AN: Warning, the very first mini-part has racial slurs. While I can avoid it with Skidmark because of him trying to police himself around Taylor, there is no in-universe reason for it to be averted for the neo-Nazis. Standard disclaimer that this is fiction and not my own beliefs.
The Apple Fell Far - Part 2
"Smile for the camera girlie!" The jeer echoed around the room as his hand clamped over my chin and jerked my face towards the webcam. It was all I could do to keep breathing at this point, the pain was so bad.
"Come on nigger, you gotta squeal like a pig for the viewers. How's your dad supposed to get the message that his kind aren't wanted here if you don't want to help us out?"
"Fuck - you - you - limp dick - Nazi!" I spat, the blood flying from my mouth to land on his hand as he stepped back.
The ugly bastard just laughed. He held up a hammer, his grin spreading. "That's not very nice. Too bad you were born to the slaves eh? So which knee are we starting on? Left or right?"
I should've been born as someone else. Anyone else. Any other city. Any other skin.
I jerked upright in my bed, crying out, a hand clutched to my chest and panting. Mousey leaned over and started rubbing circles on my back.
"Just a nightmare. I'm fine, I'm safe, just a nightmare." I swallowed, my throat dry and scratchy. I had probably been screaming in my sleep again. Perfect, just perfect. Hannah was never going to let it go if she had heard me again. I should've taken Adam up on his offer to move me. Or let the PRT pay for it.
I just…I didn't want to let them win. If I moved then the bastards would've gotten the last laugh. I'd survived. I'd gotten powers. I'd won. They didn't get to force me out of my home.
Besides I could always just hide in plain sight if someone came after me in my home again. And I could yell for Hannah. It wouldn't even be a problem after another two weeks since I was finally able to put my plan in motion.
It had taken too long and I'd had to tell the PRT too much of what I could do in order to get them to back off and let me stay at my home, yet, I still had my secret and they still didn't know everything.
"This will work," I said, looking to the side and swallowing the lingering panic from the nightmare. My projection didn't respond, but its smile did grow a little wider and it reached down to pat my head. I leaned into the hand and let out a shaky breath. "They're not going to get away with it, Mousey. I just need to get a hold of my scapegoats and then…we can go after the real targets."
Maybe then the nightmares would stop.
Bonesaw grinned at Mimi as the older girl entered the makeshift lab, flicking her lighter open and shut in her hand. She didn't lift her fingers out of her latest project though. That would be dangerous. She had to keep everything…perfectly…steady…
"Mimi, can you hand Mr. Legs that screwdriver? He can't seem to figure out which I need to finish splicing these two spines together."
Mimi grunted, her lighter flipping closed again as she leaned over to grab for the tool. "No not that one, silly! The green one. Yup!" The pyrokinetic straightened up and extended the implement out to Mr. Legs. The spider-bot grabbed it and moved across the table to poke into the patient at Bonesaw's command.
"Thank you! I'll finish up soon. Did Mr. Jack tell you come get me for dinner?"
"Actually, he wanted to make sure that your lab was sealed in case the new diseases get loose," Mimi said. Her lighter was back in her hand and she was staring at the flame. "I don't know why he cares, we're all immune anyway."
"Well not all of us. Cherish hasn't had the workup yet and some of my prototypes will kill us just as easily as everyone else if they get out of my reservoirs," Bonesaw said. She frowned as one of the patients jerked underneath her. "Regenerators can be so frustrating! I always seem to mess up the first dose." She sighed and Mr. Legs injected another cocktail into the patient. "There we go, now he'll stay asleep for the rest of the procedure. Shame his mind already broke, but I think I can fix that if I meld in a slave to drive for him."
"The lab, Bonesaw?" Mimi deadpanned.
"Oh, right! Sorry, Tinkering, you know how it is." She giggled. "You can tell Mr. Jack that I took all of the proper precautions. We don't want anyone to know that we're here before we grab Miss Mouse after all! Just hit the button by the door and whoosh everything goes up in flames hotter than the sun! That should sterilize everything; just in case."
Mimi froze, staring at her, eyes wide. "What."
Bonesaw rolled her eyes. "We may be in the middle of the woods, but we're not on the Moon. Being safe with your lab is what Good Girls do! I'm always safe with my labs. You don't cause plagues without intending to, that's what Mr. Jack always says!"
