(AN: For those not familiar with Worm, it's pretty grim dark. I don't think I can successfully manage that kind of story in the same fantastic way Wildbow does, so I'm not going to try. Background will stay true to source, and I won't be pulling any punches I might in other stories. Viewers have been warned. Also: This is not a Taylor/Shepard fic. Haven't decided pairing other than a no to that yet due to sheer experience / maturity difference. Might be some tense changes and stuff here and there. Still getting back into writing.)
She managed to last until just before her last class of the day before she bailed out of school. By subtly tagging her tormentors with bugs, and all of their cronies that reported to them with another kind, she had been able to more or less avoid anything more serious than a few snide words here or there for the past week.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though they were growing frustrated with their inability to corner her and were going all out this time around. There wasn't a single path between the class that just ended and the next one that wasn't blocked by girls seeming to just be "hanging out." If she took any of these routes, the trio would show up at the speed of text and she'd have to deal with something other than mild emotional harassment.
Not today, she thought to herself. Today is Taylor the Hero joining up with her partner in stopping crime and she doesn't have time to be Taylor the bullied getting harassed by three bitches.
So, she did what any nascent hero would do when faced with her situation: she washed her hands for the rest of the school day and walked out the front doors as no one was paying attention in that direction. She had heroing to do today! Well, planning for heroing, likely.
Once she was a safe distance from the school she pulled out her phone and hit the contact button for Aimei, which was answered after only a single ring.
"You alright?" To her credit, she did actually sound concerned.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
"School hasn't let out yet. Just making sure it was a tactical withdraw on your part, and not something more serious. Meet me at 1520 Barker Ave."
She paused, pulling up her mental map. "You know that's not the safest area of the city, right?"
"Safe for who? It's Empire 88 territory that isn't on the borders with any of the other gangs. As long as you're white and not proclaiming being anything other than straight at the top of your lungs, it's about the safest place in the city that isn't board walk and literally in viewing range of the local hero base. I'm more than happy to use neo-nazis as a buffer for the moment."
"Alright, I'll be there in about an hour. I want to stop by my house and grab something first." She hung up, hoping that her supposed new partner in crime wasn't a new E88 cape.
The location she arrived at was a single story warehouse. As soon as she approached, the front door opened up allowing her entrance though she was surprised to find that it was on some sort of mechanical system. Much like the door, the inside of the building suprised her a big. While it looked a little run down from the outside, the inside was...well, still run down. But there was somewhat clean looking machinery and tools laying around and the beat up from the outside entrance door and the loading dock were heavily reinforced and hooked up to various mechanical things on the inside. In the back corner, there were a handful of cots spread around, and to her right there was a beat up leather couch that Aimei was laying on while rapidly paging through something on a tablet.
"Hey, Taylor. Take a seat. Give me a few moments to finish up some things here."
She did as instructed and took a seat on the far end out of the couch while Aimei manipulated the screen that would have even the text happy teens in her school crying about their inadequacy.
"And. Finished. I'd ask how you're day went, but given that you're here a little over an hour before the day would have been over, unnecessary. About to be blunt, need honest answers. Put together dossier on you, need to insure accuracy to make optimal moves going forwards." She took a breath, and Taylor made a point of taking note of the numerous empty cups of coffee laying on the floor on Aimei's side of the couch.
The girl glanced down and then back up. "Not just good for staying awake. Also good for tons of energy to toss in a direction. Wouldn't recommend for fieldwork, but desk work just fine." She paused. "Takes a bit of training. Otherwise, just a bunch of nervous energy." Quick, deep breath. "Sorry. Channeling someone I used to know. Mordin Solus. Guy could out talk a vorcha on red sand but always used a highly efficient speech pattern skipping over the not strictly necessary parts of a sentence... I may have been leaving myself to my own devices entirely too long."
She couldn't help it. She started cracking up and couldn't stop until she was gasping for breath.
"Breath, Taylor. If I knew you'd find it that amusing I would have taken a bit of time to practice my patter songs. That said, I was serious about your dossier. I do need to make sure my mental image of you matches reality."
When she was finally able to get herself under control, wiping the tears from her eyes, she nodded. "Alright, hit me."
"Taylor Hebert. 15. Nearing 16. Mother died a few years ago due in a car crash due to a cell phone. Father, Union boss of the local dock workers, threw himself into work rather than dealing with his emotions or yours. Not long after best friend Emma Barns turned on you and began a bullying campaign with Sophia Hess and hanger on Madison Clements. Bullying campaign climaxed with you being shut in your locker, fully of used and rotted tampons and pads for the better part of a few hours where you both triggered and had a mental break down leading to a week in a psych ward at the hospital after they finished treating your infected wounds. Have bug control powers of some sort."
