Chapter 24 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*** Taylor ***Legion-

I awoke at 3:30 and stretched as I climbed out of bed. I took a few seconds to scan around Amy's house before checking my own neighborhood for anything out of the ordinary. As I selected a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to wear, I checked on Dad; he was soundly sleeping and didn't look to be getting up anytime soon.

Heading downstairs, I paused for a moment to boot up my computer, before stepping into the kitchen to make a quick breakfast snack. Once my english muffins with peanut butter were prepared, I poured a large glass of milk and sat down to get some work done.

Taking a bite and washing it down with a sip of milk, I went online and researched some more freeware 3D drawing programs before settling on Sketcher3DUL, as the most versatile and useful of the free programs that I could find.

I loaded it up and worked through the tutorials while I ate my english muffins, but once I finished with that, I switched to updating my map of Brockton Bay's underground. Even with my memory, I found that I had to use my swarm to refresh my recollection of some of the areas I had scanned on Sunday; fortunately, the modded trees and birds made that a simple, though somewhat time-consuming, process.

Around 5 o'clock I closed out my mapping program, checked one last time for any emails, then logged out and shut down the computer, before heading to the basement to do my morning exercises.

Afterwards, I took care of changing out the fabric and cord spools and setting up empty ones for my spiders to work on. After that, I opened two of the basement windows and fed my coral tanks with mineral supplements and insects; the modified coral that Amy had created was able to eat and process the insects quickly and efficiently, ensuring that all of the elements in the tanks had sufficient and proper nutrition.

I checked the test platform, and after careful consideration, sent a stream of my less useful swarm in to it so that it would be ready for building some new weapons later. I thought that I'd check with Amy once she had a chance to eat her breakfast and see if she wanted to do some remote testing.

I had just finished all of that when Amy called me.

eager "Good morning, Sweetie. Sleep well?"

happy "Yep, slept great, yourself?"

"Pretty good. Any plans for today?"

"Yeah, a few. I'm going to finishing up the outfits I want to try to sell on Saturday, and finish pricing the jewelry we've finished making. I also finished the designs for the UV laser and Arc Thrower that we talked about, we'll need to do some testing on the organic conductors and insulators; I've got a whole set of possible formulations, but I'll need your help to do all that. Maybe once you're settled in at school, we could work on those?"

eager "Remotely? Through the NEXUS? Absolutely. I'll open the link fully as soon as I get to my first class and then we can get started; with your help I should have no trouble doing both."

happy "Excellent! Can we meet up right after school?"

"Certainly, did you have something specific in mind?"

"Yeah, if possible, I'd like to go to the Library, pick up some new books and listen to new music for a couple of hours before you start your shift."

"That sounds lovely, in fact I'll ask Vicky if she'll give us a ride so we can get there sooner."

"Will she be okay with that?"

"Oh sure, she likes to drive people places, I think it's a change from flying; either that or she thinks of it as a rite of passage to adulthood; not sure which."

"It could be either, there's really no way to tell."

"True dat. Anyway, I'm done with my workout, so I'm going to get some breakfast while you finish yours. Talk to you later, Sweetie."

happy "Alright, I will. Talk to you later, Love."

Even as Amy disconnected, I decided to do another set of lifts, but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, even with my iso-mod set to 95%, I was finding that none of the lifting strained me. I had maxed out the bar at 385lbs, which was the equivalent of over 750lbs, and it was still easy to lift; it really didn't matter whether I was bench pressing, dead lifting or even doing sitting curls; I could handle the weight easily. At this rate, I would be lifting over a ton by the weekend, which was on the edge of Brute 5. Once I figured out how to get more weight to lift, I could probably train it up to a solid Brute 5, edging towards Brute 6.

Checking my internal clock, I saw it was almost 6 am, so I put everything away and headed upstairs to grab a shower before dad got up.

Showering and dressing for the day only took me 20 minutes, so I was back in the kitchen before dad's alarm clock even went off. Looking out the window, I checked the overcast sky and decided to go with something warm and comforting this morning, so I made a big pot of scratch oatmeal, and while it was cooking, I chopped up an apple and some walnuts to add to our oatmeal and put them into bowls so we could add them to suit our tastes.

I served up two bowls of oatmeal as dad came downstairs and sat down with my Linux Administration book to refresh myself, since I had been concentrating on my GED and AP exams for the last month or so.

Dad brought the morning paper with him into the kitchen and sat down to eat while checking out the headlines and national stories.

Twenty minutes later, Dad put the paper down and cleared his dishes, before saying, "All right, Taylor, I'm going to head in a little early today, we've got a goods train coming in at 9:00 this morning and I want to make sure everything runs smoothly as it's a special run of goods for a bunch of stores in the city. A company down in Boston has been developing a new distribution net for most of New England and this is the first to come to the 'Bay, so we don't want any problems from any of the gangs."

I looked up at him and frowned, "New? I thought that using trains to deliver goods to a local distributer was old news."

He nodded as he headed to the living room, "It is and it isn't. Using trains fell out of primary use back in the eighty's in favor of using truck fleets since it allowed 'just in time' deliveries and eliminated the need for a lot of warehousing and personnel. This new system is sort of a hybrid, where trains deliver on a weekly basis and local trucks move the goods where they are needed. The cost-benefit analysis is complex but looks really good; between 26% and 28% savings over the old system and about 14% over the current system with current and projected fuel costs. AAT is using New England as a test bed for the system and once any problems are smoothed over they plan to expand down the Eastern seaboard to Florida and west to the Mississippi. Eventually it'll be nation-wide, but that'll take a few years since it takes time to coordinate everything so tightly."

Putting on his coat, he grabbed his lunch and gave me a hug before heading out the kitchen door.

I watched him for a few seconds as he started the car and drove off to work. Once the car was out of sight, I sighed then cleaned up the kitchen from making breakfast and started the dishwasher. I headed downstairs and worked through my morning katas, doing a full set in each form trying to ensure that I was equally at ease no matter which form I was in.

I finished with my katas a little before 9:00, including setting up a fabric treatment cycle and shifting new spools into place when I shifted forms. Once the drying sequence was in progress I headed back upstairs to finish up the outfits I planned on selling this Saturday. While I sewed the last of the blouses I also had Thora double check my work on inputting the data from the city's underground.

While I was sewing upstairs, I reached out to Amy to see how much we could accomplish while working remotely.

happy "Morning Amy, are you ready to try doing some remote testing?"

happy "Sure, trig is fairly easy, and if I get stuck you'll help me, right?"

"'Course I will. Anyway, the first thing I think we should do is work up some conductor and insulator test samples. You remember the different spec's we came up with, right?"

"Oh sure, Sweetie, in fact I've got an idea that should give us a body temperature superconductor/insulation combo in a package that's smaller than a human hair."

"Alright then, let's start in bay 3 first. Let me know when you want me to test it and I'll go down and run my checks on your sample."

"Sounds good, give me a minute."

I continued to sew as I watched Amy use the test bed to begin creating a set of fine conductors, each of which was numbered and attached to the upper edge of bay 3. At first I was amazed at the tiny differences between each strand, then I realized that she was tapping into my physics knowledge and practice with electronics to create tiny, incremental changes in the makeup of both the conductors and insulators. Once I realized what she was doing, I carefully recorded the variations in my memory, though I planned on creating a matrix array later for further analysis.

It only took her about 10 minutes to create the first 50 strands for me to test, so I put aside my sewing and headed downstairs to do the preliminary tests. Hopefully this would help us pin down a number of options that we could then really test out. I would probably need to build a heavy duty test set to really push the limits of what these strands could do, but this was enough for us to get started with.

Actually testing each of the strands ended up taking almost 30 minutes to complete, and let me find two strands that seemed to have the properties we were looking for.

"Okay, this one is the best conductor, and this one over here has the best insulator."

I flashed the composition and structure of both strands to Amy, and gave her some suggestions on what might improve each of them, without sacrificing strength or flexibility.

After a moments thought, I could feel her nod and both strands dissolved back into the soupy liquid filling Bay 3.

"I'm ready to start the next test series, though I suspect it will take a bit longer this time, since I'm looking at REALLY minuscule variations."

"Alright, I'm heading back up to finish working on the skirt I was sewing, I'll be back when you have the next fifty strands ready for testing. I may do some research on a heavy-duty tester for the conductors, because I don't think my handheld meters are going to be good enough."

"No problem."

Other than a couple of pauses to shift the fabric I was treating and to run each series of tests on the strands that Amy was creating, I worked steadily until just after noon, when I finished the last of my outfits, including the tags listing their size and that they had been hand-made. I made a quick lunch of pasta and meat sauce, since I had finished most of the left-overs as snacks during the morning.

I selected the 4 best strands that Amy had come up with and put them into a small ziplock bag until I could do further testing. I then set up a layered wood and aluminum sheet target that I planned on using for my laser tests. While I got that ready, Amy constructed her first organic laser; a biochemical UV laser.

She carefully followed the design I had found and modified based on our previous experience with bio-modding and had it ready before I even had the target ready.

"The target's ready Amy, I think that for the first trial, use a single pulse, as fast as you can fire it. Just let me put my goggles on…" I had to take a few minutes to find the old welding goggles and put them on, then said, "Ready."

I cranked my speed as high as I could and watched as Amy triggered the laser for the first time.

Hsssss…POP I blinked and said, "Whoa…"

amazed "Uh, Amy? I think that one has a little problem."

"Yeah, no kidding. I'm thinking that we'll put that one on the shelf for now."

"Oh yeah, it sort of melted from overheating." I looked at the target and the small burn that had gone almost halfway through the layers, and went on, "Good output though."

giggle "Yeah, but a single shot isn't enough, and I really don't like the idea of that much heat being released insidemy arm."

"Me neither. Any ideas for the next one?"

"Yeah…maybe. What if instead of a chemical laser, we try a solid-state laser instead?"

thoughtful "Diode pumped? Maybe a multi-stage design? We could also try an organic heat-sink with lots of blood flow to pull the heat away. Though we'll still have to figure out a good way to dissipate it."

"Yeah, let's try that route. Think you can come up with a design for us before you need to leave for Arcadia?"

"Eh, maybe. I'll check my books and some of my resource sites online and see what I can come up with. I may need to grab some books at the library this afternoon, though."

"Alright, I need to head for lunch now, so you go do that voodoo, that you do, so well."

giggle "Blazing Saddles, right?"

"Yep. I love that movie, it's got so many terrible jokes in it that you can't help but crack up the whole time you're watching it."

"Very true. Anyway, I'll let you go for now and wrap up my work here and try to get started on a new design. Maybe we can work on it tonight or in the morning before my test. I'll have to be here to do the setup and testing while Dad's at work, so that means Friday at the earliest. Still, I can work up some design options."

"Love you, Sweetie. I'll see you after school, alright?"

"Love you, too. I should be there well before school lets out."

I carefully put everything away and opened the windows to air out the basement from our latest laser tests. I also rinsed out a bunch of my glassware and laid them out on a towel on the chem workbench, as if I had been doing some of my experiments today. Just in case Dad came down to the basement.

I checked on the crockpot lasagna I was trying out, and decided that it seemed to be pretty good, though I suspected that I would prefer the more traditional method. Oh well, Dad would have to let me know which he preferred tonight.

I researched Solid State Diode-Pumped UV lasers online, and found some good primers and schematics for fairly low-power industrial lasers. I worked up some different designs for both pulse and CW lasers, though I fully expected to have to make more changes as we ran our tests. The lasers and Arc Thrower that Amy had described to me had at least preliminary designs, but I decided to design both a pistol and rifle version that others could use as well as the internal mods. I could see that Amy and I would need to dedicate a lot of time to just working on our prototypes.

After lunch, I did a quick inventory of the clothing I had ready for sale, double-checking that they all had the appropriate labels before packing them up for Saturday. Afterwards I did the same with the jewelry Amy and I had been making, putting the last of the jewelry into small ziplock bags with a price tag on it. I put the larger pieces, bracelets and necklaces into individual boxes so that everything was well protected and could be displayed easily.

I packed all of it into a large cardboard box and set it aside to bring upstairs with me before I straightened up the basement and closed all the windows prior to heading upstairs to get ready to meet Amy at Arcadia.

