit with a couple of bottles of juice and closed up the pack.

Before I left, I wrote a note explaining where I was going to be for the day, and taped it to the fridge. Picking up my pack, I headed to the backyard, quietly closing the kitchen door behind me before wheeling my bike to the driveway. I did take a minute to empty my water bottle and refill it from the outside tap before I climbed on my bike and started riding to Taylor's house.

Even as I started riding, my phone beeped, letting me know that Taylor had emailed me back. It was quite short, simply saying that she was looking forward to my arrival and that we could make breakfast together before we left on our ride. As for our itinerary, she said that it was a surprise. Using the voice-to-text app made it easy to send a reply even as I sped down the road.

I made a point of turning my iso-mod down to zero so as to not burn too many calories on my way, then carefully picked up speed on the empty streets. Though my bike didn't have a speedometer, it did have an odometer on the front wheel, and using my internal clock, I figured out that I could cruise at about 40 miles an hour without straining myself.

Even taking a bit of a roundabout path to avoid road repairs from Oni Lee's attack on the PRT in one area and one of the E88's strongly held neighborhoods in another, I still got to Taylor's house just before 5:00 am. She was waiting for me in the driveway as I turned in, having no doubt spotted me a while ago.

Parking my bike up against the house I shrugged off my pack and carried in my hand as I walked up to Taylor and slipped into her embrace.

After a few minutes of just quietly enjoying being together, Taylor eased back, took my hand in hers and led me into the kitchen. Setting my bag on one of the chairs, I fetched a pitcher of juice from the fridge and poured us each a large glass of orange juice, setting the glasses on the table. While I did that Taylor checked on the large skillet of sausages she was frying and sliced open half a dozen extra-large english muffins for our breakfast.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

The last of the sausages were done, so I transferred them to a side plate, drained the skillet and poured the egg mix into the hot pan. Buttering four slices of english muffin, I placed them butter side down on the square griddle that I had found in the thrift shop over on Benson; it had been tucked away at the back of a shelf, and only cost $2.50, which was insanely cheap for an old cast iron griddle. A new one would have cost me at least 10 times that much, probably more; I sometimes wondered if people didn't realize how much they could save by seeking out second hand shops and thrift sales, or if it was just that I had the freedom and time to look around until I found the bargains.

Within 5 minutes I had the first 2 breakfast sandwiches finished and the next two cooking. Placing them on our plates, Amy tucked them in the warm oven so that I would have the time to finish all of them before we actually sat down to eat our breakfast. While I worked on that, she selected some fruit from the bowl on the table and cored and sliced two apples for each of us into bowls, then set a banana down next to the bowl.

Finishing the last two sandwiches, I transferred all of them to our plates and carried them to the table.

"Bon appetite," I said with a smile as I sat down next to her.

Amy smiled back at me and said, "Very nice. These should do us well for at least a while, and I have some power bars and fruit in my pack for snacks later."

I nodded around my mouthful of breakfast sandwich, swallowed and said, "There are several nice places to eat along the route I wanted to take; both sit-down and take away, so we have options for lunch."

"Cool, if it's nice when we decide to eat, maybe we can make it a picnic lunch," she said with questioning tilt her head.

I paused in thought, running through the street maps I had memorized, especially across the river, looking for parks and deli's or restaurants that might sell us a picnic lunch, then nodded and said, "I'll need to check the phone book to be sure, but yeah, I think that's a great plan. There should be at least a few places that we can buy a picnic lunch from and then head on to a nearby park."

Amy put her sandwich down and said, "That reminds me, I've been working on a couple of mods that I'd like to install before we go; a set of linkages to Broca's Area that would let us interface with any number of comm's and then the booster relay for your power."

I thought about that for a couple of minutes while I finished my last sandwich and nibbled on the apple slices, then said, "Yeah, that will work, just make sure the relay is connected to Broca's through the new linkage because I think it'll let us speak at range, well at least short range. And silently as well."

Amy started to smile, then said with a shocked look on her face, "Holy Shit! I bet that I can make yours a secondary control node for your power … one that Trumps can't Nullify!"

"That's not possible … is it? I thought that Power Nullifers always worked, well if you're within their range, right?"

"Yeah, they do. But if I'm right, then HOW they do it is important. See, ever since we started developing our Master defenses, I watched how Vicky's Aura worked, but also the rest of New Wave's powers as well when I could. It's well known that the Corona Pollentia and Gemma have something to do with powers, but no one really knows how or why that's so. One thing that I'm certain of is that the Corona is how our brains interface with our powers, how we do what we do and I'm equally certain that the Gemma is the actual connection to the source of our powers … OWW! Damn it … " the last was said in a pained whisper.

"Amy? What's wrong?" I asked worriedly.

"Ow, ow, ow. Damn migraine. It just hit me out of nowhere," she explained with a look of pain on her face.

Reaching over I took her hand in mine and said, "Amy, use our link to check your brain for swelling or damage or really anything that's not right."

She squeezed my hand but didn't say anything before she started echoing to perform a self-check. A few seconds later her face relaxed and she said, "Good call; the Gemma had released a flood of neuropeptides, assorted neurotransmitters and nitric oxide that forced a migraine. I've cleared them out and reduced the inflammation so my head feels a lot better."

I frowned in thought, then said, "Negative reinforcement and conditioning. My psych books are clear that extreme pain will tend to make you avoid thinking about whatever triggered said pain, even if you know that it's to force that behavior, in fact, that repetition can sort of force you to create pain yourself, instead of being externally applied. In this case that triggering has to be more than just thinking about the source of our power, but actually being on track to figure them out, otherwise it'd be too frequent and ineffective." I paused again, then slowly said, "We may want to modify our Master defenses to include detecting and reversing that kind of thing; 'cause it's definitely an attack, even if we don't know by whom or why. Yet."

Amy squeezed my hand and said, "Three mods, then. Upgrade the anti-Master monitors and repair mechanism, the Broca's Area connection and then the booster-relay," she took a deep breath and I saw her begin to upgrade her defenses and then immediately add the other two mods. All told, she completed not only her mods, but mine as well in less then 5 minutes.

Once she was completely done, I released her hand and scanned my control system to verify that the new and upgraded mods had been added like they should have. A moments concentration let me check the upgraded defense before I shifted to what appeared to be an entirely new section that controlled communications. The screen seemed to allow the selection of who to speak with, sending and receiving text messages and as well as an option to shut down my power temporarily so I could use the booster-relay that Amy had created.

Selecting Amy's name on my screen, I sent her a text:

Amy, can you read this?

Almost instantly a reply appeared on the screen, right below what I had written:

Oh yeah, this is great! I wonder what our max range will work out to be?

No idea yet, depends on whether we can access any other booster nodes. If not we'll need to work on modifying them so we can.

AMY: Hey, try setting up a default so message ID's are including.

TAYLOR: Oh yeah, that's easy. I wonder what else we can make it do? In fact, let me drop my power out of the circuit and just use my secondary …

A few seconds thought allowed me to shift to the secondary mode and test that I still could connect to my swarm. I seemed to have a much shorter range, and it was quite a bit harder to sense and control my swarm, as if my multi-tasking wasn't as easy to do, nor as efficient without my normal powers, but I suspected that with practice I would be just as good either way.

Yep, works fine. A bit harder without whatever is the actual source of my powers … ow … oooh that's cool. A migraine started to trigger and then immediately faded away.

AMY: Awesome. Range?

TAYLOR: About 300 feet or so. I don't have any boosters in range, so we'll have to check it later.

AMY: Cool. I'll try voice next, okay?

TAYLOR: OKAY … oops, sorry about that.

A few seconds later I heard a soft chime and Amy's name flashed on my screen. Mentally pressing it, I heard a click and then said, silently, "Hello?"

"Hey sweetie, how's this sound?

"Just like your voice normally sounds, how's mine?"

"The same. I wonder if our Broca changes the incoming data to match our memories and expectations or if it comes from the sending side?"

"Hmm, not sure. I suspect that we change the data to match our expectations, since our voices never sound the same to different people. Heh, I learned that in first grade at the Children's Museum. God, I haven't even thought about that place in years, I had a lot of fun there."

"Me too. Hey, take my hand, I want to see if your migraine was just like mine, and how well the upgrade dealt with it."

I reached out and took her hand again and watched her as she sifted through my brain and check for any changes or damage. Just before she pulled back, she modded my monitor and then hers.

"Okay, that should do it. I just tweaked it a bit to make sure it would look for any variants in case our Gemma's try something a little different to get around our defenses."

"Good idea, see ya."

Letting go of her hand, I stood up and said, "Outstanding work, Amy. Let's take care of the breakfast dishes and then we can head out for the day, alright?"

Amy giggled, and said, "That sounds like a plan to me. I'll start on the pans, you clear the table, alright?"

I sighed dramatically and said, "Of course, O' Giggle Mistress, I but live to serve."

She tilted her nose in the air and said with an over-the-top faux-royal tone, "As is only right and proper," of course she then broke down into giggles again.

I just shook my head with a smile as I rinsed our dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher and then wiped down the counters and table while Amy cleaned out the skillets and griddle and dried them off on the stove. While she finished that, I fetched my backpack and put my picnic blanket inside with some disposable dinnerware for our picnic; I also added some snacks and a thermos of juice for lunch.

I wrote Dad a quick note telling him our plans, and left it on the table for him to find before looking around one more time to ensure we'd left nothing out of place.

I locked the back door behind us before we mounted our bikes and headed out for the day.

-Legion*** ***Legion-

We reached the Old North River bridge around 9:30, and stopped for a quick snack break, since we needed to go another 15 miles west to come to the US-1 bridge which was still in service and allowed pedestrians and cyclists to cross over. The next bridge was 5 miles further west, and since it was the I-95 bridge it was off limits to all but motor vehicles, so getting across the river was quite time consuming, even by car.

The Old North River bridge had been built during the Great Depression by the WPA and had stayed in constant service until '98 when the original plans for its replacement had been brought up. Sadly the contractor absconded with almost every dime of the money that had been raised and had been supposedly held in escrow. Even today no one was really sure how he'd managed to get all of the money out without anyone catching on until he was long gone to South America. Looking at the decaying remnants of the old bridge just reminded me of how things had been slowly changing for the worse these days.

Between the slow economy and Endbringer damage siphoning public funds into relief efforts instead of infrastructure repairs, we couldn't even afford to have the condemned structure removed, much less replaced. That was one of the reasons dad was so fixated on getting the ferry running again, it would be a significant boost to the local economy, and yet be at a reasonable cost considering the benefits.

My readings in American History had brought up some interesting and frightening corollaries between America and the world during the Great Depression and World War II, and what Brockton Bay had been going through ever since the advent of parahumans. The reduction in jobs, scarcity of resources, the increasing concentration of wealth, and the rise of polarizing groups; The Axis Alliance and E88/ABB; The Grand Alliance and the PRT/Protectorate/Guild; the many criminal Parahuman 'gangs' here and overseas, were just some of the examples that I saw in the news every day.

Roosevelt had created a number of agencies and organizations to provide assistance, often by creating jobs that helped to feed these families while also providing improvements to the cities or infrastructure.

The Works Progress Administration. Rural Electrification Administration. The Civilian Construction Corps. The Public Works Administration. All of them had been designed to provide jobs, poorly paid jobs maybe, but jobs nonetheless that let men feed and care for their families, and also improved the state of the country.

Sadly, we had nothing like that now; I suppose the PRT came close in size and scope, but it was focused on keeping Capes from causing too much damage and preparing for the next Endbringer attack, not on actually making things better.

I passed Amy a bottle of juice and a couple of my home-made powerbars, even as she passed me a couple of her fruit powerbars, before sitting down with my own snack.

Opening her bottle, she took a sip then asked, "Can we do some experiments while we rest here?"

I nodded and said, "Sure, what did you have in mind?"

"I'd like to mod some of the gulls around here and then start on the trees. If possible, I want to work through my relay organ to see if I can work at greater ranges."

I gave her idea some serious thought, then said, "Alright, but first let's do the gulls the normal way for practice and then drop back to using both of our 'relay organs'. If that works we can have you try it on your own, without me to help with the multi-tasking, that should give us plenty of data to evaluate how effective the relays are and if any changes are needed."

Scooting even closer to me, Amy took my hand and reached out through my links and found the group of gulls down by the river's edge. There were over 60 of them within a couple of hundred feet of where we sat, so she quickly skimmed through them to find the healthiest gulls. Once she had spotted the ones she wanted to mod first she nodded and went to work.

Unlike the first time she modded a gull, the process only took about 30 seconds, even including a full health tune-up and modifying it's DNA and reproductive system so that its descendants would be born with the mod and upgraded immune system.

After the first gull was finished, she went ahead and did two at once, adding an additional gull with each attempt until she reached the max that she was comfortable with, 7 at one time.

While she finished with that group of gulls, I brought a large selection of small fish to the surface of the river, as well as bringing a small swarm of insects for the gulls to feed on, knowing that they would definitely need the energy after being modded so extensively.

"Very nice work, Amy. Do you feel up to trying the same with the trees? Or do you want to try working through the booster-gulls on your own?"

"Hmm, I think I'll try connecting through the gulls, adding an additional gull each time for extended range. If possible I want to echo through the links without your direct aid."

I cocked an eye at her and asked, "Do you want me to drop out of the linkage completely, or just be passive?"

"Drop out completely, please."

I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, then let go of her hand so that she had to use her own relay-organ to connect to the swarm.

Amy started in surprise as I let go of her hand, then grinned and said, "Okay, this is wicked cool! I can still feel the swarm, but the booster-gulls are sort of, brighter? Louder? Something like that, anyway. I can't really use their senses nor does it feel like I have any real control, but …"

I watched her closely, though I refrained from using my connection to the swarm so as to not interfere with her efforts. My patience was finally rewarded when, after a little more than five minutes she spoke up.

"Done! One of the trees had a gull in the branches, so I was able to use that contact to modify the tree successfully. I'm fairly sure I can't use anything except a booster-gull to modify the trees, at least not without your help, but even that is a big step in the right direction," she excitedly explained.

I smiled back at her, and said, "Then let's try something else. I'll fully connect to my swarm, without holding your hand, and you try to mod that oak down by the corner."

Amy looked down the street and nodded, "Let's do it."

I fully connected to the swarm, and highlighted a squirrel running up the oak tree for her. As soon as I did, Amy froze it and started modding the tree, and the squirrel at the same time. This time it only took about a minute to do both mods. Continuing with the experiment I spread the gulls wide and began highlighting animals in different trees up and down the road for her to mod.

It took less than ten minutes to cover a two mile stretch of the road with modded trees and another dozen assorted birds, mostly crows with a few owls.

Standing up, I gave Amy a hand up and we quickly stored our trash in our packs and started riding again. This time I carefully spread all of my booster-gulls ahead of us, intending to give Amy plenty of time to make her mods, even if she was limited to only three at a time without physical contact with me. Even so she was fast enough that we were able to maintain a decent speed, about 14 or 15 miles per hour. That was slower than we'd been going but was still pretty good considering the work Amy was accomplishing, and how much she was multi-tasking.

One advantage of our slower speed was that I was able to extend my range quite a bit to the sides to map a much larger swath of the underground. Of course that meant much longer to input the data into my programs tonight, and probably tomorrow as well.

Before we turned north on US-1, we stopped at gas station and bought a bottle of soda and some snacks to tide us over until lunch time. Riding over the bridge was actually easy for us, another advantage of our mods, so we made good time over the bridge and then east again on US-1A.

The scenery was beautiful even if the road was a little rough and damaged in places, and we had to stay off the shoulder, since it was really nothing more than loose gravel and large pot holes. It was pretty obvious that the winter had been hard on this road and it didn't look like anyone had the funds to do proper road repairs, just a quick fill-in of the worst of the pot holes on the road, and ignore everything else.

There were quite a few tiny villages and towns on this side of the river, though most of them were back away from the river about half a mile or so, being bedroom communities that sprang up during the '70's and '80's, and were still doing fairly well, even with the depressed economy.

Even though it was approaching lunchtime, the traffic was very light since it was a Sunday so we made good time on our way to our next stop. There was a little wide spot in the road called Kinsey Inlet that had a small Market/Deli that had good reviews online and was open 7 days a week. I hoped to buy a nice picnic lunch there for us, especially since there was also a nice little park nearby that overlooked the river and had real restrooms and picnic tables.

Pulling up to the entrance, we parked our bikes in the bike rack and locked them in place. Taking Amy's hand I walked with her into the Market and looked around for the deli section, grabbing a handbasket on my way by.

"So what are you in the mood for, Taylor?" Amy asked me as we headed towards the back where I assumed the fresh food and deli would be located.