She looked at her. "Accurate?"
Taylor's mouth was hanging open. "H-how did you know all that?"
She shrugged. "I could get away with two or three days wandering around the school chatting people up if I wanted to before they stopped assuming I wasn't just in someone else's class. As was, I took the next hall break after you went back to class to get a feel for your school situation. After that, I did some searches in local news papers to get most of the rest of my data points. Following, it was a simple matter to put things together. One of the things you find out is that there isn't really a human condition that's unique, and you can usually make pretty good inferences if you have some background information and a knowledge of the general range of reactions to different events."
Her mouth opened and closed for a few moments before she was finally able to speak. "You weren't kidding about being experienced. Were you a spy or something before? And I think I know what you're talking about, but what's a trigger event?"
Aimei smiled. "Not far from the truth there. I was an N7 infiltrator. Think badass special forces and then add in some spy, assassin and techie. Didn't get to do much of the spy part of that, unfortunately, more the special forces and battlefield assassination. Also a touch of space magic, but not enough to qualify as an adept. We'll get to all that in a minute. Before that, let's talk about your powers. You control bugs, and?"
She looked away. Of course there was an "and". She control bugs. Weak power, of course there should be something else to it.
"That's it. I control bugs, see through their senses, and I can tell them each to do different things. I practiced some choreograph dancing just to get a feel for it."
She noticed Aimei's mouth was hanging open to justly. Of course it was, it was...
"How many?" She interrupted her train of thought.
"Um. All of them? Up to my range, I mean. It's usually about 3 blocks. Gets bigger sometimes. And I guess it's not technically just bugs. Spiders and crabs to. Anything with a simple brain like that."
She was stared at incredulously for a few moments before she started rapidly flipping through pages on her tablet. There was silence except her typing and swipes for two minutes before finally.
"There are approximately 1,600 insects per square feet on earth. A city block here is about 300 feet. You control an area of 2,540,000 square feet in a circle around you. I have no idea how deep bugs live, so let's cut that down to 800 insects per square feet to just say surface and to account for areas like rain forests."
Aimei trailed off, likely doing the math. "So you're telling me that at this moment, without migrating any insects, you are in independent control 2 trillion of them?"
She turned her full attention to her bugs for a minute before nodding. "Eh. Closer to 500 million, and most of them aren't useful kinds..."
Aimei was now in full open mouth gape. "Do you have any idea how much processing power that is? No? Neither do I because I have no idea how many fucking ganglion cells your average insect has, but if it's even 1,000th of a human then from sight alone your data rate input is over 50% of your entire global extranet data rate per second! From vision alone! I don't even know how to calculate that kind of processing power!"
Another deep breath. "Taylor. Your power is...insane. Congratulations, you are at the very, very least one order of magnitude more powerful than your entire planets internet. And that's without moving from where you're standing right now. You're goddamned terrifying. People shooting lasers, sure. Guys turning into dragons, ok. An organic brain doing that...powers are bullshit."
"I...guess." She finally managed, trying to comprehend that. How much energy would that even take? She would be surprised, hearing that, if pound for pound she was wielding more energy than even Legend was. Well, except in a much less useful fashion.
Her internal monologue was cut off by the crushing hug the other girl gave her. "Taylor, don't take this the wrong way, but I'm going to find so many ways to use you!"
She froze in Aimei's arms and went full body blush.
"Oh. Oh no." Aimei took a step back and smirked at her. "Only if you're willing, I mean."
And now the sputtering. Of course the sputtering. And then her hair was getting ruffled.
"Adorable. You can put your mind at ease, though. Remember that chat we had about shaping into your own person and absorbing everything from me? Double for relationships. I'd say my morality on the subject is pretty liberal, but even I'd find it questionable if I completely subsumed your sexual identity as well."
"Ah, thanks? I think?" She cast about for a subject to get Aimei talking about herself so that she would have some time to recover. "What do you mean liberal on the subject?"
Oh. Oh no. Wrong subject, wrong subject. Quick, pull out! But at the same time, she was curious. And it's not like she'd had anyone to do girl talk with since she hit puberty. No Emma, no mom. Shit, she was fucked up.