A quick check with my swarm convinced me that the weather was still iffy, lots of clouds and it was probably going to rain before I got home tonight. Looking through my closet, I chose a nice pair of jeans, a light yellow blouse I had made last week and a sleeveless cardigan sweater. When I pulled out the black trench coat that used to be mom's, I saw the two leather jackets I had bought a couple of months ago and realized that I hadn't even started on replacing the lining and pockets like I had planned. Another project for next week, though if it went as well as I hoped, I might not wait until Dad's birthday to give it to him. It would make a nice jacket for the spring and the spider silk lining would make it decent armor as well.

Before I shut down the computer, I checked my email one last time and found one from an unexpected source: Aisha.

From: anlaborn .

To: trhebert

Subj: Getting outta this hellhole

Hey Taylor,

I tried to get someone here to help me with those tests you told me about, but they claim that either they 'know nothing' or they can't do them at the school.

Personnally, I think there full of shit. But what do I know?

Anyways, could you check with the library like you said and see if they can do those tests for me? And when?

Thanks muchly,


A few moments of thought let me decide on how best to respond to Aisha's plea for help.

From: trhebert

To: anlaborn .

Subj: Re: Getting outta this hellhole

Hey Aisha,

I'm going to the Central Library this afternoon around 3:00, 3:30. I'll get you all the info on the tests and send it to you as an attachment or with links. Hopefully using your school account will work, since I don't have another one for you.

Talk to you later,


Once the email was on it's way, I finished shutting everything down and left for the bus, locking up the house behind me.

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

The morning was interesting, though mostly because I was working with Taylor through the NEXUS to run a long series of tests on organic super-conductors and -insulators. Being able to 'borrow' a little bit of her mult-tasking abilities let me pay attention in class as well as work at her house.

Eventually I finished my morning classes and headed for lunch. I reminded Vicky that she was dropping Taylor and I off at the library, and she nodded, and said, "Sure, I'll drop you off on my way home, though I still don't get why you two like to spend time at the library, but I guess it takes all kinds."

On my way to the cafeteria I stopped at my locker and put away my textbooks and pulled out On Basilisk Station, having decided to reread the series from the beginning again. Closing the door, I continued on to get my lunch.

One of the nice things about Arcadia was that the lunches were usually pretty good, though we did have to pay for them. Today's menu included a tasty Penne Casserole with meat sauce and steamed carrots. I figured that wouldn't be enough fill me up so I grabbed a Chicken Caesar Salad to go with it as well as a coke.

Looking around, I decided to sit with Dennis and Chris today. They were both part of the geek crowd, so I figured that I could eat and read in peace with them, while continuing to work remotely with Taylor. Besides, Vicky's usual crowd always seemed to want to chat with me, and I had less than nothing in common with most of them. At least with the geeks I could hope that they'd either provide some interesting conversation or least let me just chill out while reading my book.

Sitting next to Chris, I set my tray down and nodded to both of them and said, "Hey. Hope you don't mind, but Vicky's friends are getting on my nerves so I wanted to sit where I could eat and read in peace. And maybe get some intelligent conversation."

Chris smiled at me and said, "Hey yourself. Sit and eat; though if you want intelligent conversation today, you'll have to ignore Dennis."

"Oy! What did I do to deserve that burn?" He asked with a look of confusion on his freckled face.

"Don't even go there dude, you tried to use the crap on PHO as a legitimate source for current affairs; in Bronson's class, no less."

I winced at that. Ms. Bronson was a nice teacher, very smart and good at getting the students to really engage in her World Affairs class. But she was a serious hard-ass about sources and references; trying to use any of usual Net sources was always a gamble, but to try and use a forum site like PHO as anything other than a source of rumor was just asking for trouble.

"Tell me you did NOT try to pawn off that crap as actual factual information?" I asked him scornfully.

Chris snickered and said, "Yep, he sure did. He couldn't use his actual source," he looked at me and raised an eyebrow, then went on, "so he tried to bluff using some of the PHO posts as proof that civil unrest is rising across the country."

I paused with my fork of pasta almost to my mouth and said, "Well, that was a monumentally stupid thing to do, especially in her class. You're probably right about the trend, but you could have found much better sources to reference than PHO; you should have known that she wouldn't accept it as legitimate."

Dennis looked dejected and said, "I tried, but I couldn't find any that would meet her standards that supported my position."

I thought for a few minutes while eating my pasta, then said, "Did you go to the DOJ website and look at the Uniform Crime Reports or any of the major university PoliSci Departments? You should be able to find a bunch of trend data at either place."

Chris laughed at Dennis' stunned look while I continued to eat. Eventually Dennis managed to speak up, "Okay, how in the world do you know something like that. Especially cold, without any time to look for things."

I gave him a superior smile and said, "Maybe because I'm just that good," I paused to eat some of my carrots and then went on, "or maybe I did that paper two weeks ago and remember my sources."

Chris managed to slide Dennis' tray to the side just in time for Dennis to drop his head to the table in mock despair.

"Nicely done, Amy. And she's right, I used Harvard and Stanford both for my sources, and the DOJ site for projected trends. You could've asked me last week or even last night; waiting until homeroom was just stupid, man."

He turned a light red and explained, "Yeah, but I forgot to write down the assignment and completely forgot about it until this morning at breakfast. I wrote most of it while mom drove me in, and looked up some quick references before class, but … well, she didn't think much of it."

I snickered and said, "Yeah, big surprise there. Next time, ask someone for help sooner. Me, for example; I'm almost always two to three weeks ahead on my assignments, so I can at least point you in the right direction. If you're really stuck, I'll even let you ask Taylor for pointers; just don't expect her to do your work for you; she won't do that for anyone."

He looked thankful, but puzzled and asked me, "Taylor? Who's that?"

I pushed my tray to the side and opened my salad and poured the dressing on top before saying, "My girlfriend; she's taking her GED tomorrow, so she's way ahead of you on school work," I smirked at him and said, "Smarter, too."

Both of the boys laughed at that and we all settled down to eat our lunches before we ran out of time.

I finished my salad, cleared my spot, and then said, "I'll be right back," before I took it to the dirty tray conveyor, dropped it off, and headed back to my seat. Looking over at Vicky, I saw that she and her friends seemed to have settled in for the full period.

I pulled out my book and turned to Chapter Five, where the Fearless finally arrives at Basilisk Station and Honor finds out that Pavel Young is the Senior Officer on Station. After a few minutes, both boys finished eating and cleared their trays, but they came back to keep me company.

Of course, Dennis was the first to speak, "So, good book?"

I looked at over the top of my book and said, "Very good; are you actually interested or just making conversation?"

Chris nodded his head vigorously and interjected, "It is, it really is."

He looked first at Chris, then tilted his head to one side, looking at the book cover and said, "Well, I was just making conversation, but now I'm actually interested."

I smiled at him and marked my page, before I handed him the book as I said, "It's a classic of military Sci-Fi, the first in a series that has at least a dozen separate books, not counting spin-offs and short story collections. The genre is sometimes called 'Space Opera' because it is pretty much written on an Epic scale. The books have sort of the flavor of the Horatio Hornblower books about the Napoleonic Wars set in a high-tech, interstellar universe. The main protagonist, Honor Harrington, starts as a Commander in the Royal Manticoran Navy, and the series follows her life and career, with all of the ups and downs you could want."

Dennis handed me my book back as Chris took over the task of explaining the series, with his usual scattered description that switched, seemingly at random, between plot descriptions, battle scenes and waxing poetic about the tech described in the story.

Fortunately Dennis was used to Chris's tendency to wander when he was excited about whatever he was describing, so he seemed to be able to follow along just fine.

A few minutes before lunch was over I had the idea to check Arcadia's library to see if they had anything useful about lasers, but before I got up, it occurred to me that I actually had a subject matter expert sitting across from me. "Chris, got a question for you; does Arcadia's library have any good books on lasers? Especially solid state lasers?"

He looked at bit puzzled by my question, but told me, "Not really. There are a couple of books on the history of lasers, but that's about it. Why? I wouldn't have pegged you to be interested in something like that."

I shrugged and explained, "I'm not, but I was talking to Taylor before school, and she was asking about, um, Diode-Pumped Solid-State Lasers, so I thought I'd ask you if there were any good books in Arcadia's library, otherwise we'll check with the Central Library this afternoon."

"Oh, okay. She'll probably have better luck at the Central Library, if nothing else they can order in books for her," he bit his lip in indecision before continuing on, "um, if you don't mind me asking, why does she want to know about lasers?"

I shrugged and said, "Not sure, probably something to do with her AP exams. I'm pretty sure she has some next week and the week after, so it's probably just to fill in a gap for her Physics Exam."

Dennis frowned as he looked over and asked me, "Please don't take this wrong, but I thought that you had to take the GED if you couldn't graduate from high school? How can you take the AP exams if you have to take your GED?"

I just smiled at him and said, "There's lots of reasons that someone might need to take their GED; in Taylor's case it's because she's homeschooling herself. She's completed the state requirements and is ready to take her test, after that she's planning on taking several AP exams; I never asked how many she's planning on taking, though I know she's taking at least her US and World History and Psychology exams, possibly some of the other ones as well."

Dennis looked puzzled for a moment, then turned positively white. Chris spoke up before I could and asked him, "Dennis, you okay man?"

His mouth opened and closed a few times, as if he couldn't quite form words, before he said, "Shit. I'm so sorry Amy, I didn't realize you were talking about Ms. Hebert."

"Pretty sure I never mentioned her last name to you, so just how do you know it?" I asked him curiously.

"I, uh, well I found out by accident, sort of …" he lowered his voice and went on, "Chris, this is seriously classified and you're NOT cleared for it, okay? So don't ask and don't go looking for more information."

Chris got a big smile on his face, but said in a quiet, but very serious tone of voice, "Got it Dennis. Three monkeys it is."

I snickered at that and said, "Maybe he can't tell, but I can, so I'll give you the short version; Taylor was subjected to about a year and a half of concentrated torment at her school, that culminated in attempted murder. That's why Winslow got hammered on Monday. A whole bunch of people are going to be losing their jobs and may possibly be facing jail time for what they did or failed to do."

Chris looked shocked at that, and said, "Daaammn! I heard that Winslow was bad, but to just let that shit happen, that … that's just completely fucked up."

I sighed and said, "Yeah, pretty much. When I was called in to try to heal Taylor, she was so badly damaged and had so little bio-mass to work with, that it ended up taking four days to completely heal her and restore her to her proper condition. Miss Militia promised Taylor's dad that everyone responsible would be called to account, which is probably the only reason the Dock Workers, and just about every other union worker in the city, didn't tear Winslow down to it's foundations and lynch the faculty." I smirked at both of them and said, "Danny's a really nice guy, but he's got a serious temper if you push him far enough; and the Three Bitches and Winslow damn sure pushed him far enough."

Dennis, not surprisingly, was the one to ask, "Three Bitches? I could hear the caps on those words; who are they?"

I started to tell him, but paused in thought, "Ahh … No, I better not. No names; even if you figure it out once the trials start, please don't speculate about their identities. Right or wrong, bringing up names could cause problems for the court cases, which would be … bad."

He nodded his understanding and said, "She's right about that, last thing either of us want to do is get on M&M's bad side. And screwing up this case would do that for sure."

Chris nodded his head and agreed, "Not a problem, I don't need to know anything more, so mum's the word," he paused, then went on, "though, if there's anything I can do to help, officially or otherwise, just let me know, okay?"

I smiled at him and said, "Thanks Chris, that means a lot." I checked the time on my internal clock and then said, "Lunch is about over, let's scoot so we can get our stuff for class."

Dennis nodded and pointed at my book as he asked, "Could I borrow it when you are done?'

"Sure, when I'm finished, but I bet Chris has a copy you can borrow; if not you can always download it from the publisher's website."

"Oh yeah! I'll send you the link," he said excitedly as he pulled his phone out to find the URL.

"Dude, it can wait until after class, it's not like I'm gonna be able to do anything with it until after class anyway."

Chris put his phone away with a chagrined smile and said, "Yeah, good point. I'll get the links for you, but if you'd like I can get my copy for you as well."

"I'll take a look at the links you send me and see if I like it. I may just have to buy my own copy if it's as good as you two say. Oh well, I need to head to gym next, how 'bout you Amy?"

I answered as I rose from the table, "ELA, then Bio; I need to grab some things from my locker first, though."

