"Damn you Sophia!" - Speech

'Why, Emma?' - Thought

Beta'd by BigCC

Droplet 3.3

+++Taylor Hebert+++

Two Days later

Taylor's Room, Hebert Residence

As I laid back on my bed, I couldn't help but frown in thought. I'd been ruminating about what I needed to do about Dinah's situation, and there was simply no other option available; I'd have to take her to see her uncle within the next couple days. Dad had phoned home yesterday and the conference was, at long last, starting to wind down so he'd hopefully be back in about five days or so.

That meant that, Dinah aside, I would need to hurry up and get the new Tinkertech additions to our home installed and concealed; then I'd need to go over everything again with a fine-toothed comb just to be double sure that nothing was noticeable. It wasn't much…just a few miniature shield generators concealed beneath the doors and windows along with a miniature generator set to go beneath the floor in the living room to power them, the various devices I'd built to fully conceal the tunnel leading to the storm sewers, and a small concealed weapon locker in my own room, currently holding an extremely lightweight version of my normal armor and a collapsible flight pack. I wanted to be EXTRA sure that, if one of the gangs (or the PRT) managed to piece together who I was and decided that the so-called 'Unwritten Rules' weren't worth the paper they were printed on, then I would be prepared to at least ensure that Dad and I could get out of here safe.

Yes, I was being a bit paranoid, but for an independent Tinker that was a good thing.

Fortunately, it hadn't taken much work to alter a few of the designs I'd made to defend the Nevermore so they'd be applicable here. That meant it wouldn't take more than a few hours to get everything installed and concealed without interfering with their primary purpose.

Dinah, on the other hand, was a far more tricky issue. I'd sat her down and had a talk with her about both her parents and how they were likely going to react to her being a Parahuman. The answer was both annoying and a little sad. Her father was likely the one who would take things best, but he would also do his damnedest to get her into the Wards. Her mother, on the other hand, would likely go in one of two directions; denial or rejection. Her best friend had been killed during a Hero/Villain fight when they were both attending college in another city and the entire event had left her, if not completely biased against Capes, then considering them all to be 'dangerous' on some level and very specifically keeping her distance from them.

So yeah, that was an annoying little thing to stumble across. That, and the fact that and the woman apparently had absolutely no interest in social media of any stripe; she literally hired someone to handle it and ensure she had the 'minimum amount of internet presence for a person of her standing' but that was it. It certainly explained why she had so little personal information on her social media pages; Diana Alcott apparently couldn't even be bothered to check and see just what her online publicist was doing.

That left her uncle, Roy Christner, the Mayor of Brockton Bay, as the only approachable figure of authority in her family. He had no biases against Capes and was at least somewhat dubious about the 'capability' of the Protectorate. At the very least, he didn't seem to fall into one of the two extremes his brother-in-law and sister fell into. The only real issue was my own…disinclination to trust people in authority. As much as I had…recovered…from my Trigger Event, I couldn't deny that the scars it had left were still very much there. According to Amphitrite, that was actually the norm among Parahumans; it was what psychologists that had studied Parahumans had dubbed 'Trigger Trauma'. It wasn't widely known, for whatever reason, but it was something that apparently affected something close to 90% of all First Generation Parahumans.

Quite why it wasn't more widely known still boggled me, but I was currently chalking it up to pressure from the PRT in order to keep their Wards and Protectorate capes from looking like they were 'unstable' or 'emotionally damaged.'

Anyway, my own possible trauma aside, I was quickly running out of time to get Dinah's situation at least partially sorted. I was planning on using today to finish installing and fully concealing my new additions to the house and I had to spend most of tomorrow with Kurt and Lacey. That meant that the earliest I (as Riptide) could escort Dinah (as Augury) to pay a visit to her uncle would be two days from now, which should leave me at least a couple more days to finish up any loose ends before Dad got back.

Nodding to myself as my plan finally came together, I pushed myself up and out of bed before crackling my mental muscles. Time to get to work.

The hidden weapons locker was located under my desk, just under where the legs would be when someone was sitting at it. I'd installed the small locker, complete with remote-locked and a self-opening lid, just yesterday, but hadn't had time to finish concealing it. Luckily, that wouldn't be too much extra work, just installing some wood slats and putting on a patch of carpet camouflage. The bottom of the slats were coated in something that I'd put together that would block metal detectors from noticing the metal beneath the wood (I'd put the same material on the bottom of the locker itself to keep someone from noticing it through the downstairs ceiling) and had been designed to pop off if the auto-opener on the locker were ever activated. I already had the tools ready and at hand to finish the job, so it didn't take me more than a half-hour or so.