Mimi shook herself, snapping her lighter closed with a click. She patted Bonesaw's hand and said, "Well, better safe than sorry. That sterilization sounds dangerous for everyone but me though."
"Well and me," Bonesaw said, giggling. "My chest processor can shut it down if I trip into it by accident. There's a 5 second grace period. Way more than enough time!"
"Right. Well, dinner is in an hour."
"Okay. I'll finish up with Pagoda in a few minutes and clean up! Mr. Legs, I need a scalpel."
Bonesaw's humming abruptly cut off as the door of the lab slammed shut, the internal alarm blaring and the red light in the ceiling whirring. Her eyes widened and she stared at the steel door. Mimi was staring at her from outside, a smirk on her face. The older girl - her sister - saluted her. And the Mouse Protector plush doll standing with its hand on the sterilization trigger surged towards her.
Bonesaw tried to trigger the shutdown for the sterilization through her internal systems, but before the signal could actualize the doll had slammed into her, its fist striking right into her chest. The damage was far more than should have been possible for such a short wind-up, and it was moving too fast. So was she. She was flying through the air, accelerated to nearly twice the speed she had been struck by. She was only a few inches from her operating table and when her back slammed into it…any remaining chance that the signal from her chest processor would reboot and complete sending its packet was shattered with the cracking sound that echoed around her, audible even above the siren.
She stared at the doll as Mr. Legs jumped towards it. Her eyes met the Stranger that had taken Mimi's form through the window in the door. The flames in the vents roared to life and she couldn't tear her eyes away from that girl, even as the projection vanished from the room and reappeared next to her.
I wonder if it can change forms like she can change faces? What an interesting power mix. I would have loved to have had you as a sister; or on my table.
Jack Slash frowned as he met Bonesaw's eyes yet again across from him. Every instinct he had was screaming at him that something was wrong, and yet he could not put his finger on it. It should have been Cherish that was setting off his alarm bells. She was screwing with his emotions six ways to Sunday, and yet his little bets with the team about when she would go too far weren't going to come to fruition this fast. Cherish was a stupid girl, but she wasn't this stupid. She was Heartbreaker's kid: she knew how to work slow and bide her time.
No one else had made it to dinner yet. That had to be the problem. He set his fork down and twirled his knife in his hand. Pointing it first at Cherish, and then at Bonesaw, he kept the disquiet from his face as he pushed out from the table.
"Alright, girls, I think we've waited long enough now, don't you? Five minutes late I can forgive, but fifteen is getting a bit ridiculous. Time to round up the chickens and spank some misbehaving boys and girls!"
Cherish swallowed, hiding her disquiet well enough that he might have missed it if he had been anyone else. "I can try to find Mimi and Alan if you two want to go round up the others."
Jack just smiled at her and chuckled, angling his head to the side and jerking his knife towards the door. "Now, now, ma chérie, safety in numbers and all that. Why we could very well be," he gasped for effect, "under attack! For everyone to be missing at once? That's enemy action right there."
He reached for Bonesaw's hand. She just smiled up at him and took his grip. Nothing about the warning in his head changed, just that he was in danger and he needed to act now or it would be too late. Someone was after them. Someone who had gotten to his flock without triggering any alarms. How had they taken out so many? How had they gotten Crawler?
Siberian was actually simple to deal with if you knew her secret. Manton was a stupid little worm really, not worth the effort to try to mold into anything useful. How his own projection had gotten all of the brains in the relationship was a mystery for the ages. Assuming this enemy had made it this far into his group already, they had to have figured out about Manton. He was probably their first target.
They were idiots for leaving Bonesaw and him for last. They should have gone for him first.
Were they trying to rescue his perfect little piece of art?
No, that didn't make sense, and it didn't fit with what his instincts were warning him of. Bonesaw was just as dangerous to him right now as any enemy. She could probably smell the blood in the water. He would have to keep her close and carefully play the narrative so that she remembered that he was the one she was supposed to be afraid of. It didn't matter if this attacker had managed to take out everyone else, Jack was still the ruler and Jack was still the one who held her leash.