"Not sure, at least a couple sandwiches or subs, something substantial anyway. Maybe some potato or pasta salad to go with it. How about you?"

"I'm thinking … a meatball and an Italian sub, with some chips. Potato salad sounds good too. Maybe some hot tea it that's an option. We'll have to decide when we see what looks good." Even as she spoke we turned at the end of the aisle and saw the fairly large deli, especially considering the overall size of the store.

Stepping up to the counter we checked the posted menu sign as well as checking out the covered food display. Amy grinned and pointed to a rich looking red potato and egg salad and said, "Me want."

"Of course you do, what else looks good to you?" I asked her.

"Lots of things, but the meatballs smell really good, so a large meatball with mozzarella and a large Italian with provolone and oil and vinegar," She squeezed my hand and went on, "I'll go get some chips while you order for us, okay?"

I smiled at her and said, "Sure, go crazy, I'll take care of things here," I turned to the waiting attendant and said, "Good morning, I'd like to order some stuff for a picnic, alright?"

She pulled on a fresh pair of disposable gloves and said, "It's a nice day for it, so what would you like first?"

I pointed to the red potato salad and said, "I'd like a pound of the potato salad please, and a half pound of the pasta salad next to it please."

She nodded and quickly filled two containers, labeled them and set them on top of the display case before asking, "What else?"

"I'd like two large meatball subs, with mozzarella cheese melted on top. In addition I'd like a large Italian with provolone cheese, oil and vinegar, the last one is a large tuna with lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese. Oh extra mayo please."

She raised an eyebrow, but simply nodded and started making the tuna sub first, then the Italian and finally the two meatball subs. She carefully wrapped the meatball subs in foil then in paper before putting them all in a heavy paper bag that had the prices taped on the side.

"Here you go, anything else?"

I looked around for hot drinks, but didn't see any so I asked, "Do you sell hot drinks, like tea or coffee here?"

She nodded and said, "Yes to both, there's a kiosk up by the registers with a nice selection of tea and coffee both."

"Thanks, we'll get some on the way out then," I said as I put our food into my basket and went to find Amy.

Something I hadn't noticed before was that Amy showed up in my swarm sense even better than my booster-gulls, but now that we were inside without much swarm nearby, it was extremely apparent precisely where she was. I also noticed that I could access her senses just as easily as I did any other member of my swarm, though it was very clear that it was senses only, without any control at all.

Walking up to her I saw that she was paying for two large cups of tea, honey lemon green for me and a rich ginger green for her, if I was not mistaken. Looking in her basket I saw a bag of Ruffles and a bag of whole grain pretzels, good snacking choices. There was also a bag with a couple of muffins, though I couldn't tell what kind through the plastic bag.

"Got everything?" I asked her.

She gave me a grin over her shoulder and said, "Sure did, you need anything else?"

"Nope," I said, "let's hit the checkout and then have a bite to eat. I'm starved."

"Hah! You're a bottomless pit is what you are, I've no idea how your dad can afford to feed you," she teased me.

"I am an amazing shopper and a better cook. He can't afford to not feed me, he'd starve if he had to eat his own cooking."

"Hey! Those burgers were really good, he's not completely hopeless you know."

"Amy, I prepped them and I cooked them. The only thing he did was take them off the stove and put them in the buns. That doesn't count as cooking. If it was up to him the only appliance that would ever get used would be the microwave; he can't even use the toaster without burning everything. Even if it's set on one he'll still manage to burn the toast … somehow. I swear it's like a curse or something."

At that she started to giggle again as we walked towards the checkout register, prompting me to say, "There's the giggle monster I know and love, I was beginning to think that I'd tired you out or something."

She bumped my shoulder and said, "Nope, plenty of energy left for the rest of our day. Speaking of which, how far did you plan on going this afternoon?"

"Not sure, at least up to Ocean Drive, possibly all the way to Kingston if things go well, but that's the limit so we can get home at a reasonable hour. By seven at the latest is my plan," I explained as we placed our purchases on the belt and Amy pulled out her debit card and paid for our lunch.

Stopping by our bikes, we transferred most of our purchases into our packs, though we'd have to carry our tea for the short distance we would need to ride to the park.

When I looked over at Amy, I saw that she had put her cup of tea in wire cup holder attached to her handlebars. "Oh, now that's just cheating!"

She giggled and said, "Nope, that's called planning ahead, not cheating."

"Hah! Planning ahead, is it? And did you plan for my revenge? Because it will be terrible and swift, and you will never see it coming before it strikes you down."

Alas, all that did was make her giggle again as she rode off towards the park. Carefully holding my tea, I followed her to the park, not spilling a drop, even as I rode with one hand.

One of the two tables had been taken by a family of locals, since I had seen them as they walked through the park carrying their food and drinks. Deciding to leave the other table open in case they were joined by any others, Amy led me closer to the river's bank where we spread out my blanket and set out our food and drink.

Sitting down next to her, I pulled out a couple of bottles of juice and the dinnerware I had packed and passed her a plate, cup and fork before setting out my own utensils. I separated our sandwiches, giving her the Italian and one of the meatball subs, and setting mine down next to my plate. I opened both the pasta and potato salad containers while she opened the potato chips, but left the pretzels for letter.

We sat next to each other at a slight angle so that we could lean up against each other for support and started to eat, taking our time to enjoy the quite tasty sub sandwiches and salad. While we ate we quietly discussed some of the things we had seen, though much of it was still beyond her sight, since she really couldn't access the swarm's senses easily, certainly not as easily as I could. She did find that with a little practice she could access my senses quite easily, as easily as I could use my swarms senses; I suspected that with time she would find that the greater the intelligence of her target, the easier it would be to use it's senses, much as I had.

The family using the picnic table was joined by another shortly after we sat down and they started using one of the large grills to make burgers and hotdogs to go with the other food they had brought. While the grill heated up and the food was cooking, the younger kids started running around with a couple of frisbees, looking to enjoy the nice Sunday afternoon.

Amy and I had finished almost all of our food, except for the last bit of potato salad and some chips when she spoke up.

"Taylor? I've been watching some of the insects down by the river, and I had an idea. Can you discreetly bring some of them to me?" she asked quietly, "Grasshoppers and dragonflies if you can find some?"

I swallowed my bite of potato salad and said, "Sure, hold out your hand, okay?"

Holding out her left hand, I had one of the grasshoppers land in her hand. A few seconds later she flicked her hand and it flew away towards the river. A small line of dragonflies and grasshoppers, most of them from similar, though different species, discreetly landed on her hand, then moved off when she was done analyzing it. I had no idea what she was looking for, but it was definitely intriguing Amy.

A couple of minutes later I heard her speak silently.

thoughtful "Taylor, I realized that I'd never looked at grasshoppers and dragonflies before, and I wanted to see if they might have some useful differences. And boy do they. Some of the muscle cells are a lot stronger and more efficient than any I've seen in mammals; even ours. I'd guess they're at least five times stronger and faster than ours, and ours are already about four times better than a normal person's. So, interested in another upgrade?"

excited confused "Are you serious? I thought our muscles were already maxed out?"

pleased "Heh, so did I. I never even thought of building muscle tissue like this. If you're interested, I'll set it up like last time, where it will transform over the next five or six days, rather than all at once. That should give us a chance to get used to the changes without ripping the doorknobs off of the doors."

thoughtful "Well, if it provides the kind of upgrade you think it will, we'll be looking at what, Brute 4?"

thoughtful "Brute 5 maybe even 6, especially with the defensive mesh upgrade. Because I'm switching to the new type of actuating cells and upgrading the mesh with a new, laminated chitin-like surface, based on the wings of dragonflies, the mesh will be at least twice, possible three times as strong as before."

I nodded and started to pick up our trash to throw away.

determined "Definitely go ahead with the upgrades, do you need me to touch you to do this or can our new linkage support echoing?"

thoughtful "Hmm, probably, but it'd be really slow. At least 30 minutes just to do one of us; with contact it should be done within ten minutes or so. For both of us."

determined "Alright then, let me throw this trash away and then we'll stretch out for a few minutes while you make the upgrades to both of us."

I picked up my bag of trash and dropped it into the trash can near the picnic tables then dropped down next to Amy, stretching out on the blanket next to her, using my pack as pillow. She managed to surprise me by not taking my hand, but rolling over until she was laying partly on top of me, with her head laying on my shoulder and her left hand holding my right. I used my left arm to pull her even closer, holding her around her waist before closing my eyes and relaxing to take a nap.

Or so it appeared to any external observer. I kept a close eye on our surroundings, especially the people in the park, but used my birds to extend our range quite a ways ahead of where we rested. While I worked at my mapping, I also watched Amy work on our upgrades; she first setup the changes to our muscle tissue, so that it would take a nearly a week to completely change over our muscles. That only took a minute or so for each of us, so she then started to mod all of the connective tissue, the ligaments and tendons and then finally all of the mesh sheathes she had created around our organs, blood vessels and under our skin.

Having already done this once before, and only needing to make some subtle changes to the mesh, it ended up taking a bit less than ten minutes or so to finish upgrading both of us completely. Once she finished that, we both began working on modding the trees along US-1A and for about a half mile inland while we lay there on the blanket, apparently napping after our lunch.

With my help managing the multi-tasking, Amy was able to finish a full 10 mile stretch, plus almost 300 more birds, most of them booster-gulls, with a mix of owls and crows to fill out the numbers in just over half an hour. Most songbirds ended up being too small to be really worth the effort of modding, only allowing an additional 150 feet of range, compared to the 350 feet for a gull or owl. Crows were only good for about 200 to 220 feet, which was about all a tree was good for, so we tried to mod trees every 100 to 150 feet to ensure full coverage, with plenty of overlap.

When we had accomplished as much as seemed possible at that time, Amy started to stretch and sat up as if she had just woken up. I followed suit, sitting up and twisting to stretch out my back before standing up to fold up my blanket.

Packing it away in my backpack, I offered Amy my hand as we headed for our bikes. Nodding at the nearest family, I strapped my pack to the rear luggage rack and turned the bike towards the road. Looking at Amy to be sure she was ready, we pushed our bikes to build up some speed, jumped on the seats and heading out to finish our day trip.

Keeping my booster-gulls stretched out ahead of us, we sped up until we were going at about 25 miles an hour east along US-1A heading for the turn north where it would be renamed Ocean Drive, more commonly called Mansion Avenue.

We passed two gravel pits, both of which seemed to be in current use, though no one was working as it was Sunday. I wondered how this road could support the kind of trucks that would be needed to carry the heavy loads of gravel, so I sent some of my booster-birds out to look around the pits, and found another access road on the far side of pits, one that ran right into a railroad spur that seemed to parallel the coastline.

It only took about half an hour to reach the first of the estates of the rich and famous, well, at least the locally famous. Most of these estates stayed empty 9 or 10 months out of the year, only being maintained by either a local company or one or two caretakers that lived on the estates.

Each of them was walled, though some of them also had large, well maintained hedges to hide the stone walls. Each of the estates had a nameplate either on one of the imposing gateposts or on the even more imposing wrought iron gate itself.

Lord. Costigan. Leach. Mayhew. Lavere. Williamson. Paine. Cashiel. Darrenfeld. Shackleton. Anderson. Pollock. As we passed each estate, I made a cursory scan, looking to see if anyone was home, and checking out as much of the interior as I could. Amy however, was using her phone to take pictures of each gate as souvenirs.

Continuing north, I counted a total of 27 estates, the smallest of which was at least 5 acres and it still had a mansion with 22 rooms, not counting the servant's quarters. I counted them. Only four of them actually had people who seemed to live on them full-time, the caretakeers no doubt.

Just before I planned on turning back, I sensed a chained off private road a couple of miles north of us, that seemed to lead back through the woods and around several turns that blocked direct view of the property. My curiosity aroused, I led us down the road until we were about a mile from the private road. I pulled to a stop at a point where the shoulder was in good shape, so we could stop without any danger of being hit by a passing car.

Amy pulled up next to me and slid off her bike so she and I stood next to each other. I poured each of us a cup of juice from my thermos so we had an excuse for stopping there. Holding out my hand I said, "I spotted something a little weird up ahead. Want to check it out with me?"

"Any idea what it is?" she asked me as she took my hand.

"Not really. It seems to be a closed and abandoned mine, but once the access road is out of sight of the main road, it changes from dirt to a well maintained blacktop roadway. I can feel some rodents and insects inside the mine, so I'd like to turn some of the mice and rats into booster-relays so I can explore the mine more thoroughly."

She nodded and said, "Let's do it. And … can you make sure I share your swarm senses well enough to see the mine too?"

I smiled and said, "I was already planning on it, it won't be as good as our body senses, but it should work well enough. You won't be able to see much, but I'll try to help you figure out how to meld all of the sensory input into a usable gestalt. And here's the first set of rats and bats for your modification pleasure."

Amy squeezed my hand and started modding the rats first, quickly followed by the bats. While she did that I had some of my booster-gulls take up station on the ground around the mine which allowed me to use insects and spiders to map out the volume of the mine, though with minimal details. Once I had some rats to check out the ground level and bats to use their sonar to check for openings and such along the ceiling and walls I was able to get a good feel for what was in the mine.

Interestingly enough, after the first turn out of sight of the entrance, I found it closed off with a heavy, tightly sealed metal door. There was no obvious way to open the door from this side, which only aroused my curiosity even more. The whole place didn't look at all like any kind of mine that I had ever imagined or seen pictures of.

Once Amy had finished modding the local rat population, and about 40 of the bats, I had about half of them move into the mine and start exploring, while the other half started exploring the hillside, looking for air shafts, drains or any other access to the mine.

"Alright, let's get you some practice using remote senses. First thing is for you to look through my eyes … we've done it before, but that's way too much for what you want to do. Go on, feel for me use the echo, but you want to use a light touch and feel for the light, just that and nothing more. You'll need to figure out how you interpret the sensory echo, and how to differentiate between each of the senses, though each one will have a different feel to it. And each species and individual will be different as well; two members of the same species will have a similar feel, but not identical."

"What about odd senses? Like a bat's echolocation? Or … I don't know, a pit viper's heat sense?"

"Heh, I suspect that it'll be a lot easier than you think. After all, you already have a bunch of enhanced and unusual senses; electro-location, acute sense of smell, IR and UV range vision, and so on and so forth. You'll figure out how to interpret the remote senses pretty quickly; for now though, only follow a single echo at a time. In fact, go for the ones with booster-relays, you'll get a stronger … signal? Something like that, anyway."

She nodded, and said, "Alright. I was able to link to all of your senses, in sequence, and then all of them at once. Ah … can you tell when I link to you?'

I smiled back and said, "Oh yes, just like you'll be able tell when I link to yours. Watch …"

Amy's eyes drifted off to one side and she said, "Ooooh…I see what you mean; that's what I felt earlier, isn't it? It doesn't hurt or anything, but I can tell when you borrow my senses…I'm not sure how, but I can tell as soon as you connect … as well as when you disconnect."

"Yep. Now find a booster-relay that's moving into the mine…slide up to it and feel for one of it's senses…"

"Which one should I pick?" she asked me.

"Dealer's choice, but it's easiest if you select the one that's most active; that'll be primary sense and will probably provide the most information. If it's one you're not used to then just take your time and play with it, try different things."

She nodded and I felt her slide towards a bat that was flying into the mine, though not towards the metal door, I was sending it down a different tunnel, one that led to a boarded up vertical shaft so that it could provide an extension deeper into the mine so I could explore further with the beetles and spiders.

I kept a close eye on Amy while I spread my swarm throughout the mine and along the ground above it. She connected to the bat's echolocation and fumbled for a few seconds before she settled down and began to parse the sensory information.

helpful "Amy, come on back for now. I want you to piggy-back on me and see if you can get an overview from my point of view."

confused determined "Alright, just give me a moment to echo off of your sense, no that's not quite right…maybe if I…no, that doesn't do anything…hmmm… You know what, I'm gonna take a break here and just sort of snuggle up to you for a while and see what happens."

I looked over at Amy and said, "Okay, that's different. I'm holding your hand out here, and your nicely snuggled up to me in our linkage. Are you getting anything?"

She gave me a naughty little smile and said, "Comfortable. I'm definitely getting comfortable."

I smiled back at her and pulled her closer so I could hug her properly and asked her, "This whole mine is pretty weird, do you have any thoughts about this?"

She bit her lip then said, "I don't think it's a mine at all. I think maybe it's an old cold war bomb shelter … or possibly a storage depot or lair for villains, something like that anyway."

I nodded and said, "I think you're right. In any event it's not something I need to check out right now. I've got the local spiders and beetles mapping as much of it as I can, though there are several volumes that appear to be completely sealed off. I'll try to build as much of the layout as I can with my mapping program, though I'll probably need at least a basic 3D drawing program to get a good grasp of the layout."