Similarly, the hidden generator (silent, noise-proofed and generating no heat or other detectable emissions. The only difference would be a very slight uptick to our next water bill since I had to link it to the house's main waterline in order to keep it fueled, and even that would barely be noticeable as long as everything stayed in standby mode) and the shield emitters were also concealed with similarly-prepared paneling. Like the weapon storage, the emitters activating should provide more than enough force to break open the paneling as part of their start-up sequence, which meant that the shields would be fully deployed within a half-second of me activating the emergency procedures.

I was just hoping that my paranoia would all prove to be unwarranted.

That just left installing the new goodies into the basement tunnel. I had been working on these off and on whenever I'd found a spare moment, so my hidden entrance wasn't going to be lacking in concealment. Quite the contrary, I was reasonably sure that the first iteration would stand up to most cursory examinations, but I wanted it to be good enough that it would take another Tinker actively searching for it to even have a chance of detecting it.

Manufacturing raw material through water-powered devices and water-based processes was well within my own specialization, so it had been ludicrously simple for me to generate all the materials I needed to make the hidden mini-base-slash-garage beneath the house all but undetectable. The biggest risk of detection would be through some form of vibration-based sensors. In other words, someone trying to map out the entire area either beneath the house or adjourning the storm sewers with some form of sonar-based device. Then next would be through thermal sensors, detecting the hollow space by detecting the difference in temperature compared to the solid ground around it.

It took me a considerably longer time to ensure that everything was covered here, but that was mostly because I had to protect not just the entrances linked to my house and the sewer garage, but also the tunnel itself from detection. Why I hadn't thought to do this when I'd originally dug the tunnel was honestly beyond me. Maybe I had just been distracted by all the other projects I had going on at the time. Whatever the case, by the time I was finished and stumbled up out of the basement and then up the stairs to collapse into my bed, I was finally completely finished. Anyone hoping to notice all the little 'home improvements' I'd made had better be sure to bring a Tinkertech microscope with them.

Worse comes to worse, I'd have to relocate Dad and I onto the Nevermore, so…yeah.

As I drifted off, I could only hope that the next few days would go as smoothly.

+++Waterworks+++

Two Days Later, Midday

Aboard the Nevermore

Dinah, currently fully equipped and outfitted as Augury, was obviously very nervous, given the way she was fidgeting and toying with her staff. This was, after all, going to be the first time she'd been in contact with a member of her family since her kidnapping and she was (admittedly justifiably) worried about whoever was responsible making another attempt or even going after her family instead.

We'd used some of her questions over the last few days to prod and poke at the idea of having a meeting with Mayor Christner today, and we seemed to have found a good time to avoid whatever power that the guy behind those mercs had, since there just under a 5% chance of them interfering.

"Calmly does it now, Augury." I offered, gently placing my hand on her shoulder, making the girl jump slightly. "This is your uncle we're going to see, not your parents. We will be in the middle of City Hall. There are no villains crazy enough to attack a place like that in the middle of the day…outside of a few nationally hunted exemptions."

"You mean the Nine, right? I know who and what they are, you don't need to avoid talking about them." the young Thinker grumbled.

"Augury, no one likes to talk about the Nine if they can avoid it. They are the living, breathing boogeyman of the United States." I stated, shuddering at the mere thought of those…monsters in human flesh. "They came to Brockton Bay years before either of us were born, you know, and the city still has scars from that visit if you know where to look. The only good thing that came from it was that they managed to chase the Teeth out of the Bay before they left."

Aaaaannnd now I've got another item added to my ever-growling lists of 'things that I need to build.' Anti-Nine defenses; counter-measures for if that band of homicidal murder hobos ever came back this way. I should also have Amphitrite put a background program on monitoring Nine sightings. If they ever came close to the East Coast then those would definitely be bumped up the priority list.

Wonderful, couldn't I go a single day without adding some new project to my ever-growing workload?

Moving on, I absently patted Augury's shoulder. "Anyway, don't worry too much. I'll be with you every step of the way, and Mayor Christner's got enough experience dealing with Capes to not try and pull anything funny with me there. We'll go in, tell him everything that we need to, and then we'll leave."

"What if someone calls in the Protectorate or New Wave?" the girl's question, logical and sensible as it was, made me grimace a bit. It wasn't impossible for someone to do just that if an unknown, non-affiliated Cape, Rogue or Villain, suddenly showed up at the heart of the local government, PRT Building and The Rig aside. From an outside perspective, that was just asking for trouble. Some might even consider it a purely common sense decision, regardless of whether there was violence happening or not.

