"Only a little, Director Armstrong." said Weld, glancing down at the man and smiling faintly. Director Armstrong was a short man, five and a half feet tall, with dark skin and a bit overweight. He had a high forehead, a sharp jaw, and his hair was starting to grey and recede at the same time. In spite of the perpetually angry look on his face, Weld felt perfectly at ease around the director, and was glad he was personally accompanying him instead of sending the Deputy instead.
The Protectorate and the PRT, organizations dedicated to dealing with criminals of parahuman origin, were the closest thing Weld had to a home and family. Just like anyone's family, there were those Weld got along with, and those he tolerated because he had to. Deputy Director Angelica Jensen was definitely in the latter category, not through any fault of her own; their personalities were simply incompatible. She was the last person he needed around when trying to welcome a new member to the Wards.
That was why Weld felt nervous at all, though granted it wasn't as nervous as he knew he should be, but that was out of his control. His hands tightened with a faint groan of metal against metal. This was why the director had chosen him to welcome their new member, because of his own condition. Parahuman abilities expressed themselves in a wide variety of ways, but most left a person's body untouched, unless they were a Case 53 like Weld.
'Inhuman Capes' as they were called, varied wildly in their mutation with only a handful of defining traits that united them. Their drastically altered physical appearances, no memory of their past, and the number 53 tattooed or branded onto their body. Weld himself had been 'gifted' with a body of metal alloy; head to toe, he was a literal iron man. For their new member, meeting someone who was also as 'inhuman' as she was would probably help her feel at ease. Or make her feel like more of a monster, it could honestly swing either way.
Weld shook his head and stared up at the elevator's floor indicator and frowned. Half of the Protectorate was convinced the damn thing moved slower when it was most dramatically convenient.
He sighed, "I read her file, but I feel like I'm missing information. The entire case feels… off, director. Like she was pawned off on us."
Director Armstrong chuckled, a sound similar to rumbling thunder, "That's not entirely inaccurate, but it is a little more complicated than that. Now, you didn't hear this from me, Weld, but apparently there's bad blood between our new recruit and one of the Wards in Brockton Bay."
Weld arched a silver brow, that was news, the girls file made no mention of that. "How bad?"
"Bad enough that ENE is running its own internal investigation." Armstrong explained, while Weld listened intently, "Which is why they 'pawned her off' to us. My bet is that Director Piggot was afraid that the girl would run off if the two came face to face."
That didn't bode well. An entire branch of the Protectorate under investigation over some bad blood? Either it was more than just a clash of personalities, or Director Piggot wasn't taking any chances. The fact that she'd been able to trade the girl for one of their members was probably icing on the wouldn't say he was going to miss Bulldozer, the brute was as liable to cause as much collateral damage as the villains they tried to stop, but the speed with which the Protectorate and PRT acted, had caught everyone off guard. Of course, this all tied back to why Weld was volunteered to be her introduction to the Boston Wards. He tried being as friendly and helpful to others as he could, extending the same kindness he had been offered when he had first wandered into the Protectorate. Go figure that this made him their unofficial representative even if he wasn't the team leader.
"What's your opinion on her, director?" Weld asked.
Before Armstrong could answer, the elevator doors dinged and slid open. The Director smiled and clasped a hand on Welds shoulder, "Well, I think she's a girl that needs a nice warm welcome to her new home. Anything else we can save for later." Then he walked out into the underground garage.
Weld followed, and kept those words in mind. It was important to remember that the girl was a person first, and an asset to the Protectorate second. That thought made him wrinkle his nose, he'd been spending too much time talking to the PRT bureaucrats, the girl had a name. Taylor Hebert was more than just a new name on the Ward roster. They were accepting her into their home, into their family. It was up to Weld to make sure that the courtesy the Protectorate had extended to him, was offered to her.
Now he felt his confidence return, walking with his shoulders a little straighter and his steps a little lighter. Metaphorically, that is, the garage still echoed with his heavy footfalls. Weighing several hundred pounds and being made of living metal would do that.
The primary Boston PRT division had three primary parking lots: There was the large and expansive one at the front of the building where civilians, news reporters and family visitors could park. The parking garage for the employees that kept the wheels of the bureaucratic machine greased and moving. And below that was the underground motorpool where armored vehicles, tinkertech transports, and a fleet of tinted government vehicles were stored PRT response teams and their occasional tinker support deployed from the motor pool whenever a parahuman was on the rampage. Conversely, newly minted members of the Protectorate and Wards often had their first exposure to the building through the motor pool Without a proper costume to preserve their identities, it was up to the PRT to shuttle them from their homes to the headquarters, until a proper costume and cape persona had been created. When new members of the team weren't being ferried to and fro, parahuman criminals were brought to the state of the art holding cells via an industrial size and strength elevator built into the eastern side of the garage.