"I've also got some rats and bats searching the surrounding hills looking for air shafts and drains. Maybe there's another entrance somewhere nearby that we can use to get in. Or not. I'll keep looking anyway," I explained.

Amy looked at me very seriously and asked me, "What next then?"

I looked around and said, "Let's mod a bunch of trees around the mine and the nearby hills so I can keep an eye on the mine, then we'll head for home, we can make a speed run 'til we get to the bridge, and then slow down so we can work on modding trees on the other side of the river all the way to your house, alright?"

She nodded and once we were finished with the trees that we wanted to mod surrounding the mine, she got on her bike and started heading back the way we had come. I followed her, while continuing to map the mine area as well as I could, though when I finally approached my max range, I had all of my birds head for the bridge as fast as they could, figuring that I could make sure that they had plenty to eat and some rest once they got there, and before we crossed the river.

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

As I led the way back to the bridge, I used my link with Taylor to scan for booster trees out as far as I could, looking for any gaps that needed to be filled in as we rode. I really didn't find any until we were close to our picnic spot, at which point I had Taylor land a booster-bird in any convenient tree that would fill the gap and echoed through Taylor to install the appropriate mod.

When we approached the turn towards the bridge, I had Taylor take the lead as she made sure her booster-gulls had a chance to eat and rest a bit as we crossed the river. I did manage to mod another 32 of them as we rode over the bridge, since quite a few were roosting underneath in the girders.

Shortly after we crossed the river, she turned east on a side road and led us to a Burger King where she pulled in and parked her bike in bike rack. Turning to me she said, "Potty break. And we should probably grab something to eat before we go much further since we've both been working like mad, both physically and otherwise."

I nodded and said, "Good idea, I could definitely use both about now."

Locking up our bikes, we grabbed our packs off of the racks and headed inside to use the bathroom and wash up a bit before getting something to eat.

Not wanting to draw too much attention, we just ordered a couple of double Whopper meals, with fries and onion rings.

Finishing our meals only took a few minutes, so when we exited to continue our ride I was quite surprised to find a group of teens sitting on the bike rack, and one of them was playing around with the tool bag on the back Taylor's bike seat. It was immediately obvious that though I had been surprised, Taylor wasn't since she silently walked up right behind the boy and quite loudly said in his ear, "HEY! Just what do you think you're doing with my bike?"

The poor boy practically jumped out of his skin at her shout, much to the amusement of his friends.

"Shit girl, I was just looking, no need to scream in my ear, damnit, that hurt."

Taylor just rolled her eyes and unlocked the chain from around our front wheels and said, "As Mrs. Diston always used to say in Kindergarten, 'You look with your eyes, not your hands, young man.' Step back please, we need to get our bikes and head for home."

He looked uncertain for a moment, probably confused by the dichotomy of her first loud shout and her next soft and polite request. Eventually he decided, after a quick look at his friends for moral support, to be a jerk; I just sighed, 'cause there was no way this would end well … for him.

Reaching towards Taylor, like he was going to push her back, he said, "And what if I don't feel like it, girly?"

Just as his hand was about to touch her breast, her left hand, the one not holding her soda, snapped out and grabbed his hand and twisted it around until the boy was forced to his knees.

Taking another sip of soda, Taylor said "Well, I guess that depends on how serious you are about trying to stop us from riding away. Personally, I've been enjoying the day so far, so I'd much prefer to just continue on our way without any problems. You know, the kind of problems that end up with broken bones and blood on the ground."

Stepping around the boy on his knees, I pulled my bike back from the rack and then said, "And if it does get to that point, I doubt that I'd be at all interested in putting you back together after she takes you apart."

One of the other teens quietly said, "'back together'? Oh hell. Good job, Billy, you just managed piss off Panacea and her friend. Miss, if you wouldn't mind, could you let Billy go, we'll keep him out of your hair, okay?"

Taylor shrugged as she released the boy and said, "That works for me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend."

Pulling her bike out of the rack, we both mounted our bikes and rode off, Taylor leading the way. I used our linkage to listen in on the teens as we rode away.

"Christ on a crutch Billy, you sure know how to pick 'em, don't you? It's probably a good thing that girl didn't really care about you, one way or another. I just tested for my brown belt and she moved like my sensei does. I'd bet my next month's allowance that she coulda taken us all down without raising as sweat. And that doesn't even count what Panacea's family woulda done to us if we'd actually managed to hurt her."

"Shit, ya mean she's a cape too!?"

A different voice, a girl this time, spoke up, "Doubt it, I follow the cape scene pretty close, and unless she's new, she's the wrong size for anyone in the Wards or Protectorate and New Wave are all unmasked, so it wasn't one of them."

The first speaker spoke again, "Like I said, she moved like my sensei does when he's in a full-contact spar; in total control and not at all worried about what you or any of us did. I figure that's why she just used a basic submission hold on you; you aren't anything more than a minor annoyance, certainly not a threat of any kind. And for that, you should count your blessings."

"Could she have been a villain, like Rune or Purity?"

I heard a contemptuous snort from the girl and then, "On a Sunday bike ride? With Panacea? No chance; New Wave and the Empire have had bad blood between them for years, ever since one of them was killed in her own home. You just had the piss-poor judgement to challenge a high-level martial artist, and got an appropriate smack down for arrogance."

I snickered and turned the rest of my attention to modifying the trees as we rode along. God, I love using Taylor's multi-tasking, it certainly lets me get a lot more done, even if I can only use a tiny fraction of her ability. Though it's a good thing that one kid seems to have convinced them that Taylor's just a really good martial artist; which she is of course, she's just a lot more than JUST a martial artist. I looked around and thought about where we were and realized that we'd be to my house in less than an hour, quite a bit earlier than I had thought.

Maybe Taylor can hang out for a little while, and then we could even run a strip of modded trees all the way to her house. Which would only leave Arcadia and the hospitals before we had most of the city covered, at least with all the birds that I've already modded. Maybe we can hit the beach for an afternoon and mod a bunch more, so she can properly cover the city.

I connected to Taylor's linkage and said,

hopeful "Hey sweetie, would you like to stay at my house for an hour or so, before heading home?"

pleased "Certainly, if your parents won't mind."

hopeful "Can't see why they would; Vicky has her friends over all the time. As long as you don't stay too late, it won't be a problem, what with school tomorrow. Though dad will probably invite you to stay for dinner."

determined "Alright, I'll give Dad a call if I'm going to stay for dinner though. It's not like there aren't leftovers he can nuke, or even pickup some takeaway if he wants to."

hopeful "Great, I was thinking we could run a strip of mods all the way to your house, maybe at least part way towards Arcadia."

pleased "Hmm, I don't see why not, as fast as you're getting, I'll bet we can get to both my house and Arcadia in less than an hour, no problem."

pleased "Sounds good to me. How far are you spreading your mapping, anyway?"

thoughtful "Eh, just over a mile wide, though the modded swath is only about 500 yards wide. I'll need to add in where we've put our tree mods, so we can work on it at our leisure. Well, your leisure really, since you're doing all the hard work."

excited pleased "Hah! The only time it's actually hard is when I try to do it by myself, and even then it's more boring than anything else, since it takes me forever to try and move a booster-bird to the next tree. When we do it together like this, or even better when we can actually touch, it's much faster and a lot easier since I can do more at once."

pensive "Hmm, good point. I wonder if we should look into upgrading our personal relays to handle more data across a wider 'band width', that might help with both your range and your control."

pensive determined "Maybe yes, maybe no. I think, though that I want to look into some shaker powers first, since I have examples in my family to look at. Although, I will have to be careful not to look too closely at the source of powers, since that seems to be the trigger for the migraines, and even though our mods can deal with it, it's not something I want to push too hard without some serious thought going into protective measures."

thoughtful "Not a problem, I think that's a good idea, and I'll keep researching better power sources to supply any new emulated powers we come up with."

curious "Any specific directions you're looking at?"

pensive "Not really, though I've got a few ideas. Most of which are semi-dependent on portals or quantum linkages, so I'm doing a LOT of reading and research. Other than that, I'm looking at a couple of tiny energy weapons."

curious "Like what?"

thoughtful excited "Well, I'm thinking about a switchable UV laser, so you can use it as a relatively low-powered beam laser, or a much higher-power pulse laser. The other one is a way to direct and fire a high-voltage electrical charge along a laser ionized path. It'll only work in the atmosphere, and I'd be a bit leery of using it in either high humidity or while it's raining, since it'd probably scatter and ground out within a couple of feet. If that."

cautious "That's what that test platform is for, right?"

cautious thoughtful "Pretty much. I think we've gone as far as we can with purely organic electrical generation, and I've got a complete set of notes on all of it's limitations and advantages so we can install the best possible system for our personal use. At least until I figure out how to make one of my 'blue sky' ideas actually work. I really don't want to get caught up in trying to twist our powers into handling this, because I think it has a good chance of screwing us up pretty bad."

worried cautious "No kidding. I can think of at least a half a dozen issues, right off the top of my head. If I can come up with that many right off the bat, there's probably ten times as many that I haven't even thought of."

I heard a giggle from Taylor before she went on,

amused cautious "Yeah, at least that many. I'd much rather have a solid grasp of what we're trying to do BEFORE we attempt to install it. That's the main reason I came up with the test platform in the first place; make our mistakes there instead of inside our bodies."

I laughed at that as well, then said,

excited cautious "Believe me, you've got my vote for that; nothing that I've done so far is actually hard, it's only when we step outside what can be done with normal biology that it gets risky. Like, the human body isn't really designed to generate and store large amounts of electricity, so working out the kinks before we install those kinds of mods is only common sense. The same goes for things like force fields, flying or pocket dimensions; those abilities are way outside what normal biology can accomplish, so we need to figure out how to work outside the box … way outside the box."

amused "Box? We don' need no stinkin' box." Taylor said the last in a man's voice with a fake Mexican accent, before Amy's giggles caused her to laugh as well. After a few minutes of tension-relieving laughter, Taylor went on.

thoughtful worried "I've got a couple of ideas about that, but I'm reaching the end of what the public library can help me with; which is just one more reason I need to get into college, to gain access to more advanced books and research, and possibly bounce ideas off of some other people, though I'm VERY leery about doing that."

cautious "No kidding, I can't honestly think of anyone other than you that I would trust enough to talk around the edges of these kinds of topics with, to say nothing of exploring them in depth."

She sighed and said,

worried "I know. But I also know that I'm going to need some help, even if it's just with brainstorming. I just can't see how to do it safely, is all."

determined "Me either, but we'll come up with something," I looked around more closely and went on,

curious "Hey, just how far are we from my house anyway?"

curious "Eh, about a mile or so, why?"

pleased "I hadn't realized we were that close is all. We made really good time, didn't we?"

pleased "Oh sure, there isn't much traffic on the roads we took, and most people have no clue how to judge the speed of a bicyclist, nor what is a reasonable speed, so we've been moving at about 35 miles an hour, which is a lot faster than most people can reach, much less maintain for any significant distance. I suppose professional bicycle racers could do as well, but then we haven't been pushing it, have we? I suspect we could hit at least 50 miles per hour without trying too hard, though it would probably be hard on our bikes, since they aren't really designed to go that fast. I figure 35 to 40 miles an hour should be safe for us to maintain around town."

curious worried "Yeah, that's a bit faster than I had realized we were going, that's all. Do you think we could have damaged the bikes by riding that fast?"

cautious pleased "Not really, I was keeping an eye on the tires to make sure that they didn't get too hot and cause a blow out. I will say that I plan on replacing both my tires and inner tubes before summer gets here since they are more than a little bit old, with similar wear and tear. Still, they're in very good shape for their age. And yours are even better."

We slowed down even more as we turned into my neighborhood and I slipped ahead of Taylor so that if anyone was watching, they'd see me bringing her home, and not the other way around. Of such things are expectations assumed and met, without actually meaning a damn thing. Taylor not only knew where I lived, she had a much better and clearer idea of how to get to and from anywhere in the city. Not to mention whether or not there were any problems or dangers ahead of us, which I found to be of great comfort.

Turning into my driveway, I carefully led Taylor past the cars and to the gate leading into the backyard. Dismounting, we walked our bikes into the backyard and leaned them against the fence, before unstrapping our packs and heading into the house. I led her into the kitchen and called out, "Hey all, we're back; is everyone home?" Even though I could clearly hear that mom and dad were watching a movie downstairs and Vicky was upstairs in her room, being quiet so I figured she was probably reading one of her books, as she had told me she was caught up on her homework.

Dad came to the bottom of the stairs and called up, "Yeah, we're all home. Is that Taylor with you?"

I looked down at him and said, "Yep. We're going upstairs to see Vicky and rest up for a bit. Do you need anything before we scoot?"

He shook his head and said, "No, we're good down here. Dinner will be at six, and Taylor is more than welcome to stay if she'd like."

I glanced back at Taylor and got a thumbs up, so called back, "Sounds good all around, we'll see you in about an hour then, alright?"

Dad just waved as he turned back to the movie he and mom were watching, so I led Taylor up to my room.

As I walked in I saw the school things I had dumped out and blushed at my carelessness, but quickly scooped them up and stacked them on my desk, while dropping my backpack on the floor next to my desk. "Go ahead and drop your bag next to mine while I let Vicky know that we're back, okay? Go ahead and get comfortable on the bed, I'll be back in a minute."

Slipping though our shared bathroom, I stuck my head in Vicky's room and greeted her, "Hey sis, Taylor and I are back and are going to chill until dinner time. Just so you know, dad invited Taylor to eat tonight, though I've no idea what he's got planned, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

Vicky looked up from her AP Psych textbook and said, "I've no idea either, though I suspect it'll be something pretty simple, since he and mom are still watching a movie. He might even just order pizzas or Chinese since it's just family."

I smiled at that and said, "Thanks Vicky. I'll let you get back to your studying then." It felt really nice knowing that Vicky thought about Taylor that way, even though we hadn't been dating that long.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

Looking at Amy's bed, I didn't even hesitate in taking off both my shoes and socks so I wouldn't get any of the road dirt on her bedspread. Amy took one look at me and said, "Oh yeah, that's a great idea," before turning back into the bathroom and fetching two wet washcloths for us to use, "here hold these for a sec, while I take off my shoes."

Shooing me towards the head of the bed, she pulled off her socks and shoes, before she settled on the bed facing me, grabbed one of the washcloths, plopped her feet in my lap and pulled mine into hers before starting to carefully wash them. I was actually frozen for a moment at the casual intimacy of the act, before I began to reciprocate. Sliding her pants leg up her calf, I carefully washed her foot, taking particular care with her toes, since it was obvious she was totally ticklish around them. I took my time with both of her feet, so that not only were they both clean, but also well relaxed after the long day of bike riding.

When we had both finished, Amy collected the washcloths and dropped them into the hamper before returning. She stopped and looked over her bookshelves and asked, "Sweetie, come over and take a look at my books and see if any of them interest you."

I slipped off the bed and joined her at her bookshelf and started reading the spines. I immediately noticed the large selection of Sci-Fi and Fantasy books, with the occasional Historical and Romance novels and a tiny selection of children's books. Probably her favorites from her childhood.

As I scanned the titles I found quite a few that I recognized and had already read, when I came across a couple by an author my dad had mentioned a couple of months ago. Pulling one out, I showed it to Amy and asked, "How's this one? My dad mentioned it, but I haven't found it in any of the used books stores I frequent, so … can we read this one?"

Amy looked at it and said, "Oh yeah, that's one of my all-time favorites. Let me grab another one in case you don't like this one, alright?" As soon as she finished speaking she grabbed a second book and led me back to her bed; pushing me to the far side, she fluffed up her pillows and lay down next to me and wriggled around until she comfortable, with one of her legs twined around mine and her foot pressed against mine. Opening the book she held it so we could both see the pages and we started to read …

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

THAT DINKUM THINKUM

1

I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City Council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect-and tax-public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize "Sons of Revolution" talk-talk.

My old man taught me two things: "Mind own business" and "Always cut cards." Politics never tempted me. But on Monday 13 May 2075 I was in computer room of Lunar Authority Complex, visiting with computer boss Mike while other machines whispered among themselves. Mike was not official name; I had nicknamed him for Mycroft Holmes, in a story written by Dr. Watson before he founded IBM. This story character would just sit and think-and that's what Mike did. Mike was a fair dinkum thinkum, sharpest computer you'll ever meet …

Amy and I lay in her bed reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the same book that dad had told me about months ago, and he was right … it was an amazing story, especially since it had been written nearly 50 years ago, long before powers had appeared on our world and everything changed. It took us about two pages to synchronize our reading speed so that we were both reading at a comfortable rate, even as we also started modding trees along a fairly wide swath headed more or less directly to my house.