Unless they were dealing with someone like Nice Guy, one of the Nine's former members and one of the biggest reasons that Strangers scared people these days. The guy's power certainly didn't sound all that impressive when you first heard about it, just the ability to make everyone who saw him consider him nothing more than a bystander, harmless and not worth paying attention to. Then you realized that meant he could walk right up to you and slit your throat and no one would even notice until afterwards and, even then, no one would be able to consider him dangerous. If I remembered right, he'd eventually been brought down via a long-range sniper shot from behind.

"That's one of the reasons why Salacia will be on overwatch. If she sees anyone coming, we evacuate quickly and efficiently." I answered calmly. "Just to be safe, we won't be staying any longer than ten minutes. Now, do you have everything?"

In reply, Augury unzipped the custom-made messenger bag that I'd had assembled for her, showing me a several letters, reports, and a few thumb drives stored within. The letters were for her parents, the reports were print-outs of everything that I'd seen during my rescue of Dinah, as well as her own statement on what she'd experienced, and the thumb drives contained electronic copies of both of them, as well as some notes for Armsmaster and Dragon regarding the likely mastermind.

"Good. I'm going to fully suit up and then we can get this show on the road." I nodded, before turning to the other 'person' present. "Salacia, is the combat exoskeleton armor I built working alright? Any kinks or defects that we'll need to sort out?"

"Affirmative, Mistress Riptide. All systems appear to be nominal, no issues detected. I am combat ready." the gynoid replied. Her slender 'main' body was now encased in a suit of powered combat armor that even a Brute wouldn't be able to wear in combat without a few cybernetic enhancements to link their nervous system to the armor's systems. It wasn't my best work, I'll admit, but it was the best that I could throw together in the time frame we had available, and it would be brutally effective in combat and looked intimidating as hell, which was what I needed for today.

Like my own Triton Armor, as well as my still-yet-to-be-built Poseidon Armor, the Oceanus Armor (Alpha Version) that Salacia was currently equipped with had numerous pieces of hydrokinetic emulation Tinkertech built into it, most of them simply larger, cruder versions of the ones built into my Triton Armor. Unlike the Triton Armor, the Oceanus Armor was a brute-force power armor, designed for raw power and efficiency, with little to no subtlety or finesse. I would actually give Salacia better than even odds of beating Hookwolf one-on-one while she was wearing it.

The Oceanus Armor was as heavy as I could make it while still being able to fly using the same kind of water-powered jetpack and hydrokinetic wing generator I had installed in my Triton Armor. It also had the same water refraction optical camouflage system installed, which was part of the plan. As I'd said, while Augury and I were in City Hall talking with her uncle, Salacia, using the code name Tethys, would be acting as overwatch by floating above the building under camouflage, just in case someone decided to crash the party.

If it was the heroes, she'd warn us as they approached and we'd quickly evac, I was not going to give them any excuse to label me a villain. If it was someone else…she would crash back.

As I went into the private part of my lab to get changed into my Triton Armor, I was glad that the bodysuits I wore were designed to be universally compatible with all of my armor tech, allowing me quickly slip the armor pieces and segments on and off with very little work. Granted, it was a bit redundant to have the Kevlar under-armor in addition to the over-layer that was part of my Triton Armor, but it didn't add much extra work, and would be well worth the extra efforts if I ever had to use any of the lighter emergency armors, like the one at home, that didn't have that added layer of protection.

As I finished sealing my helmet shut, I waited a half-minute for Amphitrite to finish running through the various system checks before heading out. It was a new part of the protocols I'd added for when things weren't time-critical, just to ensure that there weren't any software bugs, minor malfunctions, or any other hiccups that might interfere with my armor's performance. It had already proven its worth, the first time we'd tried, Amphitrite had found close to fifty minor errors in the system's coding. Nothing that would really be dangerous, but removing them had helped make my armor just a little bit more responsive and effective.

"Alright, Augury." I offered as I stepped back out into the lab proper. My voice-changer was already on, so it all came out in a flat monotone. "Let's go, shall we?"

Swallowing, the preteen managed a firm nod, gripping her staff tightly in one hand, before following me and Tethys to the launch bay. Having Amphitrite running ground control for me was an absolute godsend when it came to actually leaving my base. Not only did she handle the opening and closing of the launch hatches but she also monitored the surveillance systems to make sure no one was watching the Nevermore too closely and manipulated the water refraction visual bypass system that hid the fact that there was something visually different about the Nevermore to begin with; allowing plenty of time for me and Tethys to activate the on-board refraction systems that were built into our armors after takeoff.