I led the boys out of the cafeteria and towards my locker, which was on the way towards theirs. One of the advantages of knowing who all the Wards were was that I also knew where their lockers and classes were. Once I had figured out who they were, I had decided to make sure I would always have a good idea how to find any or all of them in an emergency. After all, back then I was just the squishy healer, and I liked the idea of knowing where to go to find some Cape backup; I knew Vicky would defend me, but I also had no illusions about her tendency to charge headlong into any fight that came along.

Stopping at my locker, I opened it and then turned to address them, "Thanks for keeping me company during lunch today, it made for a nice change from Vicky's chatterbox friends," I looked at them speculatively and asked, "would you be interested in doing it again tomorrow? Maybe we could bring in books that we like and compare them; sort of a low-key book club for geeks."

They exchanged a quick look and then smiled at me and Dennis said, "Yeah, that sounds like fun, certainly a lot more fun than just eating and talking about school work."

Chris nodded his agreement as I pulled two textbooks and a binder out of my locker and slammed it closed, and he said, "I've got a couple of good books I'll bring to lunch; a different Weber book and an older one by Drake. Hopefully, you'll like them."

I smiled at him before turning to head to ELA, and said over my shoulder, "I probably will, and I'll look on my shelves to find some good books," adding as I walked away, "you do the same, Dennis."

The two of them nodded and waved as they headed off to class and disappeared in the crowd of other students.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

I put some sandwiches, snacks and drinks in my backpack and grabbed my umbrella, just in case, as I headed out the door. The weather was overcast and cool, but the rain was holding off as I walked to the bus stop. Double-checking the time as I took a seat in the bus stop shelter, I saw that I had about 5 minutes before my bus was due to arrive.

I took the spare time to run a quick scan of the covered areas of Brockton Bay, looking and listening for any problems or trouble. Even with my extreme level of multi-tasking I found that it took both time and concentration to scan properly; my bugs provided a very comprehensive scan of location, scents and vibrations, but not so much in the way of visual and auditory data. If I focused intently, I could 'hear' pretty well, but parsing the visual data was still hard; I had to combine tens of thousands of different signals into a coherent image, which wasn't easy. I could do it, but it took time to blend it all together; it was much easier to use birds or larger animals with better eyes to provide me with usable visual images.

When my bus arrived, I took a seat in the rear, which was mostly empty as usual for this time of day, and pulled out one of mom's old books, Ender's Game. The premise looked good, and the first couple of chapters were interesting. While I was reading, I tagged all of my relay birds that I could locate, which seemed to be about 2/3 of them and tried to implant some instructions, sort of how I did with my spiders. What I was hoping to do was to allow them to fly freely around the city, but to regularly 'check in' by either roosting near or in one of the relay modded trees.

It only took a few minutes to finish implanting the instructions, as the larger brain seemed to accept the instructions much easier than the spider's, so I decided to try something more. Because I couldn't reach all of my relay birds, I attempted to 'record' a command that would be sent to any relay-birds that did not already have the new instructions implanted ordering them to land on a modded tree and call for my attention.

When I finished with setting up my recorded commands, I started brainstorming some things that Amy and I could create, not just mods for us, but creations that could increase food production, decontaminate polluted soil and water, generate electricity, all sorts of things.

"Hey Amy, got a second to chat?"

happy "Sure Sweetie, what did you have in mind?"

"I was doing some brainstorming of different creations we could make and it reminded me of when you set up our forms, specifically the data storage that you designed to hold each of our forms."

curiosity "Okay, what was your idea about them?"

"Well, you said that the main one had lots of extra, unused storage, right? So, is there any way that we can use that storage? As in, can we record things like music, movies, books and then pull it up later to listen or watch? And even better, do you think we could develop an actual computer that could run programs and applications?"

thoughtful "Uh…maybe? I don't know enough about how computers work to say for sure, but between the two of us we could probably figure it out. Being able to see or listen would be easy, but programming it or loading things in might be tricky to do."

excited "Probably, but it would be so worth it. Besides, just the little bit we've done with developing the power sources, storage and now the conductors, tells me it should work. I'm sure we could create an organic micro-computer that is just a copy of the larger PC's, but I'd rather figure out how to do it more, organically, so that it could also be encoded into our DNA. We might even be able to re-purpose some of the unused capacity of our brains and automate the interface for more efficiency."

"Alright, Sweetie, put that down for this weekend, we can do some testing for the interface and check the seeds for capacity and set up a set of secondary connections for data transfer."

excited "In fact, that would actually work for the medical scanner we talked about, we could work on that as the first test platform before we worked up our mods."

"Sure, that would let us test out a number of different medical functions as well developing the computing capabilities we want."

"We can check the library for any books on bio-medical scanners and equipment as well as for the lasers before we chill out in the music room."

"Sounds like a plan. So, any new music ideas? If not I brought a couple of my mom's cd's for us to try out."

"It sort of depends on what they have on the shelves, but if nothing catches our eyes, we can go with your cd's."

happy "Alright, my bus is pulling up now, so I'm going to go for now, I'll be waiting in my usual spot for you, okay Love?"

anticipation "Yep, see you soon, Sweetie."

Disconnecting from the call with Amy, I checked to make sure our low-level linkage was still open, but inactive; which it was, just as it had been all night. A few minutes later the bus pulled up to Arcadia's stop and I put my coat on and stepped down to the sidewalk and headed over to the bench I normally waited at.

I took out my thermos of juice and poured myself a cup to sip while I ate a few cookies and read some more of Ender's Game. After about five minutes of waiting, Arcadia finally let out for the day, so I packed up my bag and stood up to meet Amy and Vicky as they exited the side door onto the annex area.

Vicky waved to me as Amy ran ahead to greet me, hugging me tightly and then easing back enough to kiss me. "Missed you Sweetie! It's been a long week, and it's only Wednesday."

"Missed you, too," I looked over at Vicky and said, "Hi Vicky. Thanks for the ride."

She tossed her keys in the air and as she caught them said, "Not a problem, it's hardly out of my way and I was just going to go home and do my homework, so I'm not in any kind of a hurry."

With that she led us across the street to the student parking lot and unlocked her car. Amy held the door for me and slid onto the seat next to me, before slamming the door and putting on her seat-belt.

Vicky carefully eased out of the parking lot and headed north-west towards the Central Library. Because most of the traffic was headed towards the southern suburbs, the traffic thinned out and we made good time on our way.

Less than ten minutes later Vicky pulled up in front of the Library and said, "Alrighty, Central Library stop, I hope you had a comfortable trip and please ride on Vicky Trailways again."

I laughed as Amy and I exited the car and waved at Vicky as she pulled away. We walked into the library and headed to the central desk to take care of a few things before we started looking for books.

"Hi Mrs. Jameson, how's it going?" I asked politely.

She looked up and smiled at me, "Fine Taylor, yourself?"

"Quite well. I have a question for you though; I met a girl from Winslow who wants to take the career aptitude tests, but her Counselor told her that they weren't available at Winslow. Can she take them here, and if so, can I get a link to send her so she can learn more about them?"

She pursed her lips in thought, then said, "Certainly. Give me a moment and I'll get you a fact sheet that covers most of what she would want to know, including how to schedule the tests."

Suiting her actions to her words, she turned away and started looking through one of the file cabinets behind her; Amy stepped closer and said, "I've got a music room from 4:00 to 6:00, though we'll need to leave before then. That should give us plenty of time to find the books we talked about as well as some new CD's to listen to."

"Great! Soon as I finish here, I'll start looking for some books on Lasers while you see what you can on Bio-Medical equipment. After that I'll meet you by the music racks, alright?"

Amy opened her mouth to reply when Mrs. Jameson turned back to us and said, "Here you go Taylor. I'm sorry it's a bit blurry, but it's an old copy. I suppose that I'll have to make up a new one someday, when I have more time."

I looked at the page she had given me and saw that it was still legible, though more than a little blurry. I folded it up and slid it into my backpack for safe keeping, planning to make a better copy of it to send to Aisha this evening.

Thanking her, I turned back to Amy, and asked her, "Ready to go?"

She nodded and gestured towards the stacks and said, "After you, m'dear. I'll head for the 610's and you can check out the 660's or 680's for your books."

"Maybe, but I'll probably have better luck in the 620's under Light/Lasers."

"Seriously? I would have thought they'd be under Manufacturing or Engineering Technology," she said, clearly perplexed.

"I'll check there as well, but I doubt that I'll find much that's useful. Not unless there's something specifically aimed at manufacturing processes," I said.

"Huh. Learn something new everyday," she said as we walked into the row labeled 600 – 630.

Amy stopped at the first set of shelves and started to browse, while I ended up on the other side of the row, about half way down, before I found the section on Lasers. I quickly found an Introduction to Lasers: Diode Pumped Solid State Lasers, as well as two advanced texts, one of which looked to be almost pure theory, rather than practical examples. After a few moments of thought, I decided to take all three, since even if I really didn't grasp the advanced material completely, it should help point me in the right direction. Sort of how the advanced math books had helped me, even if not right away.

Amy joined me as I headed towards the CD racks, carrying two large books herself. One of them was on Biomedical Engineering and the other was on specific diagnostic devices and tools, like EEG's, ECG's, Pulse-Oxymeters and automated Blood Pressure sensors.

We looked through the available CD's, which seemed to be a bit thinner than normal, with a lot of Country/Western and Classical choices, but really light on anything else.

"This is just sad," Amy said, holding up a Lady GaGa CD. "This is about the best here, and really, I hear GaGa on the radio too much as it is. Oh well, I brought a couple from home and you said you had some of your mom's music, right?"

"Yeah, one by an Italian pianist and composer that's pretty good and some old stuff that you may not have heard before."

As we walked towards the music room that Amy had reserved, she asked me, "Like what?"

"Aqualung, Days of Future Passed, and Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi. Mom had really eclectic taste in music, so I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff, some of it from all the way back in the 60's. Well, not counting Jazz and Swing, which are even older than that."

Amy checked to make sure the room was empty before she opened the door and let me in. "Aqualung? Who's that by?"

I smiled at her, sat down on the sofa and pulled the CD's I had brought out and showed them to her. "Aqualung is by Jethro Tull and Days of Future Passed is by the Moody Blues."

She shook her head and said, "I don't think I've ever heard of Jethro Tull, but Moody Blues sounds kinda familiar."

"I think you'll like them both, though you have probably heard some of their songs before without realizing it, since they still get some play time on oldies stations and on their birthdays. Anyway, do you have a preference as to which we should listen to first?" I asked her.

"Hmm, let's go with the Moody Blues first and then one of my CD's to follow up with, I think you'll like Lungs by Florence and the Machine. It's got some really good songs on it, and I'm hoping they'll release another CD soon," Amy said as she removed a CD and placed it on the table next to the Aqualung CD.

Once the music started, we each selected one of our new books and began to read, slipping into the NEXUS effortlessly, and almost without thinking about it, deepening the almost subliminal connection so we could share information and ideas easily.

For the next 90 minutes or so we simply cuddled next to each other, listening to a nice variety of music while reading through the books we had selected. Finally, around 5:30, we packed up our CD's and headed for the check-out desk to check out the books we wanted to take with us.

As we stepped out on to the sidewalk, I looked up at the overcast sky and double-checked the time before saying, "Amy, I have a pretty good variety of sandwiches and snacks packed, so if we pick up some drinks, we could stop at Linden park and eat under the pavilion."

Amy smiled back at me and said, "Sounds good to me; almost as good as the sandwiches smell. There's a Speedway on the way to the park and we can get drinks and stuff there."

"Alright then, let's go," I said.

Five minutes brisk walk brought us to the Speedway where we bought a couple bottles of Pepsi's and some apples to go with our sandwiches. Amy also chose a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream for dessert, so I grabbed a couple of plastic spoons from the food bar to eat it with. I decided right then to pick up a couple of those combination silverware sets that were used for camping, considering how often we had picnic lunches.

Crossing the street, we walked a short way into the park and took our seats next to each other under one of the picnic pavilions to be out of the rain that had started just as we got to the park.

Setting my books aside, I took out the box of sandwiches as well as a second box that had crackers, cheese sticks and both celery and baby carrots for snacks. Holding out the sandwich box to Amy, I watched her choose a roast beef sandwich and a tuna sandwich to start with, after which I took a ham and cheese to go with my tuna sandwich.

Once we had chosen our sandwiches, I put the box of snacks between us and began eating. As I worked on my first sandwich, I decided to bring up the topic of new mods from this morning.

"Amy, I've got some ideas that I wanted to discuss with you, and thought now would be a good time."

curious "Now's good. What did you have in mind?"