All of this was why Weld and Director Armstrong were down there, to meet Taylor Hebert when she arrived. They emerged from the elevator into the harsh industrial lights of the loading bay Based off his past experience, Weld had hoped he'd have a few minutes to wait for Taylor's escort to arrive so he could prepare his first words.
Unfortunately, they were frustratingly efficient today, and he had no luck. For once, they were the ones late today. A large black sedan with tinted windows was parked with one PRT agent in civilian garb heading for the trunk while the other stood by the driver side door looking alert and intimidating. Weld only spared them a brief look, before focusing on Taylor herself.
Of course, Weld had read the file on her and seen the pictures, he had known what to expect. But those pictures didn't do justice to just how much her powers had physically changed her. Weld knew that at one time, Taylor had been a tall, thin girl with pale skin and long curly brown, almost black. hair. A very plain, bespectacled-girls-next-door kind of person, perfectly average.
She had kept her height, perhaps even had grown taller, but had traded in her pale skin and dark hair for rubbery pink skin and hair to match. Her glasses were long gone along with her nose, and her eyes had grown larger, and practically reversed color; black sclera highlighted eerily white irises. A tentacle sloped out from the front of her skull, and drooped along the back; Weld wasn't sure, but he thought it might be moving on its own. Taylor certainly wasn't the most monstrous Case 53 that Weld had ever seen, or even the most monstrous cape, but her appearance practically oozed uncanny valley. He felt on edge just looking at her, a distinct desire to be as far away from her as humanly possible.
His instinctual reaction was odd - physical appearances didn't normally bother Weld that much. Perhaps she had a subtle aura that made people feel unsettled around her. With her appearance, most would probably write it off as lizard-brained instinct, but Weld wasn't so sure. He made a mental note to bring this up later, when Taylor wasn't around. For now, it was time for introductions.
Taylor noticed them after the PRT agent handed off a small bag, practically a backpack, to her, and returned to the car. She stiffened, and ignored the car as it rumbled off back to storage behind her. Weld quickly bridged the gap between them without missing a beat and offered his hand, "Taylor Hebert? My name's Weld, I'm one of the Wards. It's nice to meet you."
Some of the tension eased from her shoulders, and she shook his hand; she had a strong, inhumanly warm, grip. "T-thank you. It's good - I mean nice to meet you too."
Weld smiled and released her hand, "I hope the trip wasn't too dull, it's a bit of a drive from Brockton Bay to Boston."
Taylor rapidly shook her head, "No, no. I mean, it's not that long of a drive from Brockton Bay, but I was so nervous that I just couldn't get bored because I mean, I'm here as a Ward and I don't think I ever expected this and everything is moving so fast, and I think I'm going to shut up now."
Weld laughed, "It's okay Taylor, I get it. The last few days must've been crazy for you."
Her shoulders slumped and she laughed nervously, "Haha, yeah. I think it still hasn't sunk in yet!"
"We are more than happy to make your induction to the Wards as smooth and painless as possible, Miss Hebert," Director Armstrong said as he stepped up next to Weld, "Or do you prefer Taylor?"
The girl perked up at that, "E-either or, mist- I mean sir. I'm sorry."
The director laughed and extended a hand in greeting, "Taylor it is. I'm Director Kamil Armstrong, one of your superiors in Boston. Bastion and Kelvin are, unfortunately, preoccupied at the moment; duties that come with the job I'm afraid. I had free time that they didn't, so I wanted to welcome you personally to our department."
Without a nose, it was hard for Weld to place the expression on Taylor's face. He mistook it for confusion at first, but when her shoulders relaxed and her head… tentacle? Bobbed up and down, he figured it was relief.
She shook the director's hand and met his smile with a small one of her own, notably keeping her lips shut. "Thank you, Director, it's a pleasure to meet you both."
Armstrong laughed, "Please, unless you graduate to an official member of the Protectorate, or I'm debriefing you, it's Armstrong."
Taylor nodded, "Okay, I'll remember that Di-Armstrong."
"See that you do. I get enough formality from the rest of the PRT, I don't need it from you kids either," Armstrong said with an easy smile. His eyes flicked to Weld, who got the hint.
"Well," he said, rubbing his hands together, "Is there anything you need help with? I can show you to your room and give you the grand tour if you want."
Taylor glanced over her shoulder at her backpack, and nodded, "A tour would be nice, if it's not too much trouble. I don't really want to impose."
"Nonsense," Armstrong said, "Taylor, the ink on your paperwork might still be drying, but as far as I'm concerned, you're a member of my Wards. As the Director, it's my job to make sure that the people serving under me have the tools and environment they need to function at their best."
The corner of his mouth twitched in a smirk, "Within reason of course."
Weld definitely knew the expression that came over Taylor's face now: disbelief. "I'll keep that in mind, thank you."
She turned to Weld, "I really would appreciate that tour, Weld. Is there any chance we could stop at the cafeteria first? I'm starving."