After about 5 miles, we started a spur headed towards Arcadia, so that we would be able to reach each other even during school hours if something important came up; you know, like what Amy would like for dinner, or if she wanted to go see a movie. Important stuff.

We reached Arcadia first, so I simply kept going towards one of the hospitals that she regularly pulled shifts at, figuring that we might as well get as much done while we had such a perfect opportunity. I hoped that we would have enough time to do at least part of the docks and along the boardwalk, but realistically it was going to have to wait until we had another opportunity like this one.

We had reached the point in Chapter 5 where they realized that they really could plan out a revolution when Vicky slipped into Amy's room.

"Oh, you two are hopeless. You had the perfect opportunity to get up to all sorts of naughtiness, and what do you do? You read a book. Hopeless, utterly hopeless. At this rate I'm never gonna get any nieces to spoil," she grabbed the hair on both sides of her head and melodramatically shook her head back and forth, crying, "I was counting on you Taylor, you're my only hope for getting any kids outta Ames and now here I find you all snuggled up to my sister in her own bed, and what are you doing? Reading. While fully clothed."

She slumped to the floor and looked at us with a tragic look on her face and said, "It's just not fair. I put all this effort into getting Amy hooked up, only to find that she likes girls, and she even found her own girlfriend without any help or input from her favorite sister,"

"Only sister," Amy interjected.

"and she'd rather read a book then give me nieces to spoil! Oh woe is me! Where did I go wrong? What horrible crime did I commit in a previous life to curse me so?"

Her dad who'd been watching her from the open door spoke up, "It was probably because of all those times you woke us up early on Christmas morning."

"ACK! What are you doing here dad?" Vicky asked in surprise.

"I'm not quite sure, but I think I'm watching my eldest daughter have a nervous breakdown over her younger sister not providing nieces to spoil while said younger sister is still in high school. Which, I might add, is something I heartily approve of; the waiting that is. Nieces can wait until after college, and as far as I'm concerned, nephews can wait even longer."

By this point, both Amy and I were clutching each other for support as we giggled at the silliness that had slipped into the room while we were quietly reading together.

"Well, Vicky's obsessions notwithstanding, I thought I'd let you know that we ordered a variety of pizzas and they'll be here any minute, so you should all wash up and come on down to have a bite to eat. Vicky, you lucked out tonight since you have cleanup."

Vicky pumped her fist in the air and said, "YES! Easiest cleanup ever, consolidate the leftovers and empty the trash and I'm done!"

Amy sat up and gave me a hand to help me off the bed and led me into the bathroom where we washed our faces and hands before heading downstairs. Vicky joined us a minute later as we all took seats around the table and selected slices of pizza from the boxes on the table and put them on our paper plates. It was pretty obvious that in the Dallon household, pizza night was ultra-casual, with the intention of keeping everything simple and easy. Truthfully, it was a policy I could get used to since I handled all of the cooking and cleaning at our house.

Amy handled most of the conversation, even as she and I gently played footsie under the table. I picked up the conversation whenever Amy wanted to eat some pizza, so I described our route, though I didn't mention that we had made it all the way to the end of Ocean Drive, instead I gave the impression that we had turned around after our picnic lunch.

Because of the short amount of time I had left before I would have to leave to get home at a reasonable hour, Amy and I shifted to a much narrower swath leading to the two other hospitals and down along the docks. There were a lot fewer trees, so we needed to use booster-birds to cover the gaps until we could get to more trees. We also silently agreed to look into figuring out a way to cover those gaps, maybe in the sewers or just underground using ant colonies or something similar to provide a micro-ecosystem to support the relays.

By the time everyone had finished eating, Vicky didn't have enough leftovers to even fill a single box, which was apparently not the norm. Both Amy and I shamefacedly admitted that the long ride had given us both ravenous appetites, so we'd sort of pigged out on the pizza.

We helped Vicky with cleaning up from dinner so it only took a couple of minutes before we headed back upstairs.

When we got to Amy's room, Vicky followed up in and took a seat at the desk.

"So you two really rode almost completely around the city? And you really think that's fun? Ames, I always thought I was the brawn while you were the brain; when did it all change?" she plaintively asked.

I sat on the bed and started to put my socks and shoes back on while Amy answered her sister. "A few months ago, after mom had that hissy fit in Canberra about me working myself into exhaustion with all the healing," she smiled at me and went on, "and after I healed Taylor, I did a lot of reading on physical therapy and controlled recovery from surgery and other injuries. I used a lot of that to help Taylor with her recovery and it just seemed natural to do the same types and amounts of exercise as I was having Taylor do."

"Huh. I guess that makes sense," she looked at me as I finished tying my shoes and said, "well, I'm gonna get back to my studying for my AP exam, I've only got a couple weeks to go, sooo…back to work I go."

Standing up she stretched and headed for the door, calling back over her shoulder, "If Taylor needs a ride home, let me know and I'll drive her, 'kay?"

I told her as she walked through the door, "I'll be riding my bike home, so I'll have to leave shortly. Thanks for the offer, though."

Vicky just waved at us as she headed for her room, leaving the door wide open. I cocked an eyebrow at Amy and asked, "House rules?" while pointing at the door.

"Yep. It has to be at least partly open when a girlfriend or boyfriend is in the room, to 'Reduce Temptation' as dad put it," she giggled and went on, "'cause he claims that as teens, nothing short of Armageddon would actually eliminate Temptation, and I dare say he's right."

I slid closer and hugged her, burying my face in her hair which she had released from it's braid when we got washed up for dinner. Enhanced senses for the win! The scent of her hair was wonderful, almost intoxicating in it's richness. After a minute or so I sighed and sat back up.

"I love being with you and I hate leaving, but I've got to get home so dad doesn't worry. I'll text you when I get home, alright?" I used finger quotes when I said text, so she'd know I meant with our new communication mod.

TAYLOR: I'll see how well I can keep an eye on you while I'm riding, if you don't mind?

AMY: No problem, and I'll do the same to see if I improve at using the linkages without your direct help.

TAYLOR: Try to follow the booster-birds, pick one out and work on both using it's senses and locating it within the city. You can even use a map and see how close you can pin it down. Feel free to ask if you need any suggestions or clarifications.

AMY: I will, oh yeah, I meant to give you the modded spiders I made earlier, but sort of forgot. I'll get 'em now, okay?

TAYLOR: Sure. They can't breed right? I'll set them up in an isolated section of the lair for now. Once we have a more secure location I'll transfer them and we can start breeding them. The description you gave me sounds really good, though we may want to tweak them carefully before we let them breed, and I want to be sure to prevent any possibility of free-breeding. Either under my direct control or using queens that are geographically limited. Maybe both methods at the same time.

TAYLOR: I definitely want to be able to keep the PRT from freaking out if they spot any of them so we might want to make them primarily subterranean, but have them work with ants or another species in some sort of symbiotic relationship. We'll have to see how it goes.

Grabbing our packs, Amy pulled the plastic containers holding the modded spiders and slid them in next to the mostly empty thermos. She paused for a moment and then put a paperback in as well, though not the one we'd been reading. Handing me my pack, she sighed and stood up.

"I suppose we might as well head out now, it's not like it'll get any easier to leave, will it?"

I shook my head and said, "No, not really. Though I think being able to link to each other and talk whenever we want to will help," I swung my pack over one shoulder and followed her downstairs and out to where we'd left our bikes.

As I strapped my pack onto the rack, Amy took my water bottle and refilled it from the outside tap and slipped it back into the holder before stepping closer and leaned up into my kiss. This time we weren't in a hurry or being watched by anyone so we took our time and just enjoyed it. Especially since just touching each other could be an act of the closest intimacy, to be able to kiss at our leisure and simply enjoy it was … wonderful!

Eventually, we had to back away and calm down a bit, so Amy and I walked my bike out to the street, before sharing one more kiss, though a more chaste goodbye kiss than the one we had shared in the privacy of the backyard.

Mounting my bike, I quickly built up speed and headed for home. I used my swarm to keep an eye out for any oncoming traffic or pedestrians that might be a problem, while at the same time looking back to Amy's house where I brought a number of squirrels and birds in to act as sentries for a couple of blocks around her house. I was hoping that with practice, I'd be able to simply leave a 'sub-swarm' on guard 24/7, that would actually notify me of anything out of the ordinary, even waking me if necessary. For now though, I'd be happy if they stayed fairly close by and some stayed awake at all times without my direct control.

Once I was reasonably satisfied with my set up, I looked ahead to my house and began the same type of guard around my neighborhood. When I checked up on dad, it was apparent that he had picked up some fast food after he'd finished with doing the grocery shopping. Ugh, MacDonald's again. If he wanted a burger so bad, I'd start making up some patties and keep them in the freezer for the rare nights that I didn't cook.

Even as I rode for home, I stretched out into my swarm, expanding my awareness along all of the paths that Amy had made for me, carefully exploring the underground of the city, and especially across the river. The mine was interesting enough, but it's proximity to all of those mansions and the numerous inlets to the ocean made me curious to see if perhaps some of those mansions had been used for smuggling during prohibition or even earlier. The possibilities of secret tunnels and storerooms from 80 or 100 years ago still being available was something that I just couldn't ignore.

I sent twenty booster-gulls across the river to join up with the network there, while bringing the owls into the city to roost in some of the larger parks. The crows were scattered near the gaps in the Docks so I would have plenty of extras if I needed them while patrolling.

One of the advantages of the gulls was that they could land on the water so I could use fish and crustaceans to explore any submerged or partially submerged tunnels. If I found much of interest underwater, it might be worth our while to modify a number of crabs or lobsters, since I could easily keep mine well fed, and well away from any traps.

I exchanged a few texts with Amy as I rode, partly because we could and partly to test my multi-tasking outside using my swarm. I also worked through most of the options available in my menu system, looking for any new changes, safely rode my bike, tested my systems, texted with Amy, and did some reviewing for my upcoming tests and explored the city.

Not surprisingly, exploring the city with my swarm was by far the easiest to do, while the most difficult was to recall books I had read previously and to re-read them, page by page. Even with all of that being done at the same time, none of what I did was particularly difficult, nor did I feel like any single task was being shorted my attention. Clearly my power's ability to multi-task wasn't even close to being challenged; in fact it felt as if I was getting better at it the more I used it, as was Amy.

When I finally got home, I parked my bike in the backyard, and with a glance at the sky, I pulled the blue tarp over the bike to protect it from the rain I thought might start tonight or tomorrow morning. Picking up my pack, I entered through the kitchen and with a disapproving look at the food wrappers on the table, I went looking for dad.

As I expected, I found him resting in the living room, sipping a beer as he watched tv before getting ready for bed.

"Hey Dad, I'm home safe and sound and Amy said hi!"

Looking up from 60 Minutes, he said, "Good, I hope you two had a good time on your bike ride."

I stopped behind his chair and leaned over and kissed his bald spot before saying, "Oh we did, we covered quite a bit of distance and had a picnic on the other side of the river before we headed back. Amy's dad invited me to dinner, so I ate there before heading home. I'd like to do it again this summer, maybe even plan out a week or so for a bike/camping trip; I think that'd be a lot of fun."

Dad twisted around in his seat enough to see me and said, "Yeah, that does sound like it would be a lot of fun, hard work too, but fun. Go ahead and start planning it so you can work out details with Amy, assuming that is, that she's interested."

"I will, though I'm going to grab a shower and get ready for bed now. I'll be down in a while to do some studying for my GED before I crash for the night," I said as I climbed the stairs.

It only took me a few minutes to sort out my backpack and grab clean clothes for after my shower, so I was able to get cleaned up and ready for bed just as 60 Minutes was ending. As usual, Dad was watching another of his cop shows, this one was an Earth-Aleph import called CSI: Miami. It was sort of okay, but pretty unrealistic if you asked me; the original one set in Las Vegas seemed a little less, over-the-top I guess. I actually preferred NCIS or Criminal Minds if I had to watch a cop show, but I could study while it was on without being terribly distracted, so if it made Dad happy that was good enough for me.

Taking my AP Psych text book and book on High-Energy physics from the shelves, I lay down on the sofa and started reading the physics book while reviewing both my GED Study Guide and AP Psych Exam Guide. As was becoming my norm, I also worked though a long series of math problems of ever-increasing complexity and difficulty. Really, I was far beyond what was needed for my GED, and was hopefully going to get advanced placement in Math when I started college in the fall.

Finally Dad wrapped up for the evening after CSI: Miami finished, cleaning up his trash and putting his mug in the sink before he sat down and addressed me, "Taylor, did you have any firm plans for tomorrow?"

I looked up from my book and said, "Uh, not really. Just my usual housework and studying is all. I do want to run some of my chemistry experiments again, but I can put them off if I need to. Why, did something come up while I was gone?"

"Ah, not while you were gone, no, but last week I got a call from Miss Militia, giving me a heads up on their plans for Winslow … she asked that I not tell you until this weekend, just in case something came up to cause a delay with their plans. I guess she didn't want you to be disappointed if something happened or if they had to skip the big raid and go with quiet arrests. Anyway, the plan is to drop the hammer on Winslow tomorrow morning, using both the police and school board at the same time; are you going to be okay with everything being brought back up?"

I sat upright and looked at him for a moment while I thought about how I felt about that, the idea that Winslow was actually going to be held accountable for all of the abuse that I had been subjected to … I guess I felt vindicated, that justice might actually be properly served.

I nodded at him and said, "I'm glad, even if it's taken a while for the police to be able act; I'm just glad that something's finally going to happen. Although, why would Miss Militia be the one to call you, and not the police?"

He looked a little embarrassed, as well as a bit frustrated, "Several reasons; first of all she and Armsmaster both feel responsible for causing your panic attack and heart attack, so she was determined not to let anything derail the investigation, plus the PRT has the clout to ensure that everyone who was questioned would in fact keep silent about the investigation, until they were ready to serve the warrants. Secondly, with all of the gang activity at Winslow, especially with what's been going on with the ABB lately, the PRT and Protectorate are going to do everything they can to ensure that there is no cape interference with any part of the operation."

"Ah, I see. No last gasps from the ABB or with E88 trying to take advantage of the ABB's current troubles. That actually makes sense," I agreed after taking a moment to think about it. "Did she say anything about Hess?"

He shook his head and said, "Not recently, though when I first met her right after your heart attack, she told me that Hess was in custody, and would remain so for a long time," he paused to look at me carefully, before continuing. "Umm, you do know about her being…SS, right?"

I stood up and paced around the room, until I got my temper back under control and said, "Yes, and I know that I can't tell anyone about it, too. I actually figured it out the day I had my heart attack; in fact, realizing who she was is what caused the heart attack."

I sighed, then went on, "Amy was the one who pointed out why I couldn't tell anyone about Hess' secret ID, at least not unless the PRT said that it was okay. I do understand that it's to protect innocents like her family and friends, not that I think any of HER friends could be considered innocent, but I guess … Anyway. in the end, I think it's turned out well for me; after all, that's how Amy and I met, isn't it?"

Dad smiled weakly and agreed, "Yes it is, though I just wish there had been a less traumatic way for you to meet. Anyway, the reason I brought this up is that Miss Militia asked if you could spend the day with me at work, so that you would be safely unavailable to any reporters or people looking for information or even revenge."

I grinned at him and asked, "Sort of a 'Bring Your Daughter To Work Day' in an unofficial sort of way?"

He chuckled and agreed, "Just for you, though. I doubt that any reporters would look for you there, and even if they did, they'd never get past our friends to hassle you."

I giggled back and said, "No kidding, the Association is probably the safest place in the city for me to hang out for the day. I'll bring a bunch of books to study from, so I'll stay on schedule, and maybe we can have lunch together, I can bring some leftovers and …"

Dad broke interrupted me, "Or maybe I could take you out for lunch instead. We haven't done that for I while, and I think it might be a nice change," he offered with a lifted eyebrow.

I gave him a big smile and said, "Thank you, I think that would be lovely. I'll let you decide where to go, alright?"

"My pleasure, Tay-Tay; and with that, I'm going to head for bed," he stepped up to me and gave me a firm and comforting hug, one that seemed to last forever before he walked upstairs and went to bed, closing his door quietly for the night.

I stood there for a few minutes while I thought about dad's surprising news and tried to put it all perspective. Finally I nodded and picked up my books and put them back on the shelf and cleared away the minor clutter around the living room and headed for the kitchen.

I checked the freezer but had to go downstairs to get a couple of packages of whole chicken breasts that I would thaw out overnight in the fridge for our dinner tomorrow night. I put both the large and small slow cookers on the counter, laid out most of the non-food items I would need to make dinner, finished loading the dishwasher and started it running.