"Well, first of all was food; I was thinking of something that could be grown quickly after an Endbringer attack or something similar. Maybe a bush or low tree that has a couple different types of 'fruit' that can provide enough calories and balanced nutrition for a number of people."

"Hmm. Yeah, I could do that … I think, anyway. I'd definitely need to do some experimenting on that, which will require both space and privacy since I can't imagine that they'll look like anything … well, normal."

"So we would need either an isolated field or greenhouse?"

"Greenhouse preferably. More privacy and easier to work on without risk of external contamination. What else did you have in mind?"

"Well, continuing on the same theme, I was thinking some way to provide clean, potable water, possibly linked with a sewage disposal system. Maybe even a large structure that provides water, showers and toilets into one system."

thoughtful "I suppose … but I think it would be easier to have the water plant as it's own unit, but supplying the 'sanitation station' as a separate building/system. In a refugee situation, I could even have the sewage processed and sterilized before sent over to where the food plants are growing, to increase efficiency and production." Amy paused in thought for a few minutes, then went on, "How would you do the water?"

"I was thinking a form of root structure, with multiple pumps to help raise the water to the surface, as well as to provide proper pressure. After that you could grow some filters, maybe even a reverse-osmosis system to ensure it's purified and safe to drink."

"Hmm, R-O really won't work in this type of system, since if I recall correctly, the membrane requires a pretty large pressure differential to work properly. However, I think I can come up with a different method of purifying water, the big issue is going to be to ensure a high enough volume and flow-rate."

"That would be great, depending on how stable and self-sufficient it is, it could even be planted or grown in isolated villages to help provide safe water to the inhabitants."

"Hmm, in that case I'll definitely want to make some changes so that it can actually pull from from the atmosphere, not just ground water or aquifers. That's just another reason to need an isolated location to experiment at. I may even need to try it out in different climate zones, to see if I need different variants to handle different environments," Amy explained.

I nodded and said, "I'm thinking we should check out some of the small, abandoned farms north of the river. Which segue's neatly into my next idea; I want to do some serious mods to some of the gray squirrels around that mine we found."

"Oh? Like what?"

"Well, bigger and stronger to start with, about twice the size and as strong as you can make them. Better hands for gripping and manipulating, and the best senses you can give them. No reproductive systems, or at least disabled unless you activate them. Plus anything else you can think of that would help them infiltrate the mine or any other facility that we need access to," I told her as I explained my idea.

"So you want to use them to actually open it up and get inside?" She asked me.

"If at all possible, yes. I know it's a bit out of the way, but that may be all to the good for us. Depending on what we find, there may even be remote access points on one of the nearby estates or even underwater."

pensive "Hmm, let me think about that while I work tonight, I should have a working plan by morning. In fact, that gives me an idea for some equipment for us, external equipment rather than internal mods."

"Oh, like what?"

"A small rebreather/gill unit so we can stay underwater for extended periods; a net caster to capture people; possibly a way to fly using a wearable organism of some type. All things that need room to develop and test, which we don't currently have."

"Yep, which is one of the reasons that I hope we can get into the mine and take it for our own. Squatting in an abandoned factory or warehouse won't be secure enough for the kinds of things we want to work on. Hopefully, we can develop a large enough revenue stream without resorting to taking 'spoils'."

"You still have issues with that, don't you?"

"Some, though I've been giving it some serious thought, since done right, it can be a major setback for a criminal or one of the gangs. To be honest, I don't actually care if I take the money or destroy it, since in either case it will deny them those resources. If I can intercept a major drug or weapons deal, including the cash payment, it'll hurt them coming and going," I explained.

"Do you have any leads for something like that?" Amy asked me.

"No, not yet. I need to be careful not to break the 'Unwritten Rules' in the process, so I've been very cautious about my surveillance, limiting myself to what I can see in the open or by following from an observed crime. I haven't written anything down yet, but I've been keeping a mental log of what I can observe with dates, times, locations and names when they use them. If I need to I can write it up in a notebook or in a document. I'm leaning towards using a separate notebook for each gang or criminal so that it can't be hacked and will only show the information that I want to show."

"Might be best to keep it in your memory for now, but transcribe it only if it looks like you'll need to turn it in to 'show your work'."

"Are you finished eating? It doesn't look like there's much left except for some carrots."

"Well, of course not. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough was never going to last long, was it?"

giggle "No, it really wasn't," I told her, as I laughed out loud.

Amy gathered up our trash and dumped it into a nearby trashcan while I repacked my back pack and got out my umbrella to cover us as we walked towards the hospital.

Shrugging our packs on, I opened the umbrella and wrapped my arm around Amy to hold her close under the umbrella and protected from the rain as we walked.

While we walked, Amy recounted some of the latest gossip from the hospital as well as some funny stories she had heard about capes from other cities. After a while she started sharing some more of the dirty jokes she heard in the hospital staff lounge and even in the cafeteria when they didn't realize she was listening.

Walking up to the hospital's main doors, I closed the umbrella since we were sheltered under the large overhang and hung it by it's strap from my left wrist and took Amy in my arms to give her a proper goodbye kiss.

A few minutes later she stepped back and shakily said, "Now that's what I call a kiss," stepping close again, she kissed me again, much more chastely and said, "I'll talk to you later, once I get home. And you be safe too, hear me?"

"I hear you, and I promise to take care as long as you do too."

"I will," she said as she stepped back and opened the door, turning back for a last look before she entered the hospital.

Opening the umbrella, I sighed and walked over to the bus shelter to wait for my bus to take me back home.

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

After a last, longing glance at Taylor, I headed to the staff locker room to get changed out of my damp clothes and into my Panacea costume to start my shift.

Slipping out of the locker room, I entered the ER and checked in with the charge nurse to see who, if anyone, needed to seen first. Surprisingly, even for a Wednesday night, no one needed my help down here, so I headed for ICU/CCU.

Less than 45 minutes was needed to clear both wards, letting me head upstairs to the pediatric and cancer wards to see what I could do for those patients. One of the best things about Othala volunteering at the different hospitals was that there was seldom a large back log of patients needing my help, which meant that I could keep to the restricted hours that mom and so many others had been telling me work with. By 8:30 I was finished up with both of those wards, so I decided to check out the post-surgical ward and see if I could help some of those patients before I left for the night.

Due to some equipment intervention, like an ostomy and two sets of traction pins, I wasn't able to heal everyone completely, though I did heal them up to the point where the appliances could be removed within a day or so. Depending on when the surgery could be scheduled of course. I could have done a full removal, but there was no way I was going to show that my powers could do something like that, thank you very much.

I finished up with the last surgical patient just after nine o'clock, so I took the elevator down to the first floor to change back into my regular clothes, before heading out to catch a bus home.

Because I had stayed a little later than normal, I actually had to run down to the bus stop to be sure to catch my bus. Which was lucky, because I wouldn't have enjoyed waiting another half hour for the next one that would get me home.

The ride was as quiet as most late weekday bus rides were, with only 5 people on the bus, even counting me. While I rode I pondered the systems that Taylor wanted to make, mostly thinking about the best way to achieve the results we wanted, creating simulations that would let me craft a working example quickly and easily.

Reaching my stop, I exited and walked the half block to my house, unlocking the front door and relocking it again once I was inside, turning the security system from standby to armed before hanging up my coat and heading for the kitchen. I could hear mom and dad up in their room and Vicky downstairs, so I dropped my pack off on the kitchen table and checked the fridge for any leftovers to snack on. To my delight, dad had made up a fully loaded dinner plate, with roast pork, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy.

I reheated it in the microwave and grabbed a couple of dinner rolls from the bowl and popped them into the toaster oven to warm them up. While everything prepped, I poured myself a large glass of milk and pulled out one of the library books to read while I ate.

I was nearly finished eating when Vicky came up from the basement and sat down at the table with me.

"So, good book?" she asked as she twisted her head to be able to read the cover. "Design of Biomedical Devices and Systems? Really? And you enjoy reading that?"

I laughed at her and explained, "I'm trying to figure out what medical technology can scan compared to my power, and although I know in general terms, what they look for, I wanted to see precisely what they measured and how. Once I have a handle on that, I'll be able to explain things better to the doctors, especially the jerks who assume that I'm a clueless child, pretending to be a doctor."

"Yeah, you never like it when they do that, do you? I would have thought that most of the doctors had gotten over that by now. Haven't they?"

I sighed, and said, "For the most part, yes, but every now and then one of them gets butt-hurt when I can heal someone that they can't even diagnose. Especially when I can't explain what was wrong in terms that they can understand."

"Well, that sucks. I guess having powers is kind of cheating, but still, they're supposed to be mature, educated adults, and they should be able to deal with it better than that," Vicky said.

"You'd think, wouldn't you. But sadly, some of them are all too human, and don't like it when all of their education and experience is trumped by parahuman powers."

Vicky scowled and said, "Screw 'em if they can't handle it; let them go through a Trigger Event and see if they still think it's all puppies and rainbows. Assholes."

I whistled softly and said, "You know Vicky, you shouldn't repress your anger and resentment like that; let it all out once in a while and you'll feel a lot better. All the head-shrinkers say so."

She laughed, shook her head and stood up, "I'll try. I'm heading up to bed now, how about you?"

I nodded at my mostly cleared plate and said, "I'll be up in a bit; I want to finish eating."

She just waved back over her shoulder as she left the kitchen, and I went back to eating and reading my book.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

When I got home, dad was already home and had the table set for dinner. Hanging up my coat and putting my umbrella and pack down, I walked into the kitchen and gave him a hug, saying "Hey dad, sorry I'm late," looking over at the clock on the stove, I corrected myself, "no, you're home early. What's up?"

"Nothing much, just had a good day today, everything went really well. The train was on time, and the load was brilliantly organized, so all we had to do was follow the plan we had been sent to get it completely unloaded and on the road by 4:30. Even with the processing plant manned to handle the boats coming in this evening, nobody had to work late. Hopefully, we can keep it up, because I'd like to hire some more full-time workers rather than have to pay over-time."

I nodded and said, "Yeah, that sounds better all around," lifting the lid on the slow-cooker, I checked the lasagna and said, "If you get the salad out of the fridge, I'll start the garlic bread and serve up the lasagna. I tried a new recipe, in addition to using the slow-cooker, so I want your opinion on how it turned out."

Dad smiled and said, "I'm sure it'll be fine dear, but I'll certainly give you my expert culinarily considered opinion on how it turned out, based of course on my many years of experience with lasagna."

I giggled at his over-the-top delivery, and finished preparing the garlic toast and slid it under the broiler to toast it quickly. While the first side toasted, I picked up dad's plate and carefully cut out a piece of lasagna and slid it on his plate, before handing it to him, and taking my plate to do the same.

Setting it on the table, I flipped the garlic toast over so it could finish toasting, and then took a carton of milk from the fridge and filled both of our glasses and set the milk aside to fetch the garlic toast. Transferring the garlic toast to a bowl, I turned off the broiler and sat down to eat while putting the bowl between us.

While we ate, dad filled me in on his day, giving more details about the goods train, and what a difference the improved organization made. At the end of the meal, he did give me his opinion of the lasagna, which was basically that it was pretty good, but not as good as mom's recipe.

"So does that mean you don't want any for lunch tomorrow?" I cheekily asked him.

"Now Taylor, I didn't say that, did I? I'd love to have some for lunch tomorrow, maybe even with some garlic toast to go with it, if possible."

"Of course it's possible, I'll even make some fresh garlic toast in the morning that you can warm up to go with the lasagna, although I would recommend that you reheat them separately."

"Thank you Taylor, that would be great. Do you need a hand with the dishes?" he asked me as he cleared his spot.

I shook my head and said, "No, in fact I plan on getting started on my baking tonight, since I'm going to be gone most of day tomorrow."

He looked up from the dishwasher with a puzzled expression and asked, "Why? What are you doing tomorrow?"

I smiled and shook my head and said, "You forgot, didn't you? Tomorrow is my GED, so I'll be leaving before you do, though I do expect to be home by 6. Next week is going to be pretty busy as well, since I have a bunch AP and computer tests to take."

Dad whistled and said, "You're right, I did forget that was this week. Sorry about that."

I waved it off as I dished up some more lasagna, and said, "Meh, not a problem, although we should probably get a big calendar so we can write that kind of stuff down. It'll help both of us keep track of what's going on."

