"And this was important enough to drag me out of back-to-back meetings… why, exactly?"
Emily Piggot didn't like parahumans. She didn't like working with parahumans, she didn't like having to clean up after parahumans, and she definitely didn't like being called away from headquarters without explanation by a parahuman with the social skills of a particularly antisocial doorknob.
"We found it on the Boardwalk an hour ago." said Armsmaster. "And its driver. You'll want to see this for yourself."
He beckoned for Emily to join him on the other side of a hastily erected cordon, which was concealing whatever he'd found from the gawking public.
Emily rounded the barrier, and was - entirely uncharacteristically - lost for words at the scene arrayed before her.
Miss Militia was hugging Squealer, who was bawling inconsolably into her shoulder - mumbling something about chocolate? The weapons specialist was muttering something soothing to the younger woman - she shot Emily a helpless glance, but didn't move away from the tinker. Behind her, though -
"Okay." she said, at length. "So, let me guess - somehow, you managed to disable one of Squealer's vehicles, extricate her, and then, for reasons which still escape me, you decided to provide emergency therapy to a criminal?"
"Um -" Armsmaster hesitated. The mask made it difficult to tell, but Emily got the distinct impression that he felt rather sheepish. "Not exactly…"
He led her to the tank that was the latest of Squealer's attempts to squash the jaywalkers of Brockton Bay. It was frightfully ugly, Emily thought - even out of commission, it was a jungle of spikes, chains, and artillery, with nothing even approaching a cohesive design philosophy.
Then Armsmaster cut a slice of wing mirror off and handed it to her.
"It's red velvet." he said, as she stared, gobsmacked, at the newly-edible vehicle before her. "Apparently, it's quite good, for a cake made of car..."
"You're live in five, four, three -"
There had been other reports of surprise cake across the Bay; a lamppost had crumbled, literally, into the ocean, and a tree had shed mint chocolate leaves in Prospect Park. That suggested a cape with some ability to surpass the Manton limit - and all the comedy value in the world didn't stop that from being terrifying for Emily.
Parahumans had taken away her friends, her health, and her figure - she should really have expected that her dignity would come next.
"Good evening, residents of Brockton Bay." she said, eyes fixed on the teleprompter. "The PRT has chosen to issue a live broadcast in response to the events of earlier today, following an incident which took place on the Boardwalk. We do not know whether we are witnessing the acts of a new villain; please remain vigilant, and do not engage with suspected capes."
Okay, easy bit down, Emily thought. Now - straight face, serious demeanor -
"The PRT's current suspicion is that a new and powerful shaker has recently triggered in Brockton Bay. To that end, we urge all citizens to stay alert, and report to the PRT any incidents of -"
She steeled herself.
"- unexpected cake manifestation. I repeat, if an object appears to have turned into cake without warning, I urge you to report this to the PRT with all due haste. You must not eat the cake, as you may be destroying valuable evidence - it is imperative that the PRT has access to all parahuman baked material in order for our investigations to proceed smoothly. Thank you for your cooperation."
The tally light flicked off, and she sagged in her chair. Emily was not a parahuman - the only thing she'd ever asked Panacea to do for her, in fact, was confirm that she didn't possess the Corona Pollentia. And yet, somehow, she could almost physically sense the memes appearing on PHO.
Once the camera crew had been dismissed, she stood up, strolled to her office window, and spent a restful ten minutes staring out at the roiling ocean, allowing herself the luxury of not thinking about what had just happened. Then, with enormous reluctance, she eased herself back into her chair, heaved a sigh, and pressed the intercom button.
"Alright, Miss Militia." she said. "What's the damage?"
The intercom was silent for a few painfully long seconds.
"Well, the internet has decided to call you the Cake Boss - the memes are horrendous. I'd advise against doing an image search on that topic for the next, um, forever..."
Okay, Taylor, I thought. You can do this - you control your power, not the other way around. You are a strong, independent cape.
I was holding a knife, though hardly a dangerous one - not that it had to be. Sweat beading on my forehead, I eyed up the calculator I'd salvaged from Winslow's math department, carefully placed my knife across it, and, gently, pressed the blade across the keys.
You are not a cake, I thought. You are an electronic device, made in Japan, for putting numbers together. You. Are. Not. A. Cake.
The knife punched a series of digits into the calculator, but nothing else happened.
"Yes!" I whooped, tossing the knife aside. "Take that, idiot power! I'm the one who calls the shots!"
I pounded the table in glee, and heard a muted squish.
I looked down.
I'd accidentally flattened my new calculator cake across the desk.
Quite a while later, after I'd calmed down, I wiped an absent-minded finger across the desk for a taste of my latest creation (passionfruit sponge with a white chocolate ganache - delicious, like always), and thought about my next move. I had now tried every trick in my book, not to mention most of the supposedly useful tips I'd mined from PHO, to get my power under control - and all I had to show for it was a bookshelf full of novelty cakes, a fondant pillow, a pair of blondie trainers, and, now, a search order from the PRT.
That was all well and good when I was stopping a dangerous tinker out of self defense, like I had earlier today - I wasn't interested in being crushed by a tank while I looked at outfits I could never pull off, thank you very much - but I still wanted the ability to choose when the cakening happened.
"It's time to call this in, isn't it." I muttered, and pulled my hoodie on. If I wanted my life back and an escape from the otherwise inevitable Type 2 diabetes that was surely on my horizon, I needed help from real heroes - even though they were definitely going to think my powers were moronic.
Alright, I thought, you haven't technically done anything wrong, and you have nothing to be afraid of. The PRT are going to help you sort this power.
I dialed the PRT helpline, and jammed the phone booth receiver against my ear to try and compensate for the feeble connection (I'd have used the home phone, but it was currently battenberg). The call took much longer than I'd expected to go through - had there been a supervillain fight, I wondered?