There actually seemed to be a momentary flash of pain on Aimei's face as she settled back on the couch. "Well. To tell that, I guess we'd have to start with the basics. Taylor my name is Aimei Shepard, which you know, but I was better known as Commander Shepard of the Alliance navy. As near as I can tell, I'm originally from a not so distant future from a parallel universe a few clicks over from this one."
She rolled that one around for a few moments before shrugging. "Ok. So you were some sort of space special forces?"
Aimei raised an eyebrow. "You accepted that remarkably easier than I would have expected."
It was her turn to smirk a bit. "Well, Earth Alph is common knowledge and I've got magic powers that are apparently stronger than the internet. There's a man in this city that turns into a dragon. Your mortal logics are invalid."
Aimei laughed and raised her hands in defeat. "Alright, alright. Fair enough. Yeah, we didn't have anything like that back where and when I came from. Not in our past, either. Mordin would have been fascinated. Quick summery on me, since I know so much about you and as I said at our first meeting that's not really fair. Not far into the future from now in my own universe, we discovered a Mass Relay encased in a block of ice orbiting Pluto. Mass Relays use an effect known as the Mass Effect using Element Zero to effectively lower the weight up something. Mass Relays are so effective at it that you can jump relay to relay in an instant, and then use weaker mass effect generators on ships to travel from wherever you end up to nearby areas in a few hours or days. Basically, we went from figuring out how we might go about making it to the next star system over in a generation or two to being able to reach most anything in the Galaxy in a month tops. We met aliens, fought a war against aliens, and then were begrudgingly accepted by the already existing galactic community as a whole."
Aimei paused, letting me soak all of the in for a minute. I couldn't really help myself, I was fascinated.
"More about me, now. Mom was Navy, so I grew up mostly on star ships depending on where she was stationed. Joined up because that seemed like the thing to do, and there were tensions with a race called the Batareans who had a nasty habit of stealing our people for slavery. Implanted control chips and everything, horrifying to be honest. Wound up basically holding off an invasion force of them by myself for a few days until the alliance showed up to drive them off. That's how I wound up in N7, which was basically Earth's "Space Special Forces." Had a few more years of campaigns after that before I got recruited into the Space Special Forces for the government that represented all the races. Wound up being the first human Spectre, which was their name for it. Had to chase down a rouge Spectre and found out about an ancient race of bio-technical space cuttlefish that had been harvesting the galaxy of advanced sentient races every 50,000 years for the past few billion in the process. Wound up getting killed and rebuilt from basically nothing but my brain, met a bunch of crazy, neat, or just generally awesome people along the way, and eventually helped pull all the races of the galaxy together to fight a massive war and fire off a super weapon to finally wipe them out. Said super weapon used a metric fuckton of mass effect power, and I'm sure you've heard the whole "gravity warps space/time" thing. So here I am, don't ask me to explain that last bit."
I blinked. Well, shit. That was...what? Unbelievable? Awesome? Unbelievably awesome? But looking into the other girl's, woman's, eyes she couldn't help but believe that it was true. What do you even say to something like that? That should be a movie! Or a video game series at the very least. "So...uh. Relationship morals?"
I froze, realizing what I'd finally said, and buried my face in my hands.
"I just told you about my daring adventures to save the galaxy from a race of Mecha Cuthulus and you want to know about who I was dating?" Her voice was slightly incredulous, but quickly broke down into a more teasing tone. "Fine, fine. I remember hormones and life priorities at 15."
She paused and closed her eyes before looking up at the ceiling. "Well, I of course I did the dating and fling thing around your age and then while I was in the military. all good people, but no one particularly interesting looking back on it now. There was the Asari consort that seduce me and proved I was pansexual rather than just bi...but I guess the first person really worth mentioning these days is Kaiden. He was a really sweet guy, had his head on straight, wasn't afraid to tell me what was on his mind, and not bad looking either." That sad, wistful look came back momentarily while she continued speaking. "While we were chasing that rouge Spectre, Saren, I had to make the choice to either save him or another of my squad mates, Ashley, and a bunch of Salarean special force guys...I'm not ashamed to admit I still almost picked him, but he wouldn't let me. That was probably the most painful thing I've gone through." Her eyes sought mine, and she clearly wasn't bothered by the moisture that had built up in her own.