"Good idea, I'll stop by Gendon's Office Supply on the way home and see what I can find; I'm thinking one of those white board calendar's might be best. What do you think?" he asked me from the living room, as he looked at one of the walls.

I nodded, even though he couldn't actually see me and said, "Yeah, that sounds perfect. Oh, I'm low on toner and printer paper, so if you could pick some up that would be a big help. I want to fix up some old documents, and it would help if the printer didn't skip or fade."

"No problem, just let me write down the printer model number so I get the right toner cartridge," I could hear him in the living room, pulling the printer out to check the model number while I finished loading the dishwasher and started it before getting started on my baking.

The next three hours were spent alternating between baking and reading, so that by 11:30 I had two apple pies, six loaves of a rich, multi-grain bread, and about 8 dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. The bread was a new recipe I had found online, and if it tasted anywhere near as good as it smelled, I was going to be making it again.

Once I had the kitchen cleaned back up from my baking, I went to bed, planning on waking up around 4 am.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

Upon waking, I got dressed in a set of sweats before heading to the basement to do an abbreviated set of my morning exercises. I planned on skipping my weight lifting, and just doing my calisthenics and katas before making breakfast and lunches for dad and I.

Since I finished a little before 5am, I decided to hold off on my shower so I wouldn't wake dad, and instead began putting together our lunches. I started making some garlic toast for dad and while that was toasting, I made half a dozen sandwiches of different types, using up the last of the meatloaf and tuna, as well as one ham and cheese sandwich. I also added some cheddar cheese that I had cubed to go with my veggie sticks and cookies. I filled my thermos with the last of the lemonade rather than make up more fruit juice or tea.

Dad's lasagna was already set aside in a sealed container, so I just packed it into his lunch bag with some veggie sticks, cookies and four pieces of garlic toast and left it in the fridge for him to take to work.

Once that was done I started on my breakfast, which since I was planning on two long sessions of testing with no real snack breaks, was moderately epic. French toast, loaded omelets and lots of bacon, all washed down with milk and tea.

I had originally planned on riding my bike to the testing center, but it was already raining, and the forecast was for cold temps and steady rain all day, so it was definitely the bus for me.

Once I finished eating breakfast, I cleaned up and ran up to take my shower and dress for the day. I had just finished getting dressed when dad's alarm went off, waking him for the day.

While he got up and dressed, I emptied my backpack and put my wallet with photo ID and some cash in it, I also made sure I had my confirmation letter for today's test, the state waiver for my age and a copy of my state transcript letter. Other than that, I planned on loading my lunch, snacks, drinks and nothing else. Supposedly they had secure lockers for all the test takers, but I guess I'd have to wait and see for sure.

When dad finally came downstairs, I was putting on my coat and backpack and had my umbrella ready to use. I didn't worry about his breakfast as he was more than capable of making something warm and nutritious to eat before he left for work.

Before I left I said, "Dad, I didn't start anything for dinner this morning, since I was planning on tacos tonight, if that's okay?"

He stepped over to where I was standing by the front door and said, "Tacos will be just fine for dinner," and giving me a big hug said, "Good luck, Taylor. Do your best, that's all I expect."

"I will dad," and just before I closed the door I said, "Have a good day, and I'll see you this evening."

Opening my umbrella I briskly walked to the bus stop, where I joined quite a few others who were obviously on their way to work. I was pleased that I only had to wait about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive and I intentionally waited to be last, figuring that the regular riders needed the seats a lot more than I did, and I would just take whatever was available or stand if necessary.

Because most of the seats were taken and I wanted to leave some for additional riders, I chose to sit just in front of the rear door, so I could offer my seat to anyone who needed it. Like most of the riders, I sat quietly, minding my own business, only having to get up once to let the man sitting next to me get up to leave. Finally, I arrived at my transfer stop, so I got off and waited in the shelter for the bus I needed to take me to Lord's College for my GED.

Another 15 minutes brought me to Lord's College, and about 5 minutes of walking in the rain got me to Michelson Hall, where the testing center was located. When I found the assigned room, I found that I was actually early and not even the proctor had arrived yet, so I walked back to the soda machine and bought a coke to go with some cookies while I waited.

Just after 7:30, two proctors showed up and unlocked the door, so I stood up and asked them, "Hi, this is the room for the GED, right?"

The woman who was not unlocking the room turned to face me and said, "Yes it is, and you are?"

"Taylor Hebert," I said, then held up my pack and asked, "could you tell me where to put this? My confirmation letter said that keyed lockers were available, but it didn't say where they were located."

She smiled and said, "They're actually mounted in the back of the room, one for each testing station," once the door was opened she waved me in and said, "Come on in, choose a locker and we will get you logged in and ready to start at 8 o'clock."

I removed my wallet and the three letters that I had brought, before I put my pack into the locker and locked it. Walking back up to the front of the room, I showed my ID and the letters to the proctor, who checked everything carefully before logging me in and assigning me to a computer carrel in the first row.

By the time I had taken my seat, the other test takers had shown up and were lining up to get logged in. It appeared that most of them had only brought their wallets, leaving purses and packs in their cars or at home.

Right at 8 o'clock, the door to the testing center was closed and we received our instructions. The first test was on Math, mostly algebra and problem solving; dead easy and they gave us almost two hours to finish it, which gave me plenty of time to review and double-check my work.

After a 10 minute break, we started in on the Science test, which covered a variety of topics, though none in any depth. This time the test was only 90 minutes long, again giving me plenty of time to do a thorough review.

At 11:35 we broke for a one hour lunch, being told to be back before 12:30 because the doors would be locked at 12:35 for the Social Studies test to begin.

I took my pack and headed to an alcove near the main entrance that had a couple of sofas and chairs, as well as three vending machines, so I could eat my lunch in peace before taking the final tests.

I settled into one of the chairs against the wall, away from the vending machines, and poured my self a cup of lemonade and started eating one of my meat loaf sandwiches while several other people taking the GED bought drinks and snacks. Most wandered out of the building, probably to go to their cars to eat, but a couple had done as I had and brought lunch from home.

The two others who had brought their lunches into the building each pulled out a book to read while they ate, but I just worked though the various areas in the city that I could cover, scanning for problems or locations that I might investigate during my next patrol. Drug safe houses and the like; really anything that broke the law and would put a crimp in the gangs' finances if taken out.

As I ate, I located three of the Merchant's drug houses in the docks, one of E88's safe houses that had a very large selection of weapons in the basement, and a dog-fighting arena and what looked like a 'cage-fight' setup in an old factory on the southside of the city.

As I finished eating my last sandwich, I checked in on Amy and found her also eating lunch while discussing books with two friends as she did so. Neither of us really spoke, but instead just exchanged a wordless feeling of love and affection, before going back to our own affairs, kind of a 'zen' hug, one of warm thoughts and love, for when you can't be there in person.

I deposited my trash in the nearby receptacle, sealed up my thermos of lemonade and took my pack with me as I headed back to the testing room.

I walked into the room, logged in again for the afternoon session and locked up my pack before sitting down at the same testing carrel as before to wait for the next test to start.

Right at 12:35, they closed and locked the door and screen in front of me turned itself on with the instructions for the Social Studies test already displayed. Reading through them carefully, I nodded and started the test.

The last test was on English and Language Arts, and in addition to the computerized section, had an essay portion that had to be written out by hand. They passed out a folder to each person taking the test, which had an essay prompt, a covered booklet with a single sheet of paper to write the essay on and three sheets of paper that was water-marked as DRAFT. Two blue pens were also provided, which the essay had to be written with.

My essay prompt wasn't too bad, asking me to write on the following topic:

What does it take to be a good parent?

The directions were pretty straight forward, 'In your essay, describe the characteristics of a good parent. Give specific details to explain your views. Use your personal observations, experience, and knowledge.' so I pulled the DRAFT sheets in front of me and began brainstorming and organizing my thoughts.

After about 10 minutes, I had good idea of where I wanted to go with my essay, so I took the last sheet of DRAFT paper, and began quickly writing my essay. Once I finished writing my draft version, I read it over again and made the corrections and improvements that I thought it needed. After giving it a final read through and a satisfied nod, I set my draft to one side and filled out the cover of the actual essay booklet before carefully and neatly writing out the final version of my essay.

I used the last few minutes allotted for the test to go back over and review my computerized answers, and then just quietly waited until time was called and the proctors collected all of the materials that we had been given. Once they had collected everyone's stuff, they separated out the draft sheets and shredded them immediately and put all the test booklets in a large envelope and sealed it.

While most of the other test takers were logging out and leaving, I first got my backpack and then went up to the desk and thanked the proctors before being logged out of the system.

As I left Michelson Hall, I opened my umbrella to protect me from the rain and cold wind. The walk to the bus stop wasn't long, but the wind kept switching directions, so my shoes and the bottoms of my pants legs were soaked long before I got there. As I waited for the bus, I went over what I had at home, and decided that a stop at the Market Basket was needed; just for a few things that I would need to make dinner.

The ride home was much like this morning, except that I was one of the first riders, so I got a nice seat up front where the heater would help dry my shoes and pants. The Market Basket nearest my house was two stops before my normal stop, so I figured that it would be easy to pick up what I needed and either catch the bus or just walk the rest of the way home.

Doing my shopping took less than 10 minutes and a hand basket; three tomatoes, two blocks of CoJack, two blocks of Cheddar cheese and two packages of tortillas later and I was ready to check out and head for home.

Once my purchases were paid for, I carefully placed the two bags into my backpack before opening my umbrella again and started off towards home at a brisk walk. Considering the relatively short distance I needed to go, I felt no need to wait for the bus that would take me home.

Getting home, I walked in the back door and set my backpack on the table and hung my coat and umbrella up before running upstairs to change into some comfortable, and more importantly, dry clothes. Once changed I headed back to the kitchen to start dinner.

I used the big cast iron dutch oven to start frying out the ground beef, while I chopped up an onion and minced a couple of garlic cloves, that I added along with a variety of spices and other things to spice the meat up to an acceptable level. Once the meat was mostly browned, I added some crushed tomatoes and a little tomato sauce to give it just the right consistency before turning the heat down low to let it simmer, and I then started a small pot of rice before I began preparing the rest of the toppings.

As I started grating the cheese, dad finally got home, coming in the back door as usual.

"Evening Taylor, how did your test go?"

"Tests actually, dad. The GED is actually multiple tests taken over a full day. But I think it went very well, the material tested was pretty general, and not very advanced. At least, not compared to the things I've been studying for my AP exams or even the different computer certifications."

"That's great Taylor! I'm so proud of you for completing the state requirements and taking your GED almost 2 years ahead of schedule, and doing it all on your own, with self-directed study."

I blushed at dad's words and the very evident pride he felt for what I had accomplished. Clearing my throat, and looking for a distraction, I asked dad, "Could you wash the lettuce and start shredding it into a bowl? I'll dice some tomatoes while you do that, and then I'll start on the tortillas."

"Sure thing Taylor," he said as he picked up the head of lettuce, cored it and washed it thoroughly in the sink before setting it on one of my cake racks to drain while he pulled out a large bowl to hold the shredded lettuce.

I quickly diced two of the new tomatoes and the last one in the fridge and put them in a bowl on the table, set the container of sour cream next to it and took the two packages of tortillas over to the stove.

I put a couple of tablespoonfuls of water into the tortilla warmer, and slid into the microwave for three minutes to pre-heat it while I heated the frying pan to heat the tortillas.

Pulling out the heated tortilla warmer, I set it on a large pot holder and started heating the tortillas, alternating between flour and corn, so they would be stacked properly in the warmer.

Dad set the table while I finished the food preps, including large glasses of milk and a tall stack of paper napkins, because as good as tacos tasted, they were in no way a neat and elegant food, at least not in the Hebert household.

Bringing the serving bowl of taco meat with me, I sat down at the table and looked over everything to make sure nothing was missing; tortillas, meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, rice, refried beans, sour cream and dad's hot sauce. Yep, everything was just the way we liked it.

"Looks good, Taylor, you did a wonderful job on dinner. Dig in!" he said as he passed me a corn tortilla and took a flour tortilla for himself.

With that we settled down to tasty but casual dinner, our eating interspersed with the occasional comment about our days, but mostly just eating quietly.

Eventually, dad finished eating and cleared his spot before heading to the living room to watch tv and relax before getting ready for bed. He usually watched PBS until his crime shows came on, but tonight he actually put in a Poirot DVD instead, which he hadn't done since mom had died, so I made a point of checking on him a couple of times after I brought him his apple pie and tea.