I stared around the kitchen pensively, trying to decide if I should stop for the night or get a few things done while it was still fairly early. I finally decided to get a head start with some of my normal chores, since I wasn't going to be around the house to do them like I normally did.

Alright, first thing is to start on laundry. If I start now, the noise won't wake dad up when I have to get his dirty laundry hamper. Once I have the first load running I'll start on the bread dough; the kitchen will be cool enough to slow the rising down until I come on back down to start the soup and the chicken breasts.

I trotted upstairs and knocked on dad's bedroom door, softly calling out, "Dad? Are you still awake? I need your laundry hamper, I'm getting a head start on tomorrow's chores."

I could hear him moving around, no doubt adding a few things to the hamper, then he spoke up, "Alright Tay-Tay, here you go," just before he opened his door and handed out his hamper, "don't stay up too late, you still need to get some sleep, even if it's less than me these days."

I took his hamper and said with a smile, "Thanks dad, I'll only be an hour or so before I go to bed, and I bet I'm still up way before you are."

He blew a raspberry at me and said, "That's a sucker bet if I ever heard one, find someone else to run your scams on, I'm on to your tricks."

"Only some of them, Dad, I've been saving my best for later on, so I guess you're safe for now."

He smiled at that and gave me a little wave as he closed his door. I set the hamper down by the stairs and fetched my hamper and the used towels out of the bathroom before carrying both full hampers down to the basement.

Sorting and starting the first load only took a couple of minutes, and I went back to the kitchen and started making my usual extra-large batch of bread dough. Once I had everything ready and rising, I transferred and started my next load of laundry and brought the picnic blanket down to be added to my load of towels.

I emptied the dishwasher, put away the clean dishes and loaded the few dirty items I had from prepping the bread dough. After a last look around, I set my alarm and went to bed for a nap.

Though it wasn't too late, I hesitated to text Amy in case she was asleep when I realized that as soon as I turned my attention to Amy using our linkage, it was obvious that she was awake and aware.

TAYLOR: Hey Amy, guess what?

AMY: What, did you figure out something new?

TAYLOR: I think so. When I thought about texting you, I wasn't sure if you were asleep or not, but as soon as I actually thought about writing the text, I could tell that you were awake and active. Pretty cool, huh?

AMY: Yeah, it is … I don't think it's a part of the communication mod, but is part of how your linkages work. Earlier today I noticed some emotional overtones when we texted as well as when we were speaking, I'm not 100% sure it's the linkages, so we'll have to do some experiments to settle the question. Personally, I'm betting on the linkages, not the comm's.

TAYLOR: Hmm … yeah, I think that you're right. It feels a little bit like when we are doing the full linkage, remember? Not exactly like that, 'cause it's not as rich and powerful, but still, it feels similar. Anyway, what I actually wanted to talk about is that dad asked me to go into work with him tomorrow.

AMY: Why? Is there something wrong, a problem of some kind?

TAYLOR: No, the complete opposite. Miss Militia called him and asked him to keep me with him tomorrow because the Police Department, PRT and the Protectorate are all involved in a major operation tomorrow morning.

TAYLOR:

AMY: Well, don't tease me like that, tell me what kind of an operation is going down, and can I tell anyone about it?

TAYLOR: Apparently they are all dropping the Hammer of God on Winslow. They've got a bunch of warrants that going to be served on a big chunk of the faculty and staff. I bet you'll be able to hear screams and crying all the way to Arcadia. It's going to be EPIC!

AMY: Are you going to watch?

TAYLOR: I can't, I have to stay with my dad; no one would dream of letting me go to Winslow, just so I could watch the fun.

AMY: Oh, don't you even try and pretend that you're not going to be watching every second of well-deserved misery and pain that drops on them, from a great and terrible height.

TAYLOR: giggle Oh, God, it's going to be AWESOME! Want to watch with me?

AMY: I wish I could, but there's no way your dad would let me skip school just so we could hang out like that. I mean, he's really cool and all, but that would be pushing it a bit too far.

TAYLOR: No doubt that's true; but then again, I wasn't thinking about asking permission, I was planning on cheating.

AMY: SERIOUSLY!? Do you think it'll work? Of course it'll work. Oh wait, we don't even have a relay path going to Winslow.

TAYLOR: Not yet, we don't. But I do have a whole bunch of booster-birds that you so thoughtfully modded for me. And I bet we could put a bunch of relay trees in before breakfast. Even with sleeping for a few hours first.

AMY: Oh, hell yes! Let's go for it.

TAYLOR: I'm moving a bunch of booster-birds that way as we speak, so let's see what we can see. I've got an owl with a relay booster headed that way now, and I'm using it's eyes as we speak, so follow the link and let's practice sharing it's eyes.

Interestingly enough, even though the way we communicated came across as texting, it was so fast to create each text, it was more like talking than typing. There was no virtual keyboard or similar interface; simply wanting to write something was enough to have it appear on the mental screen. The big difference was that there didn't seem to be any emotional overtones, like there were when were speaking and the texts were saved like an online chat log, at least they seemed to be. I'd check later to see if I could pull up one of the earlier ones tomorrow or the day after.

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

I was lying in bed, just relaxing and enjoying the memories of our awesome road trip today. I was pondering what that mine really was, and I was thinking that it had started out as a mine, and over the years the various owners had upgraded and modified it to suit their needs.

It was just about 11:30 when I felt Taylor's attention sharpen on me. I had felt her all evening, the same way I could feel her when we sharing a sofa or laying down while watching tv; not doing anything in particular, just the comfortable knowledge that she was nearby.

But it was different when she turned her attention on me; she wasn't trying to eavesdrop or look over my shoulder. I just knew that she was now actively paying attention to me. A moment's thought showed that I could do the same thing with her. This had to be because of our greatly expanded network of relay-boosters, not an active use of our powers.

A moment later Taylor began texting with me, explaining what was going to happen tomorrow morning. And she was so right, it was going to be AWESOME!

Finding the right bird, even knowing that it was one of the few booster equipped owls, felt like a nearly impossible task until Taylor took my hand, metaphorically speaking, and showed me the correct echo and then let me touch the owl and begin finding my way to it's senses as I slowly learned how to make them a part of my own senses.

While I worked on that, Taylor wordlessly asked my permission to use my senses and gave me her permission to use hers.

Finally I was able to blend with the owl's senses, especially it's vision, allowing me to see what it could see, hear what it could hear and smell what it could smell just as easily as if I were floating there in mid-air.

I could feel Taylor, right here, she was holding me close, keeping me safe, letting me do all the work of finding and holding us together,

Amy, go ahead and try to direct the owl to fly to it's left … NO! Don't try to make the wings move or anything, you're not CONTROLLING it, all you need to do is sort of 'want' to go left. Leave everything else up to the owl.

Oooh! That's how you do it, I had no idea that it was so easy the way you do it. But so powerful, too. You don't CONTROL your swarm, you ARE your swarm. It's so beautiful …

I see what you mean now … he knows how to fly, how to maneuver, I just have to give him the desire to move in that direction. I never really analyzed how you controlled your swarm, you just did it. That makes it easier for me then, let's not make it any harder than it has to be …

I know, right? It's the exact same thing when you're using your power to make mods or heal an injury … so much of it is LETTING the changes happen, you provide the desire, the intention to change, all you have to do is … let it go … You just need to watch as the changes happen, just the way you WANT.

Umm, Taylor this is a little bit off topic, but I don't want to forget this. I think most capes just let their powers do ALL the work, maybe they can learn new tricks, but really all they are doing is getting a little better at their old tricks. Even a Second Trigger is just more of the same, writ large.

But you and I, I suspect that we are actually doing something very different; we're always studying, learning new things and new ways to do old things … it's like you told me that one time; I'm in high school, but I'm studying advanced biology and genetics, and then comparing what I see with my power to what I'm learning by studying, and that seems to be why we can not only do more than anyone else could with our powerset, but we can go beyond our powerset.

Exactly, we are NOT our power; we are more than that, better than that. I'm Taylor and you're Amy, and especially when we are like this … we are so much MORE!

Oh wow! I just realized that we're almost doing our full joining, although without physical contact it seems to be both a lot easier and yet much less powerful and rich. Amy, keep the link to the owl nice and solid, but let's you and I sort of step back slightly … not much, just enough so we can see what we are doing with the other echoes a little better.

Okay, I think you're right, just easing back a tiny bit should let us get a better feel about where we want to go.

One

Two

Three

ahhhhhh

pleased "Cool."

curious determined "Definitely. Alright then, let's see if you can place a mod in this tree right outside Winslow."

curious "Can you land a booster-bird in the branches for me?"

puzzled "Probably, but why? There's a couple of squirrels and birds sleeping in the branches already, try using one of them as a target and then jump to the tree."

surprise "I can just do that!?"

curious "Won't know until you try, will you? But I don't see why not; just go for it."

I shifted my focus, sliding down the linkage to the echo I wanted, a sleeping squirrel and sort of flowed through the squirrel into the tree. A moment's concentration, and the structure and substance of the tree began moving, following a pattern that I had followed thousands of times before … success!

I started to move back along the linkage towards my Taylor but then stopped, I didn't need to go back to the beginning to find a new echo… I could move forward from here.

And I did. I could feel Taylor holding me close, her soft breath in my ear, but she wasn't doing the directing, she was leaving it all up to me. She was just along for the ride, enjoying the opportunity to see and feel everything as I made the changes, to watch me figure out a new and amazing way to use my abilities that my power had never known how to do. God, did that feel good … oh … ooh … ooh my goD!

With a gasp I was laying in my bed, shaking and breathing in little gasps, trying to catch my breath … And … oh God, I think I just … with Taylor … I think that … together we … I'm drenched ...

I grabbed my pillow and covered my face to hide my blush.

afraid "Amy, are you okay? You completely dropped out of our linkage, at least this time it didn't hurt, but …"

afraid afraid "Amy? Answer me please, you're beginning to scare me! Amy, please talk to me. I can feel you, something happened to you, but I can't read you now … "

terror despair loneliness "AMY! Where are you?!"

My embarrassment from so unexpectedly … oh god, I was just … and then …

Then all I could feel was terror – terror and grief, a grief to drown the world – what happened? Where is my linkage!? Where is TAYLOR!?

Oh my God, TAYLOR!

I fumbled for a moment, trying to activate our comm mod, then suddenly … afraid relief "TAYLOR! Where are … Oh thank God, there you are …"

I could barely hear her, her voice inside my head was a soft trembling whisper,

terror despair loneliness grief terror "Amy? Is that you?… are you real? Oh God, please be real, please be real, don't leave me, please don't leave, please don't, be real, please be real, please please pleaseplease …"

Her voice was so soft and I could feel her fear and grief, though it was like she was behind a … oh God, the locker …

This time I didn't bother with our comm's, though I left the connection open; instead I threw myself into our linkage and flew down the echoes until I reached her, half-way across the city, and yet right next to me; she was curled into a fetal ball, whimpering my name; her pain and terror nearly overwhelming me, but I refused to flinch away … I had caused this, unwillingly, unknowingly, but it was still because of me that she was suffering … and by God, it would be me who fixed it. Or ended with her … no matter what happened she would not be alone … never again, I had promised and I would never break that promise.

Taking a deep, calming breath – both in my bed and within our linkage – I focused on Taylor: my best friend, my unbreakable rock that sheltered and protected me … from everything; this sweet innocent girl-child, this ruthless goddess of destruction; the one who could make me feel the most overpowering joy simply by looking at me and knowing all of me; my other half, the only person that I KNEW loved me and that I loved back, and now I needed to bring all of this: my happiness, my power, everything that she made me feel and know, her potential and my potential, for good and for evil, for joy and for pain, for life and for death, my beginning and my end, my acceptance and my completion; all of it, leaving nothing behind, with my love to guide me and take all of me to her …

I slowly and carefully wrapped myself around her, surrounding and covering her with all of my feelings, all of my love, and then I took the next step and slid from the outside of Taylor to the inside, where there was no longer a Taylor and an Amy, but only … … …

-Legion*** To Bleed Within The NEXUS ***Legion-

As soon as I fully joined with Taylor within our linkage, we spun back through her life, finally stopping at what was probably her earliest complete memory. She appeared to be between 2 and 3 years old, and was wearing a onesie pajama that was bright green and covered in many different species of owls, she was standing in front of the sofa in her living room, staring at the brightly lit Christmas tree and the piles of colorfully wrapped presents under and around the tree.

I was floating in mid-air, sitting on nothing, and holding my Taylor in my lap, stroking her hair and whispering softly to her while we watched what was going on.

Rocking back and forth on her heels, every few seconds she would start to step forward, then step back. Finally, a tall, slender woman who looked much like an older Taylor, came into the room and sat down on the sofa and picked up the little girl and asked her, "Well, look at all the presents Santa Claus put under our tree; do you think some of them might be for you, Little Owl?"

Nodding her head so fast that Amy couldn't even see her face from the way her hair flew around her head. "Uh huh! I a vewy goo' girl! Dada say so! He e'en say a lenner to Santa say so! I a vewy goo' girl!" She slid down from her mother's lap and very carefully walked over to the front window and pointed to an ornate Silver and Gold Santa Sleigh that was part of the display on the window sill and said, "Owr pwesents in a S'eigh and fawl down a fwoor," she looked up at her father who had just come in the room with a tray of cookies and a carton of milk and said, "an' go BOOM!" throwing her hands up in the air for emphasis.

Taylor and I watched as Little Owl, as her parents normally called her, and her parents opened their Christmas presents, with Taylor's being carefully placed on one end to the sofa Annette-Rose was sitting on. It appeared that a big part of her job was to protect the cookies from Danny and Taylor as well as helping Taylor to open her gifts. Even as young as she was, she tried so hard to not rip the paper, with somewhat limited success; every time she was even partly successful, she would take another bite of her cookie as a reward.

Once most of the presents had been passed out and opened, with only the presents for the Grandparents and a few friends still sitting there, lonely but proud, as they waited for the arrival of some guests later that day.

Little Owl carried a large colorful picture book into the kitchen for her to 'read' while Annette-Rose prepared and served a simple breakfast of homemade oatmeal and cinnamon-sugar toast. While she waited for her mother to serve breakfast, she quietly looked at the pictures and tried to identify the animals and people she saw, and watched her mother every time she turned a page.

My Taylor had calmed down, but stayed in my lap where I held her and simply watched as the memory progressed; the memory jumped forward often, probably because Little Owl was unable to remember anything of significance, other than Annette-Rose preparing their Holiday Dinner for later that afternoon. We shifted to Little Owl's bedroom at one point when Danny changed her out of her pajamas into Christmas themed overalls so that she could play with some of her new presents. Later she carefully carried them to her room under Danny's close supervision as she took them one at a time up the stairs and placed them on her bed with the most amazing concentration and care.

When Taylor's grandparents arrived and dinner was served, she wept silently, with a soft smile on her face the whole time. When Little Owl was put to bed, we jumped again, this time into the future, to Taylor's 3rd birthday party. It wasn't a big party, but several cousins attended, as well as a few children from the neighborhood.

This pattern continued until Little Owl was in school, 2nd grade I think, when Taylor froze at the sight of a little red-head girl in her class. It was Emma Barnes of course, from when they first met. She was on the verge on a panic attack when I finally managed to turn her away so she couldn't see the little girl and I asked her to tell me what she remembered about the girl.

Taylor stumbled and froze as she tried to answer my questions; even saddled with her conflicting memories, but she soon figured out which memories belonged with the current Taylor. Many times I had to soothe my Taylor and help her find the strength to go on, knowing what was coming soon.

We watched in silence as young-Taylor and young-Emma grew up, went to school, came home and played, the sleep overs they had and the secrets that they shared. It was obvious to both of us that young-Taylor and young-Emma shared a very close bond, twin sisters of different mothers. In fact, it reminded me a lot of how Vicky and I were before puberty and powers hit me.

When the phone call came, telling young-Taylor about the death of her mother in a single car accident, young-Taylor fainted, and when she woke up, she walked around the house as if she was in a daze until she found the box of index cards with her mother's recipes written out on 3x5 Index Cards. She wrapped herself around the box and crawled under the kitchen table and just cried until Danny got home.

My Taylor broke down again, and wasn't able to even talk to me for the best part of what felt like days after her mother died. Little Owl was in even worse shape because Danny was very nearly catatonic from grief. He wasn't able to take care of himself for almost a month, much less his daughter, which forced Little Owl to suppress the pain and grief from losing her mother so she could take care of her father. All I could do was hold her and make sure she knew that she wasn't alone anymore, that I was with her and that I loved her and would never leave her.