Weld smiled, "Sure, but heads up, the lunch rush is going to hit soon. I could bring you to your room first and then bring whatever you want to eat, if you're not… ya know, ready to meet the whole organization."
From the way she held herself and acted, it was obvious how unsure she was about her new form. A day or two to ease into things might help her shed it without pushing her too hard. He remembered the stares he'd gotten before everyone had adjusted to having him around, they were hard to ignore.
Taylor opened her mouth to respond, paused, and rested a hand on her stomach, "No… I'll deal with it. I really am hungry right now."
He nodded, "Okay then, follow me."
A quick lunch, and then a tour of the building, that should be easy enough.
Weld had fought the Teeth, witnessed their cruelty and viciousness. He had faced the unseen horrors of Night and Fog. Blasto's horrifying genetic experiments, he had stood against them with his fellow Wards. All together, combined with the machinations of the Ambassadors, had left him with horrifying sights that gave him nightmares.
Watching Taylor eat, quickly joined them.
There were mountains smaller than the pile of food she had dragged back to their table, how she fit it all on one tray he had no idea. That wasn't the scary part, what scared him was that she went back for seconds. Then thirds, then fourths, until there was a hill of aluminum trays neatly stacked in the center of their table, easily two or three feet high and practically licked clean.
Her file had mentioned that Taylor's intake of calories was drastically increased by her powers - this had obviously been downplayed. He had assumed that the first tray had been what they meant; oh how naively innocent he had been.
The moment she had started eating, she had entered a fugue, like a tinker. She paid no mind to the stunned stares from PRT staff as she made repeated trips to the cafeteria line. It got so bad that Weld legitimately worried that she might actually eat the entire stock before the lunch rush had even begun.
To his utter relief, this never came to pass. On her fifteenth tray, Taylor finally slowed to a stop, and slid back in her chair, a content sigh on her lips and eyes struggling to stay open. Her stomach was visibly extended to the point that her belly poked out between her shirt and pants.
Weld sat in stunned silence, and glanced around the cafeteria. The mess hall was large enough to comfortably seat the majority of the staff on site, and was only now beginning to fill with PRT workers. Many of the new arrivals visibly stopped and gaped at their table before they went to the lunch line. Everyone else who had been at ground zero when the massacre began had wisely retreated to the other side of the mess hall, if only to avoid the splash zone.
Slowly, Weld peered past the stacks of trays at Taylor; she looked at him, blinked slowly, and then her eyes widened and she sat up straight. Her stomach deflated like a balloon and if he hadn't seen it himself, he would never have imagined her as the culprit behind the murder of food he had witnessed.
Taylor at least had enough self awareness to look embarrassed. She coughed awkwardly into her hand and said, "S-sorry. Like I said, I was hungry."
Weld looked meaningfully at the trays of food and then back at her. "You don't say?"
"Can… can we just go on the rest of the tour please?" Taylor asked, now aware of the odd looks they were getting.
Weld stood up and offered her a hand, "Sure, let's get you settled in."
She took it, stood up, and paused to look at his own tray, which was practically untouched.
"Um, you weren't going to eat the rest of that, were you?"
A/N: Show of hands. Is anyone here at all surprised that I concieved of this idea in the middle of a fever dream while high on a dozen different medications? I sure as hell ain't. Winter colds are crazy.
Anyway, hello everyone! Those that know my other Worm fics are probably wondering why I'm starting another one. Well, plot bunnies are a bitch, and it fills out my trifecta of stories. I've found I am only really satisfied writing when I'm working on about three stories at once, no more no less. Tiamat is a collab so it doesn't count. My other two fics, The Collector and Echoes of Yesterday, are still being worked on. Both have chapters partially completed, chapters I had planned on writing over the holidays before I was nearly hospitalized. I wrote this up on the side while I was recovering and then when I wanted to get to work on my other stories, life started punching me over and over in the gut. Lets just say the start of the new decade hasn't been kind to me, and leave it at that.
So, quick notes and questions answered. Yes, Taylor is in fact the new Majin Buu and how she managed to wind up in control of him will be explored in flashback. The plot will continue from here, and we will eventually learn how Taylor came in position of one of the most OP powersets in fiction. Other note, there will be OC's in this fic, it's an unavoidable consequence of Taylor being sent to the Boston Wards, since we only have a handful of known characters in that department, I apologize in advance. Why Taylor was sent to the Boston Wards will be explained later, as I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Final note, expect a (hopefully) amusing clash of Worm vs Dragon Ball style humor and story telling. I will try to balance it the best as I can, but this is a heads up if you're not a fan of one or the other. I will try to avoid writing five chapters of screaming and powering up though.
All that aside, I hope you enjoyed what I wrote out, I eagerly look forward to sharing more with you in the future, in this fic or any of the others I'm writing at the moment. Have a wonderful rest of your day!