I spent half an hour putting away leftovers and cleaning the kitchen, before I served myself some apple pie and sat down at my computer to do some work. First I pulled the blurry sheet from the library, smoothed it out and carefully transcribed it into a Word document, then converted into a locked .pdf file. Once I was happy with the files, I emailed a copy of both files to Mrs. Jameson, then sent just the .pdf file to Aisha. She should be able to view and print it from any browser, either from school or any library.

From: trhebert

To: anlaborn .

Subj: Re: Getting outta this hellhole

Attch: Aptitude Test

Hey Aisha,

I got a copy of the Career Aptitude Test FAQs sheet from the library for you. This is a .pdf version which should open up in any browser and let you print it out.

Talk to you later,


From: trhebert

To: njameson bblibrary. .gov

Subj: State Career Aptitude Test FAQS

Attch: State Career Aptitude Test

State Career Aptitude Test

Good Evening Mrs Jameson,

I took the copy of the Career Aptitude Test FAQs sheet that you gave me and re-did it in both .pdf and .docx versions for you. It's much clearer than the blurry copy, so you can use it both as an original template for more copies and post it on the website for download.

Hope it helps,

Taylor Hebert

Once that was finished, I used my new pre-paid credit card to order a supply of minerals and chemicals that I needed for my coral tanks, as well as some more jewelry making supplies and shipping boxes.

Because dad was still up, I decided not to work on my mapping project, but just go through my email before chilling with a book and watching some tv with him. Most of the email was junk, though I did get two updates for some of my installed software that I downloaded into an isolated folder so I could run a full anti-virus scan on them before I installed them. Other than that, the only one of interest was a notice that my PHO account had a PM request from All_Seeing_Eye, AKA Tattletale. Since there was no indication of urgency, and the time-stamp was from earlier this afternoon, I decided to wait until after dad went to bed to respond, since I wasn't going out to patrol tonight or do any design work until I had finished reading my new books and had a while to contemplate my options.

Logging out and shutting down, I took out my Introduction to Lasers book and lay down on the sofa to read while watching/listening to 'The Third Floor Flat'. This wasn't my first time watching Poirot, so I could follow along easily as I read and reviewed for my next set of tests, MS Office and my SAT. As far as I was concerned, the AP exams could wait for the weekend.

Dad finally turned off the tv and headed upstairs around 11:00, leaving me on the sofa to continue reading for a while. He settled down to sleep a short while later, so I rebooted my computer and logged back into PHO to answer Tattletale's PM request.

Subject: Poetry

Would love to talk about Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.


To: All_Seeing_Eye

Subj: Privacy

Need to chat, privately. Suggestions?


To: Legion

Subj: Re: Privacy

TorChat. Send drop.


To: All_Seeing_Eye

Subj: Re: Re: Privacy

LGBT6969 .


To: Legion

Subj: Re: Re: Re: Privacy

Got it. You really do like to live dangerously, don't you?


Logging out of PHO, I closed the VM and opened a different one, and routed my connection through both Finnish and Cambodian anonymizers, before routing through two Tor nodes and then into HyperCrypt to retrieve the encryption key and TorChat link so Tattletale and I could chat in relative security. Hopefully, if anyone tried to trace my path, the alarms I had set would warn me in time, though since they were based on a couple of scripts that I had downloaded and modified, I didn't want to trust them too far.

After checking everything as well as I could, I backed out of everything and created a completely new connection to the internet and to TorChat, using different anonymizers and nodes. Five minutes work got me logged into a TorChat room with Tattletale, that hopefully couldn't be spotted, much less penetrated. I was definitely looking forward to some tutoring from Über and L337 on computer security and other related topics

ASE: Hi! You made an offer a while back, and I'm hoping you were serious.

LGN: For Bitch? Yes.

ASE: She found an E88 dog fighting ring, and wants to hit it tomorrow. Said about 20 dogs, US are helping, have a cargo van for dogs.

LGN: Have other plans for the evening, but can provide advance and real-time recon.

ASE: Address is 25993 Merrywether. Abandoned factory. Even split of cash okay?

LGN: No thanks. You'll need a bigger truck; at least 43 dogs there now. Cage fights tonight, not dog fights.

ASE: Fuck me! Your range is bullshit!

ASE: Yeah, we'll get a bigger truck. Any Capes?

LGN: Hookwolf, Menja, Crusader? and tall, fat male in chainmail with a large mace/club. Don't recognize him. New Cape?

ASE: Imported Gesellschaft Cape, think it's Hogrun? Brute5 Striker3.

LGN: Okay, will work up floor plans and send to you. Text msgs for updates with burners. Will get number to you tomorrow.

ASE: Sounds good. bohica17 . .

LGN: Anything else?

ASE: Nope. Really appreciate the help.

I checked on dad again, and found him solidly asleep, so once again I logged out of everything, and once offline I started my new drawing program. It only took a few minutes to get the basics down enough to start drawing the factory, since it had come with really good tutorials and a lot of useful templates.

The basic layout of the factory, all the rooms, windows, doors and surrounding streets and parking lots was done in about an hour. Getting the dimensions was actually the easiest part because part of my 'swarm sense' was absolute awareness of the location of each member of the swarm, in distance, direction and orientation. Gotta love remote proprioception.

The number of insects in the factory was simply phenomenal, and I was able to shift them around unobtrusively to also trace out and locate all of the utilities and the controls for them.

The main floor was especially easy to observe because all of the dogs that were kept there, but also because of the large number of mice and rats in the walls and crawlspaces.

Once I located the main office, I positioned several rats in strategic spots so I could easily listen and watch the workers there as they collected, sorted and counted the cash. By the time everything was closed up and shut down for the night, the total receipts from the gate and betting came to $26,259. And I suspected that the total on Friday night might even be higher, since the night would start with dog fights and then move up to the cage fights.

As the building was closed up for the night, most of the money was emptied out of the safe taken away by Hookwolf, while two men were left as night watchmen. Once the last of the capes had left, one of the men settled down in the office to sleep while the other one walked a regular patrol, which included ensuring that all of the dogs had plenty of water, but only a little food.

When I was sure that everything was quiet for the night, I shut down my computer and went to bed.

-Legion*** ***Legion-

Friday was much like any other day, though Amy and I did a lot of work on designing our new creations like the water and food plants. Even before lunch we had shifted to setting up some of our plans. We modded a large selection of shell fish and crabs as relays to cross the river and work up the coast until we had gone past the mine we were interested in.

Once that was done and I was certain that no people or remote sensors were near the mine, Amy began modding the local gray squirrels to be more useful for our purposes.

Amy gave them muscles similar to ours, as well as similar toughness and speed, with a very good suite of senses. Their hands looked superficially normal, though with longer fingers. The squirrel's somewhat larger size helped hide just how different the hands were from a normal squirrels.

Amy did give them a much larger oxygen reservoir, so that they could last nearly an hour without taking a breath.

All told, Amy created 2 dozen of the modded squirrels, 12 on each side of the river, though four of them had a variation of echolocation, using low-frequency sound to try to locate cavities and open spaces though solid rock.

I emptied out all the completed tools and weapons from our coral factories, and had a set of small, basic hand tools designed for the modded squirrels that Amy programmed into the factories and set them to forming. Because of their simplicity, they should be all be completed by Sunday morning.

My hope was that the squirrels would have enough tools to get started with and that they would be able to take measurements and such so that I could design any needed tools for my little helpers.

Since Amy and I had settled on an early dinner and then going to watch a movie, I called dad at work to let him know what our plans for the evening were.

ring ring ring

"Dock Worker's Association, Dorothy Miller speaking. How may I help you?"

"Hi Mrs. Miller, it's Taylor, can I talk to my dad?"

"Certainly dear, I'll transfer your call."

ring ring ring

"DWA, Danny speaking," my dad said when he picked up the phone.

He sounded pretty cheerful, so I said, "Hi dad, you sound happy, what's up?"

"Afternoon Taylor. Nothing too big, just the boats came in with full holds, so it looks like the fishing grounds are rebounding nicely. Steady work all around, which is always good."

"That's really good. Anyway, Amy and I thought that we would celebrate completing my GED tests by going out to an early dinner and then a movie, if that's alright with you?" I asked him.

"Hmm, I don't see why not. Sure, do you need any money?" he asked.

"No, I'm good. Plus, I'm all ready for the Free Market tomorrow, everything is boxed up and labeled and I've got the cash box already filled and ready to make change."

"Sounds good. In fact, Kurt has been inviting me to go bowling with he and Lacey, so I'll see if the offer is still open, and if it is, I'll spend the evening with them. In any event, don't wait up for me, I may crash at their house if it's too late," he explained.

"Sounds like fun, just don't forget that you need to drive me to the Free Market by 9:00, alright?"

He laughed and said, "I remember. Have fun, and say hi to Amy for me. Love you, Taylor."

"Love you, too, dad," I said.

"Bye Taylor."

"Bye dad," I said as I hung up. Checking the time, I decided I had more than enough time to get ready without rushing, so I went upstairs to lay out my clothes for the evening then take my shower.

After my shower, I brushed my hair straight back and held it in place with two braids wrapped around my head like a crown and a pair of polished teak hair sticks with iridescent green coral caps. I had made these sticks to match my earrings and necklace, and I had another set with fire coral caps that I was bringing along to give to Amy.

The dress I wore was another one that I had made, in a dark green shade, about half-way between emerald and forest green, sleeveless and knee length with a wide black leather belt. To finish it all off, I chose a lovely hand-knitted ivory cardigan that I had picked up a couple of weeks ago at the Free Market, sheer off-black stockings and a pair of black, low-heeled shoes.

'It's date night, damn it, and I plan to look goodtonight.'

I pulled out my green purse and packed it with just the essentials, my wallet with my ID, bus pass, credit card and cash, and my phone, lipstick and of course my pepper spray and baton. If I needed more than that tonight, someone was going to suffer. A lot.

Locking the back door behind me, I walked to the bus stop to wait for my bus to take me downtown to Massimo's, the restaurant that Amy had made reservations for us to have an early dinner at. It was a fairly upscale Italian restaurant that had a very good reputation for excellent food and a romantic atmosphere; it was also within easy walking distance of the Cineplex where we planned on seeing a new movie.

The bus ride was relatively quiet, as the post-work rush hadn't started yet, and I got off less than a block from the restaurant. As I walked towards Massimo's, I could feel Amy rapidly approaching, and a quick scan showed Vicky's car pulling up in front of the restaurant.

As Amy got out of the car, I got my first view of her outfit, which I had vigorously refused peeking at until now. She was wearing a dusty rose dress about the same length as mine, with an off-white lace shawl, and a pair of high-heel pumps that matched her narrow black sash. I could see that she had also chosen to wear the coral earrings and necklace that I had given her for our first date.

-Legion*** Amy ***Legion-

School was just as interesting…or boring… as it ever was on a Friday, although lunch was nice, spending time with Chris and Dennis talking about some of our favorite books and trading some back and forth was a lot of fun. A couple of other book-geeks asked if they could join us, once they realized what we were doing. Cassie and Bill were both Sci-Fi geeks, and happy to find some others who not only read the same books, but ones that they hadn't yet.

During gym, Taylor and I chatted for a while and decided that since Vicky had a date planned for tomorrow, we would go for an early dinner and then a movie. I could feel Taylor's excitement at the idea of another official date, so I told her to dress nice, as the restaurant I had in mind expected people to be appropriately dressed, so no jeans or tee-shirts.

As soon as school let out I called Massimo's to reserve a table for two at 5 o'clock, at first the greeter wasn't sure if they could fit us in, but after I gave my name and asked when a table would be free, she asked me to hold. A few minutes later she came back and said that a table would be available at 5. I guess being a publicly known superhero did have some cool perks after all.

Vicky walked me over to her car while I was on the phone, and waited until I was done to start the car and head for home.

"Massimo's, huh? Pretty fancy for a Friday night date," she said teasingly.

I finished putting my phone away and said, "Yeah, but Taylor took her GED tests yesterday, so it's celebration time. I just need to reschedule my clinic time to tomorrow morning so they know not to expect me until then."

"Sounds like you've got this under control, all you need is to get permission to go out for dinner and … what? Dancing? Movie?" she asked me as turned on to Peterson Blvd.

"Movie probably, we both have things to do in the morning, so we shouldn't stay out too late," I told her as I pulled up my list of contacts and dialed St. Joe's ER nurse's station.