The Barnes family is probably the only reason that Little Owl survived that spring; Zoe Barnes was able to get Danny out of his depression and at least somewhat functional while Emma was unbelievably supportive of her friend. She was compassionate and caring in a way that just simply didn't match with the behavior of Emma as one of Those Bitches.

The next significant milestone was when Taylor came home from the Nature Summer Camp.

After that point, Emma's behavior was completely twisted around to the point of being completely unrecognizable if compared to her previous actions. This was the first time I ever saw Sophia Hess, and I got to see her behavior around Taylor. The change to Emma's behavior was so striking, that somebody should have been calling for Master/Stranger Protocols the first time Emma met Taylor after the Nature Camp.

As hard as dealing with these memories must have been for Taylor, they were just as hard for me. But now, now I was seeing exactly what my beloved Taylor had suffered, and she was helping me as much as I was helping her.

The social dynamics between Those Bitches was especially enlightening; Emma was the obvious Leader, Sophia was the Enforcer and Madison was just a Follower. But if you watched closely, over time it became clear that Sophia was the actual Leader, setting the limits and targets, while Emma was almost desperate to please Sophia. Madison was the interesting one though. She was far more intelligent than any of the other abusers, and would often come up with different plans and pranks. But her pranks, as bad as they were, were designed to be either annoying or as harmless as she could manage.

Taylor was the one who pointed out the bizarre social dynamics to me and figured out that Madison was actually terrified of Sophia, and was working extremely hard to keep Sophia's attention focused outward on someone, anyone, other than herself and she was trying to figure out what were the most likely causes for Emma's changed behavior.

The other oddity was how stupidly the staff at Winslow acted, other than Mrs. Knott and one of the janitor's, every single teacher or administrator that interacted with Taylor or Those Bitches, seemed to be bound and determined to either ignore Taylor's plea's for help or actively make it worse.

Once I noticed the problems with their behavior though, I began actively looking for any evidence of a Master's interference; though I never found any. Lots of evidence of what looked like the results of a Master's influence, but no clear signs of a Master at work. With the sole exception of Emma's sudden change in attitude and behavior, it all seemed to be at second or third hand, with nothing that pointed at one person.

Eventually, after watching literally MONTHS of non-stop torment and abuse, we came to the final moment: The Locker.

To both mine and Taylor's surprise, it wasn't just Those Bitches and their followers that were involved in the attack on Taylor. At least four male members of the Track Team, and two members of the Basketball Team acted to keep people away from the hallway that Taylor's locker was in and helped Sophia force Taylor into the locker after she had been stunned by Sophia's surprise attack from behind.

I made a point of memorizing their faces, thinking that if they slipped through the cracks, a little bit of 'off the books' justice might be cathartic. Though, in the end, any decision about that would be up to Taylor, as I knew that I was much more likely to go to extremes for revenge.

Neither of us managed to deal with the Locker Incident very well, but we did get through it. Mostly by holding onto each other and not judging; but simply reassuring each other that it was over, we had survived it, and no matter what, we had each other and nobody was ever going to separate us.

The time Taylor spent in her coma was actually very relaxing until she woke up; her physical therapy, and other treatments were painful and debilitating, but I got to see her struggle and grow as she put her self back together and started to teach herself and prepare for her upcoming exams, and she got to know what it felt like to have someone's unconditional love and support.

Living through the interrogation by Armsmaster and Miss Militia and it's consequences was unspeakably horrid, as was having to relive all of those horrible days where I had to slowly piece my beloved back together. We both felt Taylor's emotions and thoughts throughout the whole incident; every realization and revelation, just as it occurred the first time. Although I think it was good for Taylor to see just how bad it had gotten as I worked to rebuild her and give her a new chance for life.

What both Taylor and I found especially fascinating was that both times Taylor triggered, we could see either two or three massive creatures that twisted and spun around each other and seemed to be shedding some kind of crystalline body parts across a vast expanse of space and time. Whatever became of those crystalline shards, was a mystery that we simply couldn't solve in the short time we had left before we would be finished with Taylor's memories. As far as we could tell, the shards seemed to just fade away and disappear from view, though we were both certain they were not destroyed

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

I opened my eyes and forced my body to relax and stretch out from my fetal curl on my bed; I checked my swarm, and forced those elements that were still agitated from my earlier breakdown to settle down and in many cases actually settle down on empty rooftops or in the tree's. A quick check of Dad's bedroom showed me that he was asleep, fairly deeply so, and steadily becoming moreso.

As I spread my awareness back out through my swarm, I could feel Amy in her bed, just as awake as I was, probably still a bit agitated from our earlier adventure.

Activating my comm suite, I selected her name and called her:

concern worry "Amy-love, how are you feeling?"

love concern "I'm fine, sweetie, how are you?"

love amusement "I'm fine, too. Still a bit shook up, but really, I think I'm doing far better than I should be, all things considered. Oh hey, do you know what FINE really means?"

confused "Uhh … that I'm doing okay, no real problems, right?"

amused "Nope; it means Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional."

amusement "Yep, that's exactly right."

apologetic grief "I'm sorry that I freaked out like that … but you dropped out of our linkage so suddenly, and then I couldn't feel you anywhere … I thought you might have died, a. I just couldn't face it …"

concern love "I know Taylor, I KNOW! I felt the same way, well once I realized what had happened … It's not the first time we've had a breakdown from leaving our linkage space too quickly."

thoughtful concern love "Yeah, we need to figure out some sort of automatic damping control to prevent the extra pain and the disorientation effect."

thoughtful "Maybe an extra function added to our booster-relay so we always have a low-level connection to our linkage space."

amusement thoughtful "That's a good idea, Love, but we REALLY need a better name for our Linkage Space. Something with class and pizazz."

love amusement "I totally agree, Sweetie, and I have the perfect name for it: NEXUS."

agreement amusement "That's perfect Amy! I like it; it's descriptive, has pizazz, and is quite unique."

determined embarrassment "Good, because I think we need to talk about what just happened, not the memory rewind, that can wait until tomorrow, but how and why I popped out of the NEXUS the way I did."

concern "Are you sure that you want to do this? I can feel that just thinking about it is making you blush like a fire engine."

determined EMBARRASSMENT "Yeah, I'm sure. 'cause if I don't do it now, it'll just get harder the longer I put it off."

concern love "Okay, go ahead, Love. Just remember, I love you and nothing is going to change that."

love embarrassment "I know. How can I not know after that rewind," deep breath "It started when I did what you told me to, and followed the linkage to the unmodded squirrel and through that to the tree which I modded into a perfect booster-relay, afterwards I started to slide back to where you were so I could pick out another suitable tree to mod when I realized that I didn't need to do that, that I could pick out my next target from where I currently was and slide right over to my target tree with no wasted effort or time … and that's when things got really, umm, different."

curious "Different how, Amy?"

embarrassment "Uhh … well, let's just say if you could see me right now, I'm blushing from my toes to the top of my head, so red hot, that I could probably melt a bank vault."

confusion "What?"

determination deep breath "I'm pretty sure that my powers REALLY liked it that I could use the NEXUS to remotely bio-manipulate so easily. So I was rewarded with the most amazing orgasm I've ever had in my short and sheltered life."

awe embarrassment "Oooooh. Yeah, amazing is a pretty good word for it, alright. You do realize that I was riding along with you, right? I would've had no chance to separate from you, even if it had occurred to me. Which it didn't."

embarrassment "Yeah, that's kind of what I thought, did you," deep breath, deep breath "share my orgasm or did you have one of your own?"

embarrassment "I shared yours, at least until you fell out of the NEXUS, at which point, I lost control of, well, pretty much everything. Including my mind."

caring concern "So did I. I could hear you calling for me, but I didn't understand, well, anything really. Not at that point, anyway. It took me a few seconds to understand that you couldn't feel me anywhere, anymore than I could feel you. Once I did understand, I came to you as quickly as I could, but I think it was too late. Honestly, I think it was too late as soon as I was ejected from the NEXUS. But at least I was able to be there for you during your memory rewind, and I think that it helped you, at least a little."

firmly "No Love, it didn't help me just a little; your presence with me is the only reason that I'm still here; alive, well and sane. I could never have dealt with reliving the more traumatic events alone. I just hope that they weren't too disturbing for you."

determination love "Taylor – Sweetie, I love you, period. If the choice is to be with you, and have a short life with a painful death or to be without you, and have a long life with a painless death. Well, I'll always choose you. Short life, long life; none of that matters to me. Just you."

confusion "Why? How could you … I'm not worth it, I'm not, I …"

determination "Those Bitches hurt you so terribly, in so many ways, Sweetie, that I can tell that you find it hard, even now, to believe that anyone can truly love you. But Taylor, please think about this; when we went through your memory rewind, we did it together, I'm not sure you know what I did so I'll explain it again; I was not beside you during the rewind, I was a part of you. I was inside you, or you were inside of me. Either way, we were one person until the end."

confusion "Oh … Really?"

determination love "Sweetie, I know that what we are doing is different, pretty much unexplored territory, but it's real. More real than I can explain, but we are doing it together and that's never going to change. I will no more leave you alone, then you will ever leave me. It just won't happen."

confusion love "So, what do we do now? I mean, what's next?"

amusement love "Well, I suspect we'll have to do what most couples do, and make it up as we go along."

embarrassment love "Not that! I meant, well … tomorrow? Do you still want to try and watch with me?"

determination "Absolutely Sweetie, I think we should try and get some sleep and create a relay path in the morning so we can watch the fireworks at Winslow."

uncertain "Do you think, that we could …"

love determination "Stay connected with each other? If it's at all possible for us to do it, I want to, Sweetie. At the very least, I want to try."

determination "Alright, Love. First things first, let's get comfy again. Use the bathroom if you need to, get a drink of water. I'm going to straighten out my sheets. Once you're ready, let me know and we'll slide into the NEXUS and take it from there."

giggle love "Okay, Sweetie. All done, I'm ready to try this…"

calm determination "I'm going to reach out and touch you and you need to do the same, so that we are both establishing and maintaining the linkage. That way it should have an adaptive, dynamic structure that we'll each act to maintain while we sleep."

excitement "Oh, that's perfect, it's just like what I had to do while I was healing you! Instead of sync'ing our immune systems, we just have to sync our linkages in the NEXUS."

A few moments of back and forth awareness of our linkages let us bring them down to a stable and well-balanced, low-level linkage that used the NEXUS as both a medium and stabilizing influence, as it provided a strong structure that kept everything simple.

excitement "I think that's got it, Love. We'll shut down our comm's and we should still feel each other, but more as an awareness of each other, than as full up comm's."

love concern hope "Alright then, I love you, Sweetie. Try to relax and sleep tight. If you have problems, any problems at all, call me. Please. I'd much rather you woke me up and we talk all night then for you to be alone, okay?"

love concern "I love you too, Amy. I promise I'll call if I can't sleep, but just having that low-level linkage is helping already."

love "Goodnight, Sweetie." "Goodnight, Love."

-Legion*** Danny ***Legion-

My alarm went off at the normal time of 6:30, so a quick smack to turn it off and I got up to face yet another Monday. Of course, this Monday was going to be a pretty exciting one, at least for some people. Hopefully, it'd be a good one for Taylor.

I took my shower and got dressed for work and went downstairs to meet Taylor, I could tell that she was already up and ready for the day. Partly from experience, and partly from the smells of breakfast cooking, which was a heck of nice way to start the day.

Stepping into the kitchen, I saw Taylor, as usual, cooking a big breakfast and making it look easy. What was a surprise was the bread and other baked goods cooling on the counters off to one side.

"Well, looks like you got an early start on the day, huh? All of your baking done already?" I asked her.

She turned and smiled at me and said, "Well, since I wasn't going to be here today, I needed to get some of my chores out of the way early. I can bring my books to study from at the Association, so I won't fall behind on my studies, but some things can only be done here. That's why I started the laundry last night, as well as prepping my bread dough; that let me finish them up this morning after I woke up, so I won't be overwhelmed trying to catch up later."

"Okay, I guess that makes sense. So what else besides breakfast do you still have to do this morning?"

"Not much, actually. The soup and chicken breasts are in the slow cookers, the bread and cookies are all done, the pies will be finished soon. And most of the laundry is done and folded and can be put away later tonight," she explained even as she served up the waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon onto our plates and brought them to the table.

Before I sat down, I collected the morning paper and the pitcher of orange juice from the fridge. Setting the pitcher down on the table, I offered the paper to Taylor.

"Would you like to read the headlines first?" I asked her.

"Thanks Dad, I'll give them a quick skim first, but I'd like to bring the whole paper, as well as the Sunday paper to the Association this morning. It'll give me a chance to get caught back up on the news."

I nodded and passed her the first section of the paper while I started on the local news.

Taylor finished eating quickly and started on the kitchen cleanup while I finished my waffles; she had all of the bread bagged, the pies covered and what looked like 5 or 6 batches of cookies into a large cardboard box before I even managed to clear my dishes and load them into the dishwasher.

"What's with the cookies?" I asked her.

"Snacks for everybody. Celebratory snacks," she explained with a grin.

I just shook my head and said, "Well, why not. I'll take them to the car while you get your books together, alright?"

"Thanks Dad, I'll pack them up and meet you outside, alright?"

"Sounds good to me, be sure to lock up behind yourself," I told her as I grabbed my keys, picked up the box of cookies and went out to the car.

A few minutes later, Taylor came out the back door with her pack filled with books for her to study, and the papers tucked under her arm.

I drove her to the Association and pulled into my parking spot and carried the box with me into my office. Taylor followed close behind me and took a seat on the sofa in the outer office, next to Dorothy's desk.

-Legion*** Taylor***Legion-

I actually managed to get a decent night's sleep, the low-level linkage we had created worked perfectly, letting me sleep well, comforted by the knowledge that Amy was always there in the back of my mind. That awareness was a big comfort for both of us and didn't require any special effort, just the desire to not be alone, and someone who wanted to be with us.

When I woke, I could feel Amy awaken at the same time, and the first thing we did, well after saying good morning, was to begin creating a path from my house to Winslow. Beginning to end, it only took about 40 minutes to mod a complete path to both Winslow and the Association, with only a few gaps that needed to be filled in by either birds or rats that would stay in the storm drains and utility tunnels.

Once that was complete, we eased back out of the linkage so we could take care of our morning chores; breakfast, exercises, showers, all the normal things that we needed to take care of on a daily basis.

I got an early start on my baking and prepped our dinner for the crockpots. I had decided on a potato leek soup and honey dijon chicken breasts. On low, they would be fine until it was time to eat this evening, which made the idea of being out of the house all day a no-brainer.

I decided to go a little overboard with our weekday breakfast, in celebration of Winslow's downfall, and made waffles, eggs and bacon. Of course, I made a point of having a full breakfast before Dad even woke up, but then I doubted that I'd be able to snack properly during the day. I'd have to make sure I didn't use my iso-mod and kept my metabolism under control.

After breakfast and cleaning up, I packed up the freshly baked cookies into a cardboard box to take with me, and loaded a selection of books for me to study from.

Once Dad had driven us to the Association, I settled down on the sofa in the outer office and reached out to Amy.

content "Good morning, Love. How are you this morning?"

joy "I'm fine, Sweetie, in the good sense of the word. Are you ready to start watching Winslow?"

content "Yes I am. I've tested the linkages and have plenty of booster-birds around the High School, and a very good selection of spiders, ants and flies in all of the classrooms and offices. Really, I don't think there's a room that we can't listen and look into. Especially the ones I expect to see things happen in."

content anticipation "That's great! Anything special I should look out for, or is just like last night?"

anticipation "It should be just like last night, so let's start opening up the linkage, just make sure that you're able to keep enough attention on your physical location. Make sure you join up with me first, so we can share senses and I'll control our focus. It will probably be easier if I take care of that, while you just come along for the ride. Less chance of you getting too distracted by what's happening at Winslow. If you think you're have a problem, though, please let me know right away."

determination "I will. I'm in homeroom now, so nobody will notice if I'm a little distracted."

joy "You're right, so let's do this."

-Legion*** Winslow ***Legion-

It was a typical morning at Winslow High School, the old hallways were filled with children who didn't want to be there, only nominally supervised and controlled by the teachers and administrative staff. The peeling paint and dented lockers lined the hallways and the clanging of slamming doors could be heard throughout the school as the students made their apathetic way to their first class of the day.

As the initial roll call was being taken, 4 large passenger vans pulled up to the main entrance, followed by half a dozen police cars and equal number of unmarked cars. As the people disembarked the different vehicles and organized themselves, it quickly became obvious that something out of the ordinary was happening.