Bonesaw just needed reminders of that every now and then to keep her line. The last time she had had an urge to get away had been years ago, but still, every mouse has its day or some such nonsense.
They made it to Crawler's room first. Jack had to bite back a curse as he caught a glimpse of their destination. He didn't bother to hide his scowl.
"Oh, shit." Cherish muttered. "Oh shit, oh shit! Jack, someone triggered the concrete! He's…I can feel him under there. He's…Jesus, I've never felt him so…"
The whole triple-wide room was filled with tinker-tech concrete. No one was even supposed to know that that was there. Crawler knew because it kept him in line - threatening to keep the bastard immobilized if he'd ever turned was the only way to scare Ned. Bonesaw knew since she needed to help maintain it, but she would never make any move against Crawler - he was someone she wanted to get on her table one day. Yet…another Tinker or Thinker? Unless someone could see the electronics…
No, Ned would have eaten an enemy Tinker; they must have a technopath on the loose in the base. And he was going to have fun when he found the son-of-a-bitch.
They made it to Shatterbird's room next.
"Bonesaw?" Cherish whispered. "I thought you said that your enhancements prevent our necks from being snapped like that?"
Bonesaw pressed up against the window, her hands framing her face as she peered through, a frown leaking through. "They make people resistant to a broken neck, not immune. A quick enough impact at the right angle will get through the mesh. That would take a lot of force though. Something would have to hit her going, I don't know, 1000 mph?"
Jack blinked. He looked at Bonesaw. He blinked again. Then his lip curled into a snarl and he stepped forward to grab her, crushing her against the door.
"Ow! Mr. Jack, that hurts! What are you -"
"Not bad; you managed to keep up the act well enough for quite awhile there, but Bonesaw always knows the exact numbers for how much damage her implants can take," he snapped.
The Stranger impersonating his artwork sighed and slumped in his arms. "Damn, I wish this power came with a manual for the person's mind. I have barely any idea how I'm supposed to react after I shift. You know, I've looked into things, the Stranger aspect is actually pretty weak. All I can really do is change faces and body mass. I have some general idea of the person's mannerisms and behaviors, but nothing really specific; and I need contact with someone first before I can become them. The PRT would consider it lame, I probably wouldn't even get above a 3 or a 4 on their rating scale on a good day. More like a 2."
"Jack, be careful, she's way too confident."
"Of course I am." The girl twisted in his grip and he let her. It would be so much easier to threaten her if she could see the knife coming to cut her pieces off after all.
She dropped Bonesaw's blonde ringlets and her body lengthened and darkened. Her skin had scars along her face and there were burns on her hands now. If she hadn't just killed most of his people he would have been impressed with the girl.
Except she had, and now this stupid little thing didn't even care about the 3 foot steak knife that was resting in front of her eye.
She just grinned at him "You two are the last ones left. Did either of you know that Siberian was a projection? That was a surprise, I'll be honest, but it made things oh so much easier - I was intending to just leave her alone really, since I had no idea how to kill her. Except then one little touch on her hand and I could become her Master. Finding his bunk a few doors down was easy-peasy after that! I did what Alexandria couldn't, oh you have no idea how much of a confidence boost that is! Now I know that I can finish my plan."
Jack tapped the edge of the knife on her cheek along a previous scar, drawing a small line of blood along the edge. "What plan, girl?"
She shrugged. "I just needed your templates. Mind moving the knife? That one had finally healed."
Jack smirked. He pushed harder against her. Then his instincts screamed and he jerked to the side. The knife left her skin as a large mouse plush all but flew past him, it was moving so quickly.
Jack twisted again as the plushy lunged for him. It missed by inches and when it slammed into the wall it left a deep crater. He raised an eyebrow as the mouse settled down in front of the girl, staying between him and her. Cherish was ignored by the pair, left standing off to the side. Stupid girl was probably waiting to see who would come out on top so she could throw in with the winner. Such a fucking idiot.
"You know, girl, you could join us instead," Jack purred. He could already see it. She could be the next Nice Guy. No one could quite replace the Siberian or Bonesaw…But they hadn't had a decent Stranger in years. "You clearly enjoyed this. I could show you so many more wonders, child. I could help you release your true self, your inner beast."