Vicky opened her mouth to say something, but I held up a finger for quiet, as I explained to the nurse who answered the phone that I would not be in tonight, but would be in around 8:00 tomorrow morning. Disconnecting, I turned back to Vicky, "Thanks, now you started to say something?"

She smiled and said, "Yep. Unless you already have other arrangements, I'll be happy to drop you off at the restaurant, and drive you both home when you're done with your movie."

I was tempted to give her a hug, but quickly decided that doing that while she was driving was just asking for trouble, and settled for saying, "Thanks Vicky, that would be great. I've got a new dress and shoe for tonight, and I'd rather not have to ride the bus while wearing them."

"I can definitely relate to that. Be sure to ask dad as soon as we get home, and after your shower I'll help you get ready, alright?"

I smiled and said, "That would be great, Vicky. I'll want to leave around 4:30 or so, as the reservation is for 5 o'clock."

She just nodded at that and we made the rest of the drive home in a thoughtful silence.

Entering the house while Vicky left to fill her gas tank, I hung up my coat and carrying my backpack, went to find dad. Listening carefully, I couldn't hear him anywhere in the house, so I headed to the back door, dropping off my pack on the dining room table.

Stepping outside, I found him cleaning the ashes out of the fire pit. "Hey dad, what's up?"

He looked back at me as he dumped a trowel full of ashes into a bucket and said, "Hey there Amy-girl, just getting it cleaned out and ready for the weekend. It's supposed to be really good weather and I thought it would be nice to be able to use it. Sort of celebrate spring time properly."

"Sounds cool. Speaking of celebrating properly, I'd like to take Taylor out to dinner tonight, and catch a movie afterwards. Vicky's already said that she'd be happy to drop me off and pick me up afterwards," I explained as I knelt next to the fire pit and picked up the little brush and dustpan to help clean it out.

"Hmm, well, I don't know…I was thinking about making burgers tonight, you'd have top that if you want to take Taylor out for dinner," he teased, with a little smile as he watched clean out the corners of the fire pit.

I laughed as I dumped the third and last dustpan full of ashes into the bucket, and when I stopped, he asked me, "What about your clinic time?"

"I already called St. Joe's and arranged to do it in the morning, so that's taken care of. My homework is all caught up as usual, and I'll keep my phone with me, just in case."

He put the trowel into the bucket and took the brush and dustpan from me and put them in as well before standing up, "Well, it looks like you've covered all of the important points, so yeah, go ahead and have fun tonight. How late do you expect to be?"

I brushed the ash off my hands as I followed him to the trash can, where he emptied the bucket. "I'll probably call for a ride by 10:00 or so, maybe earlier depending on which movie we see."

"Alright then, I'll let you go get ready for your date while I start with some dinner preps," dad said as he rinsed ash residue out of the bucket and off the other tools he had used to clean the fire pit.

"Sounds like a plan to me, I do want to grab a shower so I'm gonna scoot," I said as I headed to the back door.

Walking inside, I picked up my back pack and went up stairs to my room. I washed my hands first, then grabbed my robe before jumping in the shower and getting cleaned up, including washing my hair. Gym might not be hard, but with my iso-mod set at 85% I managed to work up a sweat and I definitely need to wash my hair before getting dressed.

I towel dried my hair as best I could, then got out my hair dryer to finish the job. Once I had it brushed out and dry, I styled my hair into a French Braid, that was designed to come down the back and then curl over the left shoulder. I thought it would go well with my new dress.

Before I put on my dress, I checked my appearance and decided that the minor changes Taylor and I had made still looked really good, so just went with some lipstick for makeup.

I slid on a pair of nude stockings and a strapless bra, then slipped into my dusty rose dress, before packing my purse with what I would need for the night; ID, credit card, cash and my phone.

Standing up, I stepped into my black heels and walked around my room for a few minutes to get used to the 3 inch heels before I walked to the door, turned out the light and pulled the door closed behind me.

Stopping at the head of the stairs, I called out to Vicky, who was in her room listening to music, "Hey Vicky, I'm ready to go whenever you are; I'll be in the living room when you're ready.

The music stopped and Vicky came skipping down the stairs behind me and exclaimed, "Wow don't you look fancy tonight, definitely pulling out all the stops, aren't you?"

Not waiting for me to answer, she spun her keys around her finger and said, "I got directions to Massimo's, cheap sunglasses, and a full tank of gas, so let's boogie, Ames."

I laughed at her and put my shawl around my shoulders, picked up my purse and followed her out of the house and into her car.

She turned the radio on to a classical station that she had been listening to lately drove carefully and sedately to Massimo's, getting me there just before it opened at 5:00. As I got out of the car, Taylor walked up to me and said, "Good evening Amy, you look absolutely gorgeous tonight."

Turning around, I got my first view of Taylor, and was stunned silent for a moment, then shaking my head I said, "So do you, Sweetie, wonderfully beautiful."

Offering her my arm, she slipped her hand into the crook of my arm, and with a last wave to Vicky, we headed into the restaurant, which had just opened.

-Legion*** ***Legion-

We were greeted by the Maitre'd and escorted to our table, which was off to one side, with a good view of the low stage, where a group of four musicians were playing softly.

We started our dinner with an assortment of tasty appetizers, some tiny meatballs, oysters and bruschetta. Just as we finished that, the first course was served; I had the Gnocchi con Pancetta while Taylor chose the Carmella Ravioli alla Norma, we both had the Insalata Mista di Campagna to go with it.

The main course was Filetto di Manzo for both of us, with roasted potatoes, spinach and radishes as side dishes.

It was all topped off with tiramasu and vanilla bean gelato.

The dinner was amazing, a three course delight, that both of us agreed was not only worth the money, but very much worth coming back to enjoy again. Both the service and food were truly wonderful, the ambiance was elegant and romantic, and music was just perfect.

After freshening up, we left and walked the three blocks to the downtown Cineplex. Checking the time and available showings, we chose a new release, Sucker Punch, that had just been imported from Earth-Aleph, and was supposed to be both surreal and fun. Hopefully, it would live up to it's reviews.

Purchasing some drinks and a variety of snacks, we made our way to the appropriate theater and found our seats in the very back of the theater, in the middle. We almost always sat there, if we got in early enough to claim the seats, as it was easy for us to see the screen clearly and we were seldom blocked by the people in front of us.

The trailers were as exciting as usual, but the increasing number of blatant commercials was irritating. The movie was interesting, not as good as I had hoped, but visually appealing, and some of the twists were quite unexpected.

We had agreed not to critique the film until it was over, so as we waited for the audience to leave, we started going over the film.

curious "Well, what did you think of it, Sweetie?" I asked Taylor.

amused "Heh, you can tell it wasn't made on Earth-Bet, that's for sure."

curious "Oh, why do you say that?'

laughing "Because if it happened here, Babydoll would have triggered for sure, probably as a high-tier Brute."

laughing "Or as an equally high-tier Blaster; and in either case, that 'Asylum' would have been rubble in short order. With a very high body count, to boot."

While we continued discussing the movie silently, we walked over to the central plaza which had a nice park where concerts and plays were put on during the summer. On our way, I texted Vicky, asking her to pick us up on the east side of the plaza. A few seconds later, she texted back: OMW, so we just sat down on a convenient bench to wait for her.

About 15 minutes later, Vicky pulled up and honked to get our attention. Of course, she had no way of knowing that we had both been following her car from the moment she started her car.

Opening the door, Taylor carefully handed me into the back seat, and then slid in next to me. Once we were securely belted in, Vicky pulled away and headed towards Taylor's house.

In between describing the movie and giving our opinions of the acting, plot, and special effects, Taylor gave Vicky the few directions she needed to drive directly to the Hebert home.

When Vicky pulled into the Hebert's driveway and Taylor got out, I slid out and walked her up to the front door. Taking my time, I initiated a good-night kiss that lasted a good 10 minutes or so before Vicky finally flashed the headlights to remind us that she was still there.

Stepping a half step back, I said, "I had a wonderful time tonight, but next time you get to plan our date, alright?"

She smiled softly at me and gently caressed my cheek and said, "Me too, and I'll let you know what I come up with as soon as I figure it out."

I gave her a last hug before I turned to return to the car, and said, "I should be able to meet you at the Free Market by lunch time, maybe a little sooner if things are slow."

Taylor waited until I was in the car before waving goodbye and unlocking the door and entering her house. As soon as the door closed, Vicky backed out of the driveway and we headed for home.

-Legion*** Taylor ***Legion-

Once in the house, I leaned back against the front door, closed my eyes, and just reveled in the memory of our kiss. Eventually, I sighed, opened my eyes and headed upstairs to change into some comfy pyjamas.

While I changed, I did another thorough and complete scan of the arena that the Undersiders were planning on hitting tonight, with an eye to updating Tattletale's information.

While my computer was booting up, I called Kurt's house and left a message for dad, so he would know that I was home safe and that the house was all locked up.

I updated the file I had created earlier, giving the current number of dogs (47), customers (438), mooks (16), outside guards (6, in 3 pairs) and capes (2). The capes were almost certainly Crusader and Alabaster, and they were moving around constantly between the floor, mezzanine, offices and checking up on the outside guards.

I also ran a close scan of the surrounding buildings, but found no one waiting as backup. Once I was sure I had as much information as I could gather, I stationed over two dozen owls in a wide pattern around the factory to keep an eye out for any problems, as well as keeping a close watch on three other E88 strong points that Hookwolf seemed to frequent; a bar called the Wolf's Den, another factory that seemed to be a training facility and the weapon's depot I had spotted earlier.

After a last check of the information, I saved it and sent it to Tattletale at her hypercrypt account, along with the burner phone number that I had chosen to use for tonight. Logging out and shutting down, I went upstairs to bed, picking up Ender's Game to read while I kept an eye out for any trouble heading the Undersider's way.

-Legion*** Undersiders ***Legion-

Tattletale grinned as her hypercrypt email pinged. Opening the only email in her inbox, she quickly read the text, listing all the details in and around the factory that they planned on hitting in about an hour, then opened the attached image file that had most of the same data as the first one, with a few updates concerning the guards and the parking lots nearby. Printing out the updated diagram, she picked it up and folded it neatly.

Logging out and shutting down, she left her room and walked into the main living area. Brian and Alec were playing Mass Effect while Rachel was grooming her dogs.

"Alright, I've got the latest update on what we'll be facing tonight. Rachel, there's 47 dogs there right now, Legion said that he'll control them and keep them calm as we get them out and into the truck. 6 guards outside, in pairs near the different entrances, 16 mooks scattered throughout the factory, I'll show you their current locations but expect them to move around a bit. There's over 400 customers, so there'll be a certain amount of panic and chaos. So far, none of the cage fighters seem to be on site, and probably won't be until after midnight, so let's get in and out before then. It is possible that some of them are just spectators right now, so don't turn your back on the normals unless you're sure they're harmless. Lastly, there are two capes on site; Crusader and Alabaster."

Grue nodded and started laying out the plan he and I had worked up for tonight's raid, "Rachel, Alabaster is your target, just have one of your dogs maul him a bit, then sit on him until you can zip cuff him; his power continually restores him to full health, so you can't knock him out, don't even bother trying. Use at least two zip-cuffs on both his ankles and wrists to be sure. I'll take Crusader, I should be able to keep him blinded until I can reach him to take him down, Alec you and…"

I interrupted him, "Ah Brian, there's a problem with that. His ghosts are intangible to metal and other inorganics, which means your batons won't work on them, but they can still swarm you. It might be better to have Rachel send one of her dogs ahead of you to sort of 'plow the road' as it were. After that, he should go down pretty easy for you."

He frowned in thought for a moment, then said, "Thanks Lisa. Rachel, are you okay with having one of the dogs lead the way to Crusader?"

Rachel looked at him blankly for a moment, then nodded and said, "I'll have Angelica go with you."

"Good. Alec, you and Lisa get up to the mezzanine and work the mooks. Lisa, how good are you with that tranq rifle, and how fast does it work?"

I sighed, "Fair. I can hit a man within 30 yards just about every time, unfortunately, beyond that it sort of sucks. The darts the boss provided have a Tinker loadout; they should take a man down within 20-30 seconds. Supposedly there's no chance of side-effects or overdosing the target and it should keep them down for at least 30 minutes."