Two older men dressed in suits, walked up to the main entrance, sharply gestured to the groups behind them and headed into the school.

Behind them, the groups sorted themselves out, with both plainclothes and uniformed police going with the civilians to different, though well known, destinations.

Two uniformed police officers accompanied the first men into the school and to the principal's office, one of them peeled off at the door to the school offices and took a position blocking access to the office.

Inside, one of the men held out his ID to the secretary and said, "Ms. Dillon, you are temporarily suspended from your position here until this investigation is complete. You will immediately turn over any keys and passwords in your possession and you are requested to cooperate with the investigating officers." A sharp gesture had the other man and his accompanying police officer entering the Principals office.

"What is the meaning of this!?" the bottle-blond woman behind the large desk demanded as they entered the room.

"Ms. Blackwell? I am Michael Sheffield from the State Department of Education. You are relieved of your responsibilities as Principal of Winslow High School at this time," he turned to the police officer and said, "Do it."

"Ms. Blackwell, you are under arrest for multiple counts of conspiracy, accessory before and after the fact to numerous counts of assault, theft and unlawful imprisonment, you are also under arrest, on Federal charges, for accessory after the fact to terrorism and attempted murder through use of weapons of mass destruction, specifically biological means. Additional charges may be preferred by either, local, State or Federal authorities, as the investigation proceeds. You have the right to …"

In classrooms throughout the school, a number of teachers were removed from the classrooms and replaced by substitute teachers even as over a dozen students were pulled out and arrested or detained, depending on their ages, and read their rights in the hallways, even before they were taken out of the school and transferred to the local police station for questioning. They were held there until their parents could be notified, and lawyers provided, though in a few cases the older students were on their own, due to their being over 18 years old.

Emma Barnes looked confused and distraught, as if she simply couldn't understand what was happening, though she did manage to ask that her father be called.

Madison Clements, on the other hand, was white and shaking, though she managed to stay on her own feet without aid as the police officer read off a list of charges. At the end of the long list, she simply nodded and said, "I understand. Please notify my parents for me. I won't be making any statements until I've spoken to them, but afterwards I'll be happy to answer any of your questions."

The uniformed officer looked at her with a mix of confusion and contempt, and said, "I'm sure your parents will be notified as soon as possible. As for making any statements, I can record them now if you want, or you can speak to one of the detectives in charge of this case."

Madison nodded again and simply said, "I'll wait, thank you."

Most of the arrests went off without a hitch, though Mr. Gladly fainted when they arrested him and one of the Track Team members made a break to escape when they told him he was under arrest. He made it almost 5 steps before he was intercepted by two of the policemen and tackled to the floor before being cuffed and dragged out to one of the waiting police cars.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

amusement "Oooh, did you see Blackwell? She looks like she's gonna have a stroke! And her language! I had no idea she even knew some of those words."

amusement awe "And I thought that Skidmark had an impressive command of obscenity, but Blackwell could give him a real run for his money. Know those words? I'm not even sure what some of those words mean."

satisfaction "You saw the teacher that fainted?"

confusion "Yeah, who was he, anyway?"

amusement "That was Mr. Gladly 'Call me Mr. G'. He was always desperate to be the 'Popular' teacher, the 'cool teacher'. He sucked up to the pretty girls and popular boys, and pretty much ignored everyone else."

anger "The unpopular ones, the outcasts, the misfits? We might as well have not even existed as far as he was concerned. More than once he witnessed what happened to me, then turned his back and walked away. As far as I'm concerned, they can stick him in a cell with 'Uncle Bubba' and see how he likes it when the guards turn their backs to what's going on."

We watched as the various substitute teachers came in and took over the classrooms. It was clearly apparent that the school board had prepared carefully for this day, since the subs had up to date lesson plans for all of the classes they needed to cover and it wasn't just the missing teachers plans that were being used.

Once all the teachers were out of the school, the police moved in to take the designated students into custody. Only those of age faced immediate arrest, all the others were held until their parents had been notified, then taken to the police station for interviews and determination of whether or not to arrest and charge them.

Most of the students taken into custody were girls, but several boys were taken away as well. One of them, I think he might have been on the track team with Sophia, tried to make a run for it, but was tackled by a couple of cops and cuffed before being taken out to one of the cars.

It was odd watching Emma and Madison being taken in, along with almost all of the girls who had helped them torment me. Emma just looked confused, as if she couldn't even understand what was happening to her; I wasn't sure if she really was that confused or if it was just another game for her. On the other hand, Madison seemed to know exactly what was going on, almost like she had been expecting it and was going to face it with as much dignity as she could. Weird.

confusion "What's up with Madison, Love? She looks like she's about to pass out, but won't out of sheer stubborness."

curiosity "Not a clue. But you're right, it's nothing but sheer guts that's keeping her on her feet. Maybe she heard that this was coming and has been expecting it, so was kind of prepared."

disdain "How about Emma, though. She's acting like it has nothing to do with her, like it's all a big misunderstanding, and daddy will fix everything."

amusement love "Meeeooow! Pull those claws back in, Sweetie, she's not worth it. Not here either, and I REALLY don't want you dropping one of your swarms on her remotely. If you really need to get some closure, I'm sure we can meet up with her somewhere and you can kick the shit out of her. Or you can let me do it; I'm a lot more vicious than you are, and I'll make sure to leave a few scars, just for old times sake."

love "Maybe. Probably not though, even if it is kinda cathartic to imagine doing it."

As we continued to watch, the excitement began to die down, with most of those in custody having been taken to the police station, though a few parents had begun to show up. It was interesting to see how they reacted to what they were told, some of them were in total denial, 'cause their little angel couldn't possibly be involved in something like that. The majority of them, however, seemed to just get grim and give their kids a look that boded ill for them. I foresaw some significant punishment in the future, and I don't think it was going to be losing tv privileges or extra chores. Sore butts and hard labor looked likely for some of them.

My attention was drawn back to the parking lot when a black Mercedes pulled in and squealed to a stop, with a tall, heavy man climbing out. Well, it looked like Mr. Barnes didn't waste any time coming to Emma's rescue.

curiosity "See that bald guy, Love? That's Emma's dad, Mr. Divorce Lawyer, I wonder how well he'll do going up against those cops. Especially considering just how serious some of the charges are?"

wicked amusement "Bet he crap's himself when he hears things like 'attempted murder, unlawful imprisonment and terrorism with WMD's."

amusement "No bet. Find another sucker. Think he'll ask your mom for help?"

disdain "He might, but I wouldn't bet on mom going out of her way for him, especially once she hears some of the details. She's not impressed by people who believe that rules and laws don't apply to them. She doesn't think much of Divorce Lawyers either, she calls them no better than ambulance chasers, even worse because they tend to leave a lot of pain and poverty behind them."

With that, we fell silent and just watched him storm up to the police and try to bully them.

"Where's my daughter, Emma Barnes? Produce her at once," he demanded as soon as he was stopped by one of the police officers.

"Sir, you can't enter the school, it's off limits as a crime scene. You'll have to wait until one of the detectives can speak with you," the policeman explained with admirable control.

"Well, where the hell are those detectives of yours? I want to speak to whomever is charge. Right Now!" he said, his voice rising and becoming more demanding as he spoke.

"Right behind you, sir. What seems to be the problem here?"

"My name is Alan Barnes, and I want to know where the hell my daughter is, that's the damn problem!"

The detective, a middle-aged man at least as big as Mr. Barnes shook his head and said, "Well sir, your daughter, a Miss Emma Barnes, correct? Is currently being booked for a number of crimes at the Bellingham Station. You're welcome to go and meet her there, but I recommend you retain a lawyer first, because she's going to need one."

Mr. Barnes seemed to swell up at that and said, "I AM a lawyer, I'm more than capable of representing my daughter's best interests."

The detective shook his head again and said, "Well, that's your choice sir, but unless you've got a lot of experience at defending capital crimes, including attempted murder and terrorism with WMD's, I'd be looking for someone to lend a hand. Just a suggestion, I'm sure you'll do what you think is best."

Mr. Barnes started to turn red, but controlled himself and stomped back to his car and drove off with a screech of burning rubber.

relaxation love "Looks like the excitement is over for now, Sweetie. Think anything else will happen now?"

contentment "Nope. I think it's over for now. The next phase is going to take a while, I can't see the trials happening too soon, can you?"

contemplation "Well, they'll probably hold arraignment hearings as soon as they can, set bail or hold them until trial, maybe even set trial dates for some of the easy cases. With that said, I expect the biggies, Blackwell, Barnes, and Clements to be a while before they actually face trial. Unless they can cop a plea that is."

confused "Is that likely, do you think?"

contentment "I shouldn't think so, but it's possible. Even so, I can't imagine that any of the serious crimes will get a pass, though some of their hanger-on's might be able to bargain down to a record and community service. If they're lucky."

confused "Will Sophia's being a cape change anything? Could they get off by claiming she threatened them?"

contemplation "Maybe, if they could prove that a) they knew about Sophia being Shadow Stalker and b) that she actually threatened them and they believed she would carry out her threats. The fact that she was a Ward makes that unlikely though; I think it's more likely they'd just charge them as minions or henchman just to make a point. And I'm pretty sure that would mean being charged as adults, which would totally suck for them. Adult prison for those two would be a quick education in how to be at the bottom of the food chain."

painful concern "I don't think I want that … but I'll leave it up to the DA and police; better for my mental health if I step back from anything like that."

love concern "That's probably wise of you. Anyway, it's getting towards lunch and things look like they've settled down for the day, so I'm going to drop out of the link and go get something to eat. You should do the same, okay?"

amusement love "I will, Love. Dad's already said that he wanted to take me out to lunch, so I'll see if he's ready to leave. If not, I'll have some more cookies to tide me over until he's ready."

love "Sounds good, Sweetie. I'll talk to you later."

love "Later, Love."

After disconnecting from Amy, I got up and used the bathroom and grabbed some cookies on my way back. Not that there were all that many left, the workers had raided the box pretty thoroughly during the morning. I gave a couple of them to Dorothy before sitting down to read the physics book from the library; this being one I had only read once before I was taking the opportunity to settle it into my memory properly.

Just after noon, Dad stepped out of his office and asked, "So, you ready to grab a bite to eat, Taylor?"

I looked up at him and said with a smile, "Absolutely, I'm starved. Where did you plan on going?"

He grinned and said, "It's a surprise, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you."

I grinned back, put away my books and swung my pack over my shoulder before saying, "All right then, let's go."

Following Dad, I buckled myself into the car before he drove us to a small Italian restaurant overlooking the river. It was a small, family run place that served very good food, good enough that I spent at least a few minutes trying to figure out the recipe for the sauce, as it was better than the one I used. A lot better. So were the meatballs. By the end of a much better lunch then I had expected, I had at least the basics of both figured out and was planning to do some experimenting in the next two weeks.

After lunch, Dad brought us back to the Association and while he got back to work, I opened up my math books to do some more studying. I also had Thora turn on the computer and pull up a couple of my saved math sites, and I started working through the problems in tensor analysis, which I was finding very useful in understanding some of the more esoteric concepts in physics.

Around 2:30, I was pulled out of my studying by the whirlwind arrival of Aisha, the girl I had met on the fishing trip. At least this time she wasn't soaking wet, even if her idea of appropriate clothing for school left little to the imagination.

"Aisha? What are you doing here? I thought Winslow didn't let out until 3:25? You do go to Winslow, right?"

"Yeah, but I skipped World Affairs; Gladly got arrested and the sub was an ass. So I decided to come hang out at dad's work until Bry gets off work and I can spend the night at his place. Mom's boyfriend is a total burnout and I can't stand 'em; 'course, he can't stand me either, so it's like Multiple Ass Desolation."

I snickered and said, "I think you mean Mutually Assured Destruction."

"Hey! You can do what'ya want with your asses, mine are gonna get desolated, got it?"

At that I just dropped my book down into my lap and started giggling. Aisha watched me for a minute, then started to smile back at me and said, "So, how come you spent the day with your dad instead of coming to school?"

I managed to stop my giggling and said, "I don't go to Winslow, Aisha, I'm home-schooled now."

"Huh, must be nice. What's a girl gotta do to get outta that shithole?" she asked me.

I froze for almost a minute, then said in toneless voice, "Well, I spent three days stuffed in a locker filled with toxic biological waste. Personally, I don't recommend it."

Aisha paled, swallowed and stuttered, "F,f,fuck me. I'm sorry, I didn't know th, th, that was you," she stepped back and looked around then said in a low whisper, "is that what all that shit today was about? I saw that bitch Barnes get taken outta class; all the shit that happened this morning, it was all about you, wasn't it. Fuck girl, a whole bunch a teachers got taken out in cuffs today, plus a bunch of students, too."

I closed my eyes, took another deep breath and slowly let it out. "It's not your fault, Aisha, you couldn't have known. Let's just say it was both unspeakable and unforgettable and leave it at that. Personally, I've found it's generally better if I focus on the future, rather than the past."

Aisha looked at me for a long moment, with a serious and solemn look on her face, and then said, "Fair enough. I've got stuff I don't like to talk about too, so yeah. Let's leave that shit in the past where it belongs. So, for the future, got any advice for girl still stuck in the shithole known as Winslow?"

I smiled, a little weakly, but still a smile, and said, "Well, with only one or two exceptions, none of the teachers at Winslow care; about anything at all. If you want an education from there, it's possible but you'll have to do all the work. Maybe, with the shakeup that just happened, things will change, but I wouldn't bet a lot of money on it. I suppose the Board of Ed. will want to fix as much as they can, if only to be seen as doing something, but no matter what they want to do, money is tight and that's going to limit what they can achieve. Really, that's why I think Arcadia and Immaculata are so much better then Winslow, Central or Jefferson; as private schools, they charge enough tuition so they can afford to do things right. It sucks, but money talks."

Aisha frowned and asked, "Is that why you're home-schooled? 'Cause I don't think dad could afford to pay for Arcadia, and I'm not Catholic."

"Not really, after I woke up from my coma, Dad wasn't going to let me back in any public school, and after everything Those Bitches had done, I didn't have the grades to get into Arcadia anymore. Besides, I'm doing a lot better on my own then I ever did at school. I study at my pace, and can explore topics that interest me, instead of being restricted to a pace and curriculum tailored for the average student. And, not to brag but, I'm not average, Aisha; I'll be taking my GED on Thursday, which is about 2 years ahead of the normal graduation."

"Aisha, I don't know if it's available at Winslow, but you can check with the counseling office and see if they have the State Department of Education Aptitude and Career Tests. If not, you can take them at the Central Library as long as you have a library card, School ID and make an appointment. It's a long set of tests that can really help you by showing you the areas that might interest you after High School, as well as the areas that you are currently strong and weak in. It was recommended to me when I first started home-schooling, and it helped me decide how to best organized my studies."

Aisha stared at me for a moment, biting her lip then said, "Look, I hate school, it's boring and pointless; Mom says that I don't need to go if I don't want to, while both Dad and Bryan insist that an education is important, the most important thing I can do right now according to Bryan. But then, Mom's a junkie and both Dad and Bryan have jobs and their own places to live; so I know what's the right thing to do, I just don't think I can do it at Winslow."

"When I did that meet-n-greet at the beginning of the year, they never said a thing about career tests or anything. Just that the counselors could help you fill out college applications."

I sighed and said, "Well, maybe you can ask at the Counseling Office tomorrow and if they don't, I can help you by introducing you to some of the librarians that proctor the State tests. Do you even have a library card? Most of the people in my class didn't, so I thought I'd ask."

"Uhh, no I don't think so. I can't ever remember going to the library except when I was little, not for years anyway. What'll I need to get one anyway?"

I paused in thought, then said, "Usually some form of photo ID and proof of residency is all you need, so your Winslow school ID should be enough. Worst case, you might need your birth certificate and your dad to come with you. Probably not, though. I think your school ID will be enough, though having a copy of your birth certificate is a good thing, no matter what, since it's the most basic form of ID. With that, you can eventually get everything else, but without it you're screwed."

Aisha looked at me in amazement, "How do you even know this shit? It's like you got a computer in your brain! I ask a question and you know the answer, more than my brother, and way more than the teachers."

I snickered and said, "Your brother and dad are right, you know. Education is the ticket out of everywhere; whether it's to get you a better job, let you move out of Brockton Bay, become a movie star or a millionaire, it's the education that you have that will let you do it. In my opinion, education isn't your grades at school, though if it's a good school they don't hurt, it's the skills you learn and the knowledge you acquire that counts. That and the ability to use all of it to achieve your goals."

"So, what're your goals? What do you want to do?" she asked, her head tilted to one side.