She sighed and tsked. Actually fucking tsked at him! "You know, I've been fighting temptation for nearly three years, Jack. My father runs a drug empire and every time I go to visit him I have to remind myself that I don't want to start down that road. Killing you isn't something I'm doing because I want to, I'm doing it because I need to. The fact that it will help others is a nice bonus. You only made things personal when your little psychopath let slip that you assholes were going to try to go after Mouse Protector. "
Jack took another look at the plushy, then he snorted. "That's what that thing is supposed to be? Hell girl, you need to work on your projection power."
"It's her doll, asshole."
"So, are you two just going to stand there and talk each other to death?" Cherish asked, frowning between the two of them. "One of you has to do something."
"Why do I have to do anything more?" the girl asked. "I've been doing it since we started this little dance. Haven't you ever heard of stalling, Cherish?"
Jack frowned. None of his instincts had shifted from their new default of warning. She wasn't calling in support, he should have been able to pick that up if she had.
Then he coughed. And coughed again. And there was blood in his hand. He lifted his gaze, eyes wide.
The girl laughed from behind her projection. "I can do research too, Jack. You really should be careful of what you eat. Bonesaw had some nasty stuff in her lab. I was worried it would be a bit too slow, but then you wanted to go walk around and well, here we are."
He stabbed out with his knife. The projection didn't react. He stabbed again. Then the knife clattered to the floor as he lost feeling in his fingers. He coughed and kept coughing, unable to stop. His knees gave out and he fell, holding his stomach.
The world dimmed around him and he dropped forward, splaying out on the floor. He was still coughing as his instincts screamed again. He couldn't react, he couldn't move. The projection shot forward, slamming its foot into his head.
My phone rang just as I turned my attention to Cherish. She was staring at me wide-eyed, nearly hyperventilating as she sucked in great gulps of air. I sighed and held up a finger, then pulled out my phone.
"Hi, Adam. I'm a little busy right now, can I call you back?"
"Girl, where the fuck are you?"
I rolled my eyes and leaned back against the wall as Mousey moved to grab Cherish's arms. It picked her up, turned her around, and then we marched back towards the dining room.
I really should just kill her, but I was feeling confident at the moment, and it wasn't like she could get away. There wasn't any harm in talking with my father for a few minutes. Killing someone while on the phone with him would be…it would be something that a villain would do.
Well, an evil villain. I was probably a villain now - for all intents and purposes at least.
"Why do you care, Adam?"
"Maybe because the last time I didn't check in on you you wound up getting fucking tortured by dickless Nazi asswipes you little sh- Taylor, where are you?"
"Killing the Slaughterhouse Nine." Mousey forced Cherish into her seat at the table and I draped myself over my prior chair. I took a moment to mourn that she hadn't eaten her steak. I could've killed both birds with one stone if she had been hungrier.
"Haha, very funny, seriously where the fuck are you, girl?"
I frowned. "Okay, now I'm actually confused. What's going on? I'm obviously safe otherwise I wouldn't be talking to you like this. What am I missing?"
"The motherfuc- The coc- There's a PR bullshit thing going on at Lord Street Market. We were going to crash the goddamn thing before we heard that it was a Ward thing so we avoided it. But now you're not there. You can't skip important things like that! Your neighbor called me to ask if I had seen you, Taylor! Do you have any idea of how fucking terrifying that was since the last time she called me was to find out if I knew who could be jonesing to snatch you up! Just like half the motherfucking cuntrags in this city, Taylor!"
I groaned. "Dammit, I told Hannah that I was going to be gone for the day. She shouldn't be…ah man, now I'm going to get into trouble when I get back."
"Where are you!?"
"I told you, I'm killing the Slaughterhouse Nine."
Adam pulled the phone away from his head and started cursing. Finally he said, just barely loud enough for the receiver to pick it up, "Sherrel, you deal with her. It's easier to get a drunk chimp to piss straight than to get a straight answer out of the hellcat when she's like this."
"Like father like daughter," Sherrel chuckled. When she spoke again it was much clearer. "Hi Taylor, so a few of us are just a little worried. Would you mind please telling me where you are?"
"Hey, Cherish, is this 40 or 50 miles outside of Boston?"
"I think it's 50."
"50 miles west of Boston, a converted hotel/bunker."