"After I died and came back, I wound up building a crew out of some of the most interesting individuals in the galaxy. One of them was a Drell and about the nicest assassin you've ever met. Thane. Also terminally ill and into it's last stages. Tortured soul in a bad ass looking for redemption, but I didn't really start feeling anything for him until I saw how he was with his son. By that time my Yeoman Kelly, the psych friend I mentioned, was already seeing him for similar reasons. I enjoyed being around her as well, so that's just how that worked out. He wound up dying a few months later not from his illness but from saving a councilor from an assassin. Kelly broke things off because of a combination of not being able to stand the thought of me dying as well and needing to separate herself from some terrible things that happened when she served on my ship. That...wasn't as hard. I knew Thane was going to die going into things, and Kelly was fun but I was never as close to her as I was to Thane or Kaiden."
She sighed. "Lastly, the was Samantha Traynor. She was cute, fun, flirty, and...there, I'm not ashamed to admit that. But I did start to develop the spark of something more there before the final mission that wound up with me here. She mentioned white picket fences and two kids and...well. It sounded nice. After all the war and hell I'd been through, yeah."
I took the initiative and leaned over to hug Aimei, pulling her close for a minute. "I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry."
She returned the hug for a minute before pulling away. "It's. Well, remembering the bad is worth remembering the good. My brain's still processing the fact that Samantha is gone as far as it matters, or not born yet if she ever will be. Most human brains arn't really conditioned for the whole "being upset doesn't change anything." But we pick up and carry on, making due with whatever situation we find ourselves in. There's a life lesson you should pick up from me here, though: Love isn't any one answer. You can love someone because they're a good partner, or you can love someone because of past experiences. Or you can love someone for a short time because that's all the time you have them for various reasons, or you can love someone because they're there and you like spending time around them. There's different terms for them in general. Short term loves, long term loves, infatuation, new relationship energy...at the end of the day it's neurons and chemicals in your brain flying around that say "This person(s) makes me happy." If you get hung up on finding your "perfect love" or you mistake your crush on a guy or girl for your brain telling you this is someone you should be with forever! you'll miss out on so much and break your heart so many times. Date people, hang out with people, meet friends, figure out what you like, who and what types get your brain chemicals tell you that you're happy."
I just nodded. "Yeah. Yeah. Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." I didn't know if it was because I lacked a friend, mom, or just another girl in my life but I meant it. Her experiences and words carried a lot of weight with me, and I couldn't help but let my mind think back to our earlier meeting and how accurate she was about subsuming my development. But the alternative, I think looking back, was the lack of any meaningful development at all at best or developing in some horrifying direction from a much worse role model at worst.
We spent a awhile talking about lighter subjects. She told me a bit about the different races like the Asari, Turians, Quarians, and others. "I had a Turian and a Quarian pretty much all the way through. Garrus and Tali. Garrus was one of the best snipers in the galaxy and my best friend. Tali was like my little sister..."
More specifics about how their tech worked, and how she could replicate a fair amount of it given the right tools. "The real difference between how much of this stuff an actual engineer and an infiltrator knows is how fast we can utilize it on the battlefield. I can whip up a chemical concoction , piece of tech, or lines of code almost as good as what they can come up with. Difference is I need some time to wrap my head around things and preload the programs. A proper battlefield engineer can do all that on the fly while hiding from or firing bullets."
Her one really unique trait even in the future. "The squad always joked that it was my "Bonus power", like in a video game or something. Basically, I've got just enough element zero in my body that I can program it to produce one kind of effect. It's like...ok, so brain neuron connections kind of work like biological coding. X is hooked up to Y, these lighting up make this color or memory, etc. So element Zero in your body is similar. So you have someone like Jack who's got more raw Eezo flowing through her body than an Asari matriarch and it can pretty much find any possible connection for any effect that's possible for a human body to generate. I, on the other hand, have just enough that if I cake the time and meditation to rearrange how my partiuclar concentrations line up I can reliably light them up to produce a single kind of effect. Right now, they're lined up to produce a stealth field. Not as reliable or accurate as a proper tech version but I don't have an omni so I'm making due with using negative gravity to warp space time around me. Once I get a proper tool I can shift that to something more traditional."
The most important topics settled back on to the heavier, towards the end as she told me of her plans. "So right now, I have something of a rough list of things that need done, but haven't quite decided the best order or how to go about all of it." She pulled out a while board and started jotting down while I went to get a soda from the fridge in the back. When I returned, I read the board:
1: Either come up with some kind of deal with or break into the PRT to get access to tinker supplies so I can get us properly equipped.
2: Form a team.
3: Take over a gang.
4: Kill the Endbringers or otherwise make them a non-issue.
5: Figure out if there's a mass relay near Pluto in this universe.
6: Find out if there's a race of Mecha Cuthulus that need their assess kicked here as well."
I choked on the soda she had gotten me. What had I gotten myself into?