"Well, that's a bit personal, but hardly secret. Mostly, I want to be able to support myself, to provide a safe and happy life for my family and precious people. For now, that means learning as much as I can, selling the clothes and jewelry that I make so I have an income, and then getting into college. After that, well I'm sure time will tell, but I'd like to get married and have children, eventually. And hopefully, help make the world a better place than it is today."

"Children huh, so do you have a boyfriend or at least your eye on a hottie? If not, I could put in a good word for you with Bryan; he's single, free and gainfully employed. Cute too, even if he is my brother."

"Nope, no boyfriend and not looking for one; and I don't think Amy would appreciate you trying to hook me up with your brother, either. No matter how cute he is."

She just shrugged and said, "Can't blame me for tryin', I was hoping he was serious about that Lisa chick he knows from work, but he shot that idea down pretty solidly on Saturday. And she's the only girl that he seems to hang out with. Oh well, I'll keep my eyes open for a nice girl for him," she stopped and gave me a considering look, then went on, "or maybe a nice boy, maybe I'm looking in the wrong place for him."

That made me laugh, thinking of Vicky's melodrama yesterday. At her quizzical look, I explained, "Amy's sister has spent the last year or so trying to hook her up with a bunch of different guys, when Amy wasn't even a little bit interested in them, but Amy didn't want to hurt her sister's feelings, since she'd been trying so hard to figure out just what Amy was looking for in a boy. Which, of course, turned out to be a girl. It's actually been funny as hell, 'cause Vicky's been a good sport about it, and has been making fun of herself over the whole thing. In fact, yesterday she did this whole riff about Amy and I being a terrible disappointment to her, because we're not giving her nieces to spoil, that had us all in stitches."

"She sounds like a nice girl, at least she has a good sense of humor; so is there any chance that she's lookin' for boyfriend?" she asked that with wriggling eyebrows.

"Heh, probably not, she and Dean seem to have this hot and cold thing going on, but since they've been together for almost 2 years, I suspect that that's just the way they like to do things, especially since Amy said that even when they're not seeing each other, they don't see anyone else; they just mope around until they make up. Again."

"Weird. But I guess it takes all types, and as long as they're happy, it's nobody's business but their own."

Just then, Mr. Laborn came in, nodded at me and said, "All right, Aisha? You ready to go now? I'll drop you off at Bryan's place if you'd like, instead of at your mother's."

"Yeah dad, that'd be fine," turning back to me she said, "it's been great talking to you Taylor, and I'll check for those tests like you said tomorrow. Umm, can I get your number so I can let you know how that goes?"

I nodded and pulled out a pen and some paper and wrote down my email and home phone number, before handing it to her. "Here you go, email and phone number. If you need to go to the library for the tests, let me know and I'll introduce you to the people who can take care of setting up the tests for you."

Aisha took the paper, looked at it, then folded it up and stuck it in her pocket, before giving me hug and saying, "Thanks for everything, both today and Saturday, I really appreciate it."

I just said, "You're welcome," and waved at both of them as they left. Dorothy was also clearing up for the day, shutting down her computer and putting away all the files on her desk. As she was leaving, Dad came out of his office, carrying his jacket, and he said, "'Night Dotty, I'll see you in the morning, hopefully those roadwork contracts will come in so we can get two more crews working full-time."

"Nichols swore that they'd be ready by 10 o'clock, so I expect we can vett them and get them signed before the end of the day, and the crews can start on Wednesday."

Dad nodded to her, and gestured us out ahead of him, so that he could lock the door before heading for the car.

On the way home, I told him about what I did during the afternoon, especially about Aisha's visit and her description of what had gone on at Winslow that morning.

Once we got home, Dad went upstairs to get cleaned up while I checked on dinner, then went downstairs to cycle the laundry and bring up both the folded and unfolded clothes so I could start getting caught up. Dropping it all off on the sofa, I dished up the soup and chicken breasts, with bread on the side for dinner.

Dinner was quiet, since we'd already had plenty of time to talk about our days and our plans for tomorrow. Dad offered to handle the after-dinner cleanup, so that I could get the rest of the laundry done, which was nice.

After dinner, Amy and I chatted while she did her homework and I folded laundry. Mostly we just talked about our days, though my description of Aisha and her attempts to get her brother a girlfriend, and her new plan to find him a boyfriend instead, had her giggling both in the NEXUS and in real life, which apparently had Vicky wondering out loud about her sanity, since Amy refused to tell her what was so funny.

Because I planned on patrolling later that night, I wanted to get to bed fairly early, so I decided to bring up a serious topic before signing off.

serious concern "Love, I do have a serious question for you; since we've greatly extended my range, and since I really can't shut my power off, not for more than a couple of minutes at a time, anyway; what do I do when I discover a Cape's civilian ID? 'Cause I've already ID'd three of the Wards and two of the Empire's Capes. It's not something I went looking for, but I saw it anyway."

serious determination concern "Crap. I guess it goes back to the 'Unwritten Rules' then; unless they break those rules, they're still protected by them, so don't do anything. Just put it aside, even if they're villains. If you see something that leads you to believe they're going to break those rules, or cross some other line that's equivalent to the 'Unwritten Rules', then you can take action, but try to do it in a way that doesn't make it obvious that YOU know their ID's. That's to protect you, not them. Of course, if they have a Kill Order out on them, that's different; anything goes then. But nobody in New England, much less here in the Bay, has a Kill Order issued, so it's not really applicable."

determination "So, just file it away and try to ignore it? I suppose I can compartmentalize well enough to do that. God knows I'm already doing that with peoples' kinks and perversions, this'll just be one more thing to 'ignore'."

amusement "Kinks and perversions? Seriously?"

amusement embarrassment "Oh yeah, almost makes me think I'm the weird one, since I just … ah no, not going there right now."

amusement "Oooh, sounds interesting, sure you don't want share?"

teasing amusement "Maybe later, Love. Certainly not while my Dad's in the same room."

teasing agreement "Yeah, probably not a good time. But later on, I think that might be an, illuminating, discussion."

love agreement "I'm sure it will be, just not yet. I'm not quite ready for that, you know?"

love agreement "Yeah, I do. But someday, when we're both ready …"

love "Someday. For now though, I've got laundry to put away and then I'm going to get ready for bed."

love concern "Alright Sweetie, finish up and head for bed. If you need the low-level linkage, contact me and we'll set it up, otherwise, I'll talk to you tomorrow."

love "I will, Love. Sleep well, Amy. I love you."

love "Love you, too, Taylor."

-Legion*** ***Legion-

I set my internal alarm for 2 am, and after getting up and ready for my patrol, I checked my stores of fabric and armor components carefully, verifying that I had enough material for making the two extra Legion costumes and the new Pied Piper costume. I also set up an extra set of cord spools because I was using a lot of cord up, with all the arrests that I had made lately.

Even as I did that, I pre-positioned some of my booster-birds and swarm groups in areas that I thought might need them. Especially since I wanted to head downtown and do some scouting in an area that I had pretty much ignored, since the Protectorate and Wards ran a lot of their patrols through there.

I used the time spent on traveling to downtown to practice my parkour, especially with the muscle upgrade from Amy. Even after only a day, I could feel the difference. With my iso-mod set to zero, I was running faster, with less fatigue, and jumping further. It wasn't a huge difference yet, but I was seeing at least a 10% increase across the board, and it would probably be a greater jump every day until the changeover was complete.

Probably the biggest gain was in my ability to jump and land safely from great heights; here I was seeing almost a 50% improvement, though I doubt it would continue to improve at that rate. Prior to this upgrade I could handle a drop from a second story roof effortlessly, and a third story roof with effort, but now? Now I could drop from a four story rooftop without a problem, though I wasn't quite willing to try to go for five; I did work up to that point carefully though, a little bit higher with each attempt. My ability to jump upwards wasn't as good, but still better than the last time I had tested it. Instead of two stories, I could make three stories now with effort, and I suspected that by the end of the week, I'd be able to do four stories up easily, and five or six down with no problems. If my overall strength grew proportionally, I was looking at Brute 5 for sure, possibly even Brute 6 and Mover 5 for sheer speed.

Amy and I were going to have to find someplace private to do some serious power testing, but even without my costume, if she was right about how strong the reactive mesh was now, it was looking like at least Brute 4 for toughness, maybe even Brute 5, and with my costume I could add another 2 points, though I suspected we were both a little weak against pure energy attacks.

Scanning the city with my extended range, I found very little crime that night, which was more confirmation of my idea that most crime happened earlier during the night and that the middle of the week was quieter than the weekends. Normally that might be a bit of a problem for me, but I was more interested in scouting and testing out my upgrades than in stopping random crime.

Because a lot of the newer buildings were much taller office buildings, anywhere from 25 to 75 stories, that were sticking up right in the middle of older buildings of between 6 and 12 stories, it was a lot harder to roof hop, even with my increased strength and speed. I was either going to need something to let me stick to the sides of the buildings or to swing between them like that movie hero, Spiderman, or a lot more strength for jumping up and down.

Honestly, I think it'd be easier to figure out how to teleport or fly, then how to do Spiderman's clinging and swinging schtick. Of course, that just means that some Tinker has already figured it out. Because everyone knows that Tinkers don't play by the normal rules of physics and reality.

Of course, neither do Amy and I, so I should probably be more sympathetic to other capes who break the rules, too. But still, Tinkers.

Because of problems with traveling on the rooftops, I found a nice one to stop on, and just used my swarm to scan the area and do some mapping. I found that mapping the downtown area was a lot more time consuming than I had supposed, due to not only the complexity of the sewers, utility conduits and storm drains, but the sheer amount of underground construction. Basements, sub-basements, underground parking garages, tunnels, elevators, you name it and it was down there. To properly map this area was going me weeks, maybe even months to complete and record.

In addition to the Endbringer Shelters, any new construction required a huge amount of moving and re-routing of existing services, which simply added to the complexity. I suspected that even the city didn't have a clear idea of where everything was, even if the plans they had on record were accurate. Which since I had spotted what had to be at least six different villain lairs, I had my doubts about the accuracy of their records.

I found two large ones, one of which I thought might actually belong to the PRT, and the other I wasn't sure about. It was under a parking garage near the Medhall Building, though it didn't appear to be connected to anything but the garage, and since no one was in it, I wasn't sure who was using it.

I wasn't able to get much more than a general feel for the size of them as I only had some ants and spiders to work with, as they were very clean and free of any mice or rats.

Above ground, a large segment of Downtown had E88 tags in the alleys and on the backs of buildings, well out of sight of the main streets, indicating that they claimed the area, but were being somewhat discreet. Interestingly enough, I watched several groups of 4 men who seemed to be running regular patrols of the downtown area claimed by E88, a kind of Neo-Nazi Neighborhood Watch.

While I kept an eye on them, all they seemed to do was patrol. They didn't stop anyone, even people of color, while I watched, but actually seemed to be just keeping an eye on things. This was completely at odds with what I had seen outside of the downtown area, and I wondered if perhaps there was some sort of split within the Empire, or if they had special orders for dealing with this area.

Eventually, I needed to call an end to my patrol, as I wanted to get home and take care of some things before Dad woke up.

-Legion*** ***Legion-

Tuesday started out fairly quiet, which was good as I had some errands I needed to run, including some shopping I needed to do so that I could finish up the outfits that I wanted to sell on Saturday; I just needed to pickup some more fabric and a day or so would see me ready for the Free Market.

Using my bike actually ended up saving me a lot of time, since I didn't have to wait for the bus, nor did I have to search for a parking spot if Dad had driven me. After my morning clean up, and prepping Thora with two books and the computer to do research, I took $200 in cash and added it to my wallet, giving me a little over $300 to spend. My first stop was at the Fabric Emporium where I picked out and bought enough cloth to finish the shorts and skirts I had planned, as well as a bunch of buttons, snaps and zippers that I would need to finish the skirts, blouses and shorts I was already working on. I also bought a selection of printed Size labels and Hand Made labels that I planned to sew into the clothes I made. I only spent about $103 and made sure to keep the receipts for tax purposes.

After that I stopped at the Wholesale Outlet, where I picked up a nice selection of bags, boxes and packing material that I planned on using for the items I hoped to sell. They were all plain brown, but it allowed me include the cards I had printed up, giving my email address and the number of one of my pre-paid burner phones. It had 600 minutes on it, and if I needed more it was easy to add them. I chose that phone because it had a voice mail option that I could access online as well as from the phone itself. By choosing to go with basic brown, I was able to keep my costs down to only $56 for everything.

Once I started making sales over the internet, I was going to need to pick up actual shipping supplies. I was also going to need an easy way to figure out shipping costs for pretty much everywhere, since it looked like there was a lot of interest in coral jewelry overseas. Perhaps it was a function of the Artsy website, I would need to check.

My last stop for the day was at the bank where I picked up the two VISA cards I had ordered, one was a debit card attached to my bank account and the other was a pre-paid card that I planned on using for my 'business'; I loaded that card with $100 while I was at the bank with some of the cash I had with me. Later, I would also be able to add money to that card using my account. The bank also had gotten a card reader for me so that I could accept credit card payments using a smartphone.

Once I got home, I upgraded my account to the business level, which allowed me to accept other people's credit card payments, and if I understood it correctly, I could even make tax payments to the city and state as needed. It wasn't clear about making federal tax payments, but I could do those myself if I ever made enough for it to matter.

The last thing I did before dinner was to open up an Artsy account so I could sell things online, as well as at the Free Market. I only listed a few of my pieces of coral jewelry for now, because I wanted to see how my sales worked in person first before I did much online. Well, that and they charged for each item listed on the website, so I didn't want to go crazy just yet.

Dad had requested meatloaf for dinner, so I made a point of getting home early enough to make it and the baked potatoes right before he got home. I also steamed some fresh broccoli that I had picked up on my way home and made a nice cheddar/cojack cheese sauce to go on top of the broccoli. I had been experimenting with my cheese sauce, since I had promised Amy proper cheese fries, and I wanted to make sure that they would taste just right.

Dad liked his baked potato pretty plain, with just butter, but I liked mine with at least a little bit of toppings, so I chopped up some chives, crumbled up some of the bacon I had been saving from different breakfasts, chopped up some pepperoni slices and set aside some sour cream for mine.

I was planning on making Dad a couple of meatloaf sandwiches for his lunch, so I made two large meatloaves, though I expected we would only finish one of them tonight, even with my appetite. I also made three large baked potatoes, figuring I could have two of them tonight, while dad would only want one to go with the broccoli.

Dad was definitely pleased with dinner, even if he didn't realize that I was no longer following Mom's recipes, but was adapting them and even creating my own. I was keeping my recipes on the computer, with the thought of compiling my own cookbook, that I could pass down to any of my children that were interested in cooking.

For dessert I served a basic apple pie, though I had a nice recipe for strawberry pastries that I wanted to try if I could find fresh strawberries cheap. Not an easy task in New England, even when they are in season.

The more I had to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, the more I wanted at least a small garden of my own. Even if it just had herbs and basic vegetables like onions, tomatoes and lettuce, it would be really nice to have my own garden. It should also save us at least some money, too.

While I was clearing up from dinner and putting away the left overs, I chatted with Amy and made arrangements to meet her on Wednesday when school let out, and she said that she'd ask Vicky to take us to the library so we could spend a couple of hours listening to music together before her shift at the hospital started.

I hoped to be able to get caught up on my mapping, since I had finally settled on using only one program, one that had an inexpensive Software Developer's Kit (SDK) so that I could build the features that I really wanted. Once Dad went to bed, I figured I could get at least two hours of mapping in before I stopped for the evening and another two hours in the morning before breakfast.

Wednesday was one of my normal sewing days, and I hoped that with a full morning and part of the evening dedicated to sewing I could get everything I wanted completed before Saturday. Even with my GED on Thursday, I should still have plenty of time, though I probably wouldn't have time for any patrolling until next weekend.

While Dad watched tv and relaxed before bed, I did as much prep work as I could on the outfits I would be working on tomorrow and I was also able to finish up four of the blouses that just needed the buttons sewed on, and two skirts that needed the zippers sewn in; zippers that I had picked up this morning at the Fabric Emporium. Once that was done, I went back downstairs to keep Dad company until he was ready to head for bed.

After that, I booted up my computer and opened up my mapping program and started inputting the information from our bike trip this weekend, though I only managed about a quarter of what needed to be done by the time I was ready for bed. I did manage to download the SDK and User's Manual for it before I logged off, figuring that I could have Thora read that for me in the morning while I worked on inputting some more mapping information and looked around for a decent 3D drawing program online.

Around midnight, I wrapped up all of my work, logged out and locked up the house. Since Amy was already asleep, I just looked in on her for a moment without waking her and then went upstairs and lay down to get some sleep myself.