As we soared out of the hatch, with Augury held in my arms in a princess carry, Amphitrite's voices suddenly came in over my helmet's built-in radio.

"Mistress, I am detecting modestly elevated amounts of radio traffic originating from the PRT." my original VI informed me. "Evidently, the Empire Eighty-Eight attempted a minor expansion into Archer's Bridge Merchants territory and the resulting conflict has rapidly escalated. At the moment three hostile capes are confirmed to be involved: Mush, Stormtiger, and Cricket. The Protectorate have already dispatched Triumph, Miss Militia, Armsmaster, and Velocity to intervene along with three squads of PRT Troopers."

"And the police response?" I asked as I slowed my flight for a moment, Tethys almost instantly mirroring me.

"The police are already moving to isolate and evacuate the area, as well as diverting traffic around it." Amphitrite replied simply.

So the typical PRT-controlled response to a cape fight; send in the Protectorate to smash heads and break it up, have the troopers support them, and leave the regular police to handle all the busywork. Right out of the PRT operations guidebook that Toybox had so kindly included as part of Amphitrite's initial archives.

"Well, this is certainly a golden opportunity for us. Let's not waste it." I said with a nod. There were only seven members of the ENE Protectorate that were based in Brockton Bay, and with four of them diverted to handle this incident, it would be a lot harder for the remaining three, Dauntless, Assault, and Battery, to quickly respond to a call from City Hall. Yeah, Dauntless could fly, and both Assault and Battery could move pretty quickly in short bursts, but none of them were long-distance speedsters like Velocity, or Armsmaster on his custom bike.

If I could get into the air and activate my optical camouflage system then they'd have absolutely no way of keeping up with me, provided Dauntless didn't skewer me on his Arc Lance beforehand.

The flight from the Nevermore to the City Hall took less than five minutes in total. Despite having been rebuilt after the city had outgrown the original wooden building, Brockton Bay City Hall was still over a century old and built as solid as a granite slab, having survived everything from civil rights riots to a bombing in an attempt to assassinate the sitting mayor back when my dad was a kid.

Hovering above it, I triggered my radio. "Tethys, assume overwatch. Keep an eye out for any incoming Capes, hero or villain, as well as any more mercenaries like the thugs that originally tried to kidnap Augury and any serious gang movements. Report to me directly if find any sign of suspicious activities in the vicinity."

"Compliance." Tethys replied simply. I couldn't see her any more than she could see me at the moment, but I knew she was currently moving to hove several meters over the middle of City Hall, which would allow her to more easily spot any approaching troublemakers before they actually had a chance to make it to City Hall proper.

"You ready, Augury?" I asked, causing the girl in my arms to nod as she tightened her hold around my neck as I rapidly started to descend, landing several meters in front of the main doors of City Hall. They had once been a pair of large, heavy wooden doors, but had been replaced with small, more modern, doors several years ago. Supposedly it had been done to better increase security, but I knew that there had been several more break-ins since then, which called that assessment into question.

Exhaling lightly for a brief moment as I landed, I deactivated the optical redirection system, revealing myself and Augury to all and sundry as I gently set my companion down on her feet. Several people that had been walking or milling about nearby recoiled in shock and surprise, but surprisingly no one suddenly started screaming or anything. Maybe because we weren't actually attacking or anything.

"Let's go, Augury. We have a meeting to attend." I stated aloud, offering her my right hand. If she didn't want to take it, that was all up to her.

To more than a bit of my own surprise, she swallowed once and grabbed it with her left, while her right maintained a death-grip on her staff.

"L-Let's get this over with." she murmured out quietly, but her voice was steady and strong. Brave girl this one.

Nodding back, I led her towards City Hall, whilst keeping a wary eye out for any idiot adventurous or stupid enough to try and stop us. Both of my shoulder-mounted turrets were currently in standby mode, concealed against the back of my shoulders with my backpack mostly concealing them, so the only weapons that most would be able to see on me were my gauntlets.

Luckily enough, no one around here seemed to be a hero wannabe eager enough to confront someone who was very clearly a Cape. So we were able to enter City Hall itself without any real problems.

However, our first issue arrived mere moments after we stepped inside, in the form of a pair of security guards, both looking to be in their mid-twenties, charging toward us with their handguns already out. Both quickly came to a stop a short way away from us and started acting like they were protagonists out of some kind of action movie.