"That's good enough. We'll take the outside guards first, unconscious and zip tied, then dump them out of sight. Once the raid starts most of the customers should run for the exits, ah Lisa, are the exits marked?"

I laughed, "Actually, they are, with illuminated signs too. The Fire Code requires it you know."

Both Alec and Brian laughed at how absurd it was for the E88 to make sure that their illegal fighting arena was operating with Fire Code mandated safety features, then Brian went on. "Alright, last chance to look over the diagram, get a snack or use the bathroom. We'll be leaving in 10 minutes, and should be arriving at our staging point at 10:45, so make sure your bags are packed cuffs, duct tape and anything special that you need. Any questions?"

A quick glance around showed that no one had any questions, so I just put the printed out diagram on the coffee table for everyone to look at if they wanted to, and headed over to use the bathroom. I double checked my bag, making sure I had a few powerbars and two bottles water for afterwards, but with any luck at all, we'd be in and out in less than 20 minutes.

-Legion*** Tattletale ***Legion-

Brian drove the U-Haul truck that we had arranged to 'borrow' yesterday. He made sure that both Alec and I could drive it competently, even though the plan was for him to do the driving both ways. Once we were done, we'd just park it at Weyland Mall, and it would be taken care of by the some of the people the boss had working for him, while we rode back in Brian's car, which I would be driving.

Rachel was in the back, slowly enhancing her three dogs, planning to have them ready to go by the time we got to our staging point. She also had a box of food and water bowls and a second one with a dozen gallon jugs of water and a large bag of dog food.

Brian parked the truck facing away from the factory, but out of sight of the guards in an alley on the far side of a neighboring building. Rachel opened the back door and ordered her dogs down to the sidewalk where I joined her.

Brian checked his watch, nodded at Alec and said, "Alright, let's go. We'll hit the rear guards first, then work our way around the building. Keep an eye out in the parking lot for any late arrivals and we'll dump the guards in with the trash.

I watched them walk away and then Bitch and I moved up to a point where we could see one of the sets of guards, but they couldn't see us. Once we were in position, I unslung my tranq rifle and loaded the first magazine of 8 darts. I had 5 more magazines in reserve, but if I needed that many, I was in BIG trouble.

Even knowing what to expect, I almost missed it when Grue's darkness slid across the front of the factory and overtook the last set of guards. Less than a minute later, the two of them jogged back to where we waited and dumped the hog-tied and gagged guards into the shadows.

"Tattletale, we're a few minutes ahead of schedule, can we get an update on cape location?"

"I'll see," I said, pulling out my phone and sending a quick text to Legion. Less than 30 seconds later the reply came in:

Crusader in office, Alabaster on main floor, near north door.

Grue chuckled and said, "Perfect, let's go," and led us to the north door. Pausing for a moment to check our positions, he pulled the door open and Bitch sent Judas in first, with her right behind him. The other two dogs followed closely behind her, with Grue, myself and Alec right behind.

As soon as Bitch spotted Alabaster, she gave Judas the attack signal and he charged at him with a deep, echoing howl. Even though Alabaster turned to run, Judas caught him with only two short leaps, grabbed him by his right leg and started shaking him like rat in a terrier's jaws. After about 30 seconds or so of vigorous shaking, Judas dropped him to the ground and sat heavily on his back, immobilizing him completely.

Bitch had Brutus make short, quick charges at the spectators to get them moving towards the exits, but not actually attacking them. The deep howls and barks echoed throughout the factory, and they drowned out the shouts and screams of the humans and increased their fear and panic greatly.

Bitch signaled Angelica to go with Grue and then started zip-cuffing Alabaster's wrists and ankles. While she did that, I used duct tape to gag and blindfold him and Bitch dragged him into a corner and dumped a cabinet and some big trash cans on top of him to keep him out of sight.

-Legion*** Grue ***Legion-

As soon as we were in, Bitch pointed at the stairs and told Angelica to 'Hunt'. Angelica charged at the stairs, howling fit to wake the dead, and was well enough trained to follow my commands as I pointed to the hallway leading to the offices.

Two of the Empire foot soldiers were in the hallway and started shooting at Angelica with their pistols, with absolutely no effect other than to make themselves targets for her to trample as she ran straight down the hallway.

I took a moment to knock them out with my Asp as I followed in Angelica's wake, and then pulled out my second, wooden club so I could deal with any ghosts that appeared. Before she reached the end of the hallway where the office was located, Crusader stepped out into view and flooded the hallway with a horde of his ghosts.

Just as Tattletale had said, Angelica was bulling the ghosts aside, and if they couldn't move aside, her mass of bone spurs popped them like soap bubbles. A few of them managed to avoid her and try to attack me, but with my darkness to disorientate them, I was able easily destroy them with the wooden club. Tattletale's advice had been spot on once again.

Crusader took one look at Angelica charging down the hallway, and darted back into the office, slamming the door in her face. Once I caught up to her, I pointed at the door and told her, 'Smash' and she simply kicked it with a foreleg, knocking it completely out of it's frame and to the other side of the office.

Sending a cloud of darkness into the office to blind Crusader and any of his ghosts, I immediately followed it in and saw him scrambling in a drawer for something. Before I could reach him, he generated a couple more ghosts and pulled out pistol. 'Really, a Luger? How cliché can you get?'

Destroying the one ghost that I couldn't avoid, I stepped to one side, avoiding the direction of the door which was mostly where he was aiming, and hit the wrist of his gun hand with my Asp with my full strength. I heard his loud scream, though I doubted anyone outside the office could hear anything, including the gunshot as his gun hit the floor. Stepping in close, I jabbed him hard in the solar plexus with the wooden club, and as he started to crumple, I smashed him across the nose and cheek bones with my Asp.

A second, somewhat gentler strike to the back of his head knocked him out, and it only took a few seconds to zip-cuff him hand and foot and use the duct tape to blindfold him. Because of his broken nose, I chose to leave him ungagged so he could still breath easily.

Once that was done, I checked the other three offices along the hallway, but they were all currently empty, being used more as storerooms for the drinks and snacks they sold to the customers.

Going back to the first office, I picked him up in a fireman's carry, and trotted back down to the mezzanine and over to where Tattletale and Regent were calmly working their way through the mooks. Bitch was releasing the dogs, and as soon as they were released, they started herding the customers out of the building, while cutting out the mooks and forcing them back into Tattletale's range.

I knew that Bitches dogs were just supremely well trained, so this had to be Legion, providing remote assistance. I idly wondered how far away he was, but on second thought, decided that I really didn't want to know. With my luck, he was probably sitting at home, watching tv and drinking a beer, while controlling these dogs and providing recon overwatch.

"Tattletale, think you can take a break here and go open the safe, so we can start our exit plan? All of the offices are clear, you just need to grab the cash so we can go," I said as I stopped next to her and dumped Crusader to the floor.

"Yep, two more shots and I'm done." 15 seconds later she took her shots, replaced the magazine and handed me the rifle, "Okay, most of the customers are gone, so if you two can mug the mooks for any weapons and pocket money, I'll open the safe," Tattletale said before she ran upstairs, looking back over her shoulder, she shouted, "and don't forget the concession stand, either!"

-Legion*** Tattletale ***Legion-

Stepping into the office, I pulled one of the folded duffles out of my pack and started to fill it with the loose cash on the table. As I dumped piles of cash into the bag, I searched the room for any alarms or traps, and only found a couple of alarms. One of which had already been tripped, so the E88 was no doubt on their way.

The safe had an electronic lock using a keypad to unlock the safe. The safe's alarm didn't require any special skill or ability to disable; it was a simple switch on the back of the shelf above the safe. It was out of easy view, but not actually hidden. I guess they needed to keep it simple.

The key lock was a little harder, but a quick spray of luminal and a UV penlight gave me the most commonly used keys; 1, 2, 4, 8, 9 and 0.

'God, this is pathetic, these moron's actually used Hitler's birthday? At least they used the full 4-digit year, but still. Morons.'

A quick press of 04201889, and when that didn't work, I used the European format and pressed 20041889 and the safe unlocked and I could pull the door open, showing a lot of stacks of wrapped bundles of cash and several fat manila folders.

Alec joined me and brought the first duffle over and started pulling the cash out and dumping it into the bag. While he did that, I dropped the folders into my backpack and pulled out and opened up a second bag so I help to empty the cash out of the safe as well.

We had the safe mostly emptied when I got a text from Legion:

E88 coming, 6-7 minutes out. 3 cars. Hookwolf, Fenja & 8 mooks.

"Fuck. Let's go, 30 seconds and we need to run," I said to Regent as I closed up my pack, closed the duffle I had been filling, and watched as Regent grabbed the last four blocks of cash and dumped them into his bag.

I took a quick look around the room and grabbed stack of betting forms and some printer paper, dumped it into the safe, tossed an incendiary pen inside and closed the door partway, so everything could burn.

"Grab the hard liquor and splash it all over the room," I yelled as I smashed two bottles of gin over the desk and computer, then a bottle of schnapps on the floor in front of the book shelf full of forms and paper.

Regent just threw the bottles against the various walls to break them open and then ran out the door and headed for the exit. On my way out the door, I tossed another incendiary pen into one of the pools of alcohol on the floor to ensure the room caught on fire properly.

"What's up with that, 'tales? I never pegged you for a pyro," Regent asked as we ran down the stairs.

"I'm not, but the longer it takes for them to figure out what the hell happened here, the better," as we reached the mezzanine, I shouted to Grue, "Let's go, E88 inbound and we have about 5 minutes to get the hell out of here!"

He looked up from where he was packing weapons and wallets that he'd taken from the mooks into a duffle bag, zipped it shut, shouldered it and started running for the exit. On the way, he scooped up Crusader and carried him outside only to dump him on the sidewalk.

Regent and I were right behind him as he left the building and headed for the truck, though I did pull the Fire alarm by the door to hopefully summon the Fire Department. The mooks were going to have take their chances I guess, 'cause I damn sure wasn't going to stick around until Hookwolf showed up. Bitch had all of the fighting dogs inside the truck, with her dogs quickly shrinking in the street next to the truck.

As Grue reached the truck, he tossed his duffle in the back of the truck and kept running for the cab. Regent and I tossed our bags inside as well and I yelled at Bitch, "Close it up, we have to leave, right NOW!"

She looked startled, but called Brutus, Angelica and Judas to jump up into the truck, and as I slid into the cab, I could hear the door close behind us. Regent jumped in next to me, slammed the door and shouted, "GO! GO! GO!"

Brian had the truck running and as soon as Regent was inside, started driving away. As the truck pulled away, he stuck his hand out the window and began filling Plymouth and the side streets with his darkness.

Less than a minute later, he stopped generating his darkness and turned off Plymouth and began driving carefully through the dark streets, still with his lights off, until we were almost three miles from the factory, and we needed to turn back on to a main road so we could get to Bitch's kennel and unload the dogs.

Once we pulled up next to her kennel, Bitch opened up the back of the truck and all of the dogs spilled out onto the street and moved over to door leading to the kennel and just waited.

My phone beeped and I saw a new text from Legion:

Nice fire, everyone's out now. Hooky is having a temper tantrum. FD and PRT on it's way. No one followed you, no one can see you, so you can shift to civvies safely.

I just laughed and said, "I'll show this text to you later, but for now, it's safe to unmask and change clothes."

Grue nodded and said, "Regent, give Bitch a hand with clearing her stuff out the truck, then shift to normal clothes."

Regent sighed, but helped Bitch carry the food and water from the truck into the kennel while I grabbed the bag from floor of the truck and pulled out a sweater and slacks to put on over my costume, removed my mask and carefully settled the black wig into place. Brian took off his helmet and jacket and slipped on a worn denim jacket in it's place, before putting all of the costume items into the bag for safe keeping.

When Regent came back out, Bitch looked out the door at us, nodded and closed it behind her to work with the new dogs. I let Regent sit in the middle this time, as I would need to get out first, and as Brian put the truck into gear and drove away, he took off his mask and pulled on a bright red hoodie sweatshirt, then putting his scepter and mask into the bag.

About ten minutes later, Brian pulled into the 24 hour Wal-Mart's parking lot and stopped next to his car so I could get out. Taking out the car keys, I got in, started it up and followed the U-Haul truck all the way to the Weyland Mall, where Brian parked it, and left the keys tucked into the visor and made sure to leave in unlocked. Brian and Alec transferred the duffles into the trunk, then piled into the car and I pulled away to discreetly and carefully make our way back to our lair.