Sherrel was silent for several seconds. Her next words were very slow and very carefully enunciated. "Taylor, what are you doing 50 miles west of Boston in a converted hotel/bunker?"
"As I said, three times now, killing the Slaughterhouse Nine."
Sherrel held a hand over the receiver, not well enough to fully muffle her though. "Call Miss Militia! I don't think she's fucking with us, Adam!"
I jerked upright, shouting into the phone, "No! Don't call MM! That will make this whole thing completely fucking pointless!"
Sherrel lifted her hand and hissed. "10 seconds."
"All of them are already dead except Crawler and Cherish. Crawler is buried under tinker-tech bondo shit and Cherish is being nice and quiet while Mousey has her hands on her throat."
There was an exceedingly long pause. "…Can you please…repeat that?"
"They were equipped for frontal assaults and to ambush others. They weren't equipped for a Stranger to attack from inside their own ranks. I picked them off one by one. I'm fine. Please don't call Miss Militia, because then I'd need to find another scapegoat. Do you have any idea how long it took me to make sure I could do this? And for them to get close enough that it would look even slightly plausible?"
Sherrel paused again, this time long enough that I worried she had hung up. Finally, she said, "Taylor, I think I'm way too sober for this conversation. Please explain what you mean."
I nodded and gestured to Cherish, even though Sherrel couldn't see the movement. "I want to kill the fuckers that tortured me. Them and Kaiser. He okayed it. I've sat in on meetings. They laugh about it, about me. I want them all dead. But I couldn't do it right away, I would be the first person the PRT looks at and I'd wind up - at best - on probation right alongside Shadow Stalker; or thrown in juvie."
"Or the Birdcage. They throw capes that kill other capes in the Birdcage, Taylor. Kaiser doesn't have a Kill Order. You can't prove they ordered what happened to you, kid. And with Adam as your dad…It would be on the table."
I nodded again. "Exactly! So I can't do it myself. I need a template, a scapegoat. Someone who no one would second guess when told they had murdered Kaiser and his sniveling Nazi scum," I hissed. Glaring at Cherish, my lips curled. "The Nine were perfect. They get in, have their fun, and disappear. I've tagged almost all of them. I can't pretend to be Mannequin, Crawler, or the Siberian, but I got everyone else and all I have to do is grandstand a bit and boom, I can kill Kaiser and the others on my list and no one will ever know."
"The PRT -"
"Doesn't know about my Stranger power, Sherrel," I snapped.
She sucked in a sharp breath. "What?"
Adam snatched the phone back. "What fucking fucked up shit is this? How the fucking hell did you keep something like that from those coc- jerks?!"
"I'm a fucking grab-bag, Adam!" I shouted. "Grab-bags are rare. If I told them that I could make a projection that can adjust its speed at will, they accepted that. I specifically never told them that I could change the projection or that I could change my own face."
"…Why? Have you been planning this from the beginning, Taylor?" he asked, voice very quiet.
"Not from the start, no, but close." I sighed. "It was mostly a pipe dream for a while. If it didn't pan out…well then at least I would have had a trump card if things turned ugly and they tried to go after you two in earnest..."
They were both very quiet again. Finally Sherrel said, "What about Marcus?"
"Fuck Mush. He's disgusting and a pervert and he helps spiral you both down into oblivion. Fuck him."
"Kid," Adam said, his swallow audible even over the phone, "we gotta talk when you get back. I'll call Hannah, make sure she knows I got ahold of you and that you're on your way back."
"Hey, one thing, you know that if you follow through with this you can't get the reward for those fuckers right? You could live like a king for the rest of your life, Taylor. All you'd have to do would be to…"
"Let it go," I said, wiping a hand down my face. "I know, but I can't do that. I wake up screaming almost every other night, Adam. I need to do this. I'm sorry."
"You know," Sherrel said, "if you are careful with the timing and play things up with the PRT after your little show…you might be able to have your cake and eat it too. We just swap the dates of when you went on your little field trip, maybe say something about the Nine kill-stealing…did you get any proof while you were going on your spree?"
"We'll talk about it when she gets back," Adam cut in. "Taylor, you're absolutely sure that you're alright?"