"Hands behind your head and kneel on the ground, now!"

"Do it or we'll shoot!"

Jeez, just who did these two morons think they were, Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal?

"And exactly what law have we broken, gentleman?" I replied politely.

"You're a fucking Cape, that's reason enough!" one shouted. Ah, a pair of anti-Cape bigots that thought being a Parahuman removed someone's basic civic rights. Wonderful.

"Last I checked, being a Cape wasn't exactly a crime." I pointed out blandly as I let go of Augury's hand before gently ushering her behind me. "Now, would you kindly lower your weapons before I am forced to take action?"

"Screw you!"

The angry sneers on their faces told me what they were going to do long before they even pulled the triggers, giving me more than enough time to quickly flood the space in front of me with water before hardening it into the density and durability of steel before the two action hero wannabes opened fire at me with their handguns. Several of the observing bystanders shrieked, but were quickly cut off as the bullets simply pancaked against the impromptu barrier I'd set up, and a quick alteration to the surface tension kept the impacting bullets from ricocheting and risking someone else getting hurt.

Soon enough, the resounding 'clicks' of a pair of empty guns started to fill the room.

"Augury, if you would be so kind as to detain these…gentlemen." I instructed as I withdrew the water back into my suit's storage units, allowing the smashed bullets to fall to the ground with an echoing little clatter. The young Thinker nodded resolutely, stepping around me and glaring at the two morons as she leveled her staff at one of them, before pressing the correct button and shooting a long strand of water that instantly wrapped around his arms and legs like an anaconda, binding him and leaving him struggling to stay on his feet before he finally lost his balance and flopped to ground like a landed fish.

The other one was apparently an even bigger idiot than I'd first thought, since he thought it was a good idea to draw a collapsible baton from his belt and charge at me. "Fucking freaks!"

Well, I couldn't have asked for a better chance to field test my sword, now could I?

Deploying the rod from my left gauntlet, it spurted a quick gout of water that I quickly used my powers to form into a longsword blade of water. As the man wildly swung his baton toward my head, I intercepted it with my water blade and cut cleanly through it.

"What the…" he muttered staring in disbelief at his baton for second, which had been reduced to just a couple of inches of metal above the handle, before he was suddenly bound by another blast of Augury's Water Capture system.

"Well done, Augury." I offered her a congratulatory nod.

"I still need more practice; it took me way too long to get the second one." she grumbled.

"It's your first day out in the field, all things come with time and experience." I reassured her, offhandedly reaching out with my powers to turn the restraints binding Dumb and Dumber as solid as steel. Good luck getting out of those without any tools now.

Deactivating and retracting my Water Blade back into my gauntlet, I walked over to the stunned receptionist, who was only now peeking up from where she'd ducked under her desk when the gunfire started. She managed to offer me a shaky smile as she nervously retook her seat.

"H-Hello. How can I h-help you?" she asked.

"Good day, I'd like to speak with the Mayor if he has a moment, ma'am." I returned politely.

"I…I'm sure he can spare a moment to speak with you." the woman managed. "W-Who should I say is wanting a m-meeting?"

"The Independent Heroes, Riptide and Augury." I answered. "I already know the way to his office, thank you, so if you could let him know that we are on our way."

Fortunately, Dad had complained more than once about finding his way through the 'bureaucratic maze' that was City Hall, so I at least had a general idea of where to go, which was only enhanced by Amphitrite having hacked the severs of the City Planning Office and was basically displaying a route map on my visor.

Beckoning Augury to follow me, I also started the countdown on my suit's internal timer. We did not have long before someone let the PRT know that we were here, and even with the fight going on between the Empire and Merchants, they'd likely send both Capes and Troopers our way, not to mention possibly calling in New Wave for backup.

It wasn't likely, but I really didn't want to test my suit against either Collateral Damage Barbie or Photon Mom.

At least the Mayor's office was nothing if not clearly marked, the large brass place next to it with the words 'Mayor's Office' written in a fancy cursive font was kind of hard to miss. It was honestly a surprisingly humble setup, for all the supposed glory that the mayoral seat was supposed to hold…then again, this was Brockton Bay after all.

I strode in after opening the door, and saw the startled form of the mayor's personal assistant (not secretary, Dad had always said) behind her desk. Giving her a polite and cheery wave, I walked over to the office of the mayor proper and sharply rapped on it with my right hand, even as Augury hid slightly behind me.

Time to meet and greet.