"I'm fine. See you in a few hours, Adam, Sherrel." I ended the call and turned my full attention to Cherish. "Now, what are we going to do with you?"
"I can be your minion!" Cherish hurriedly gasped. Her eyes were wide with terror and she was still breathing hard. "I was with the Nine because I need someone strong to protect me. I just, I just want to get away from…from…"
"You know an awful lot about me now," I said, tapping a knife as Mousey laid a hand on her shoulder. "I don't usually talk that freely, especially not around others. What did you do?"
"I made you, well, confident. That's all, I swear."
"Really?" Mousey pressed harder on her shoulder.
"Really! I could've made you suicidal, but I didn't. I just want to be safe!"
I scowled. "Just so we're clear, Cherish, Mousey isn't entirely linked to me. The longer I keep her on one form, the more independent she gets. I haven't switched her form in months; so if I start to act odd then she can kill you on her own initiative and then knock me out before I do anything I'd regret later. So go ahead and try to get me to off myself, see how well that works out for you."
"I'm not going to," she cried. "I just needed to get away from my father."
I froze. "What?"
"My father is Heartbreaker. He destroys everything he touches. I couldn't stay there anymore. Not after I triggered. Not once I was useful to him. I ran. But Dad, he…he doesn't like letting his kids get away from him, you know? So I needed to find someone strong, someone who could scare him away, who could keep my family back if they came for me."
"So you decided to go to the Slaughterhouse Nine?" I hissed.
"They were in the area and I didn't know who else to turn to," she whispered. "I grew up under a villain and I was raised hurting people. I figured 'how much worse could they be?' I got my answer." She looked up at me, fire in her eyes. "I'm glad you killed them. They were monsters. I was trying to turn them all against Jack, but I think he knew. He mocked me without mocking me. It's hard to pick out the difference, but I grew up learning about that sort of thing."
I just stared at her, Mousey's hand resting on her shoulder, near enough to a threat, but not pushing so hard as to hurt her.
"Please don't kill me. I'll be a good minion. You're trying to play at being a good guy right? I can be your hidden source behind the scenes for when you go extra-curricular. With me helping, you can finish taking out the people who hurt you."
I tapped the table. "How many people knew that you were a member of the Nine?"
"Only the people you just killed," she murmured. "The next city was going to be when they debuted me. I didn't even get enhancements from Bonesaw yet."
Fuck me. "If I do this, if I do this, and if I ever hear one word about you hurting someone in my city that I haven't given you permission to go after, I will finish what I started here today."
"That's totally fair."
"I probably can't kill your father. Mousey is immune to Master effects, but I'm not. Just because I can tank your whammy for long enough to kill you, that doesn't mean that I can get close enough to Heartbreaker to have Mousey take him out. It…might be possible, depending on how his power works and if I can get ahold of one of his already enthralled people as a template, but…I have my own goals first."
"You're a Stranger. He's never going to come after me himself, he'll send someone from my family and I can tell you who they all are and what they can do. You can sneak up on most of them. Most aren't able to target people they don't know to be afraid of."
Fuck me and my issues. "You gave me confidence before. Can you…do that for a few more people? Maybe make them surer of themselves at specific times?"
She frowned. "What, like training them to like or hate themselves after certain actions? Pavlovian conditioning and stuff? Yeah, that's pretty easy with my power. We, uh, made a game of it at home…"
"I'm so going to regret this…" Her eyes widened and she stared at me, her mouth hanging slightly open. "Okay, we can try it. If I'm satisfied after I finish getting rid of the Empire, we'll see about making this arrangement more permanent."
"I'm completely down with that!"
"Remember, you hurt -"
"Anyone in your city, I'm done, got it, Boss!" she saluted, a wide grin on her face. Reaching over she shook Mousey's hand - the one not still resting on her shoulder. "It's going to be a pleasure working with you! I'm going to be soo useful!"
"Hi, Dad, I brought home a stray Slaughterhouse Nine member, would you mind looking after her please?" I groaned to myself. Mousey moved away from Cherish letting her stand up. I leaned forward and covered my face in my hands.
"I'm so grounded."
AN: So funny story, Cherish was originally going to be killed as well, but then Taylor took too long to kill her to keep it believable, and then she let her talk, and then suddenly it made sense that Taylor would get a minion out of it...