Finally, several minutes of hold music later, I got through to an operator. At last, my journey to herodom could begin!
"Yes?" the operator snapped. "I mean, that is - hello, this is the PRT, what is your emergency?"
I hadn't expected the irritation, but I supposed that it might have been a particularly busy night.
"Uh - I'm calling because I have a lead on the cakes-" I began, before being swiftly interrupted.
"Oh, for God's sake - you do understand we're doing a real job here? I know it must be really funny for you that there's a baker on the loose, but we're trying to deal with an actual city with actual problems, and whatever bunkum tale you want to tell us isn't clever or funny. The PRT isn't a joke, and neither am I, and I deserve to be treated with respect…"
I held the receiver away from my ear and let the operator rant for a bit, which was probably good for her mental health. I'd seen some of the memes on PHO which had gone up after the Director's appeal for information, but I didn't realize that I'd managed to annoy the entire organisation in the space of one afternoon. Clearly, I needed to take a more direct approach.
"Look." I cut the operator off. "When I said I had a lead, I meant that I'm the cake creator. It me. I want to talk to someone, or hand myself in, or whatever. Okay?"
That shut her up for a bit, to my inordinate pleasure.
"And you can prove this?" She said, a tad more subdued.
I glanced around, and focused on a dumpster across the street - an indefinable feeling crept across me, and I knew it had worked. Not that it ever didn't - the problem was getting it not to.
"Well, I just made a cake out of garbage, all ready for you to inspect." I said. "Look, I'm at the corner of Fifth and Buchanan - can you send someone to meet me? I want to talk to you guys - that is, someone a bit higher up the ladder, no offence."
There was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. "Fine, we can see if you're legit. Stay where you are: you can expect to see a PRT representative in -" there was some aggressive tapping. "A minute and a half. Thank you for your patience."
And with that, she hung up on me, which I was pretty certain wasn't normal procedure. Must have been a pretty frustrating evening for her, I thought, then panicked a little - I'd expected to be given a meeting time in a couple of days, not a couple of minutes, and I didn't have anything approaching a mask!
I scurried across the street, and levered a strip of fondant icing off the dumpster. It was pretty sturdy stuff, and I was able to fold it around my head, squeeze the back together, and poke out eyeholes - certainly not a perfect fit, but it'd do in a fix.
It was a good thing I'd improvised so quickly, because a moment later, a blur resolved itself into Brockton Bay's very own Assault.
I hailed him over - not that there was anybody else around - and he sauntered over to meet me.
"So." he said. "You're the pastry purveyor? The baker shaker? The cake cape? The fondant commandant?"
He grimaced. "Yeah, I'm not too pleased with fondant commandant either. I assume you're the cape of a pastry persuasion, though - got a name?"
I pulled myself together. It turned out that one of Brockton Bay's premier heroes was a massive dork, which made me feel a bit better about the situation.
"I haven't actually picked a hero name yet, no. But, yeah, that's right - I wanted to talk to you guys because, well, it's all got a bit out of hand."
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the oven, that's what I always say." Assault nodded sagely. "But, and with all the deference necessary to ask this of someone with dark baking powers, can you prove that you're cake-capable? I've already had to deal with two lonely housewives who just wanted to share their pastry with me, if you know what I mean, and you're a bit young for that, plus I'm married -"
I blanched and blushed simultaneously, which had the convenient result of making me look unphazed by that comment. Momentarily speechless, I pointed him to the dumpster.
"Give that a try." I said, and offered him my knife. "Just chop anywhere - and yes, I know, it looks very realistic. That's just how my power works."
For some reason, people just didn't seem to be able to tell that my cakes were cakes until they'd cut into them to find out. I suppose it might have been a stranger effect, but if that was true I really wanted to have a word with the powers that were, because I imagine that'd make me the most useless grab-bag cape of all time.
Sure enough, Assault carved off a hunk of dumpster (black forest gateau, liberally soaked in kirsch), and gasped theatrically.
"I have found The One!" he proclaimed - capitalization fully audible - and turned back to me. "Assuming you called us because you wanted to be found?"
"Yeah." I nodded. "I need to figure out my power - it's making my life a nightmare, and I need your help to work out how to use it. And what do you mean, The One?"
He looked me up and down.
"Things hit me hard, then I hit things hard. It's not easy to be a comedy hero with that power-set, you know? But you, on the other hand - with the right prep, you could probably be the next Mouse Protector!"
Have you ever been told that your powers are a joke by a respected superhero? Because I have, and it's extremely annoying.
"That's all I've wanted since I was a child - to be a super-figure of fun." I said, flatly. "Can you take me to whoever wants to talk to me? I do still have school tomorrow, you know."
And I don't want to be outed because I can't stop caking things, I didn't say.
In fact, it was only next morning that I was ushered into a waiting room at PRT headquarters, now with a - more appropriate - cloth mask. Cooperative capes were apparently a rarity - so rare that Assault had asked for my autograph, because the man apparently liked to put the punch in punchline - and they hadn't felt it necessary to call the Director back to her office in the evening on short notice.
Apparently, "assisting the PRT with inquiries" was an acceptable sick note for excusing absence at Winslow, and a day away from the place was hardly something I was going to turn my nose up at. I hoped that the trio wouldn't find out about my reason for skipping - they'd probably say that I'd been arrested for selling drugs, or something. Hell, they'd probably say that anyway, I guessed; in fairness (not that they deserved fairness), that probably was true for most people who ended up "assisting the PRT", given Winslow's impressive collection of baby gang members. Anyway, if I played my cards right, I might not have to worry about them for much longer.
After half an hour in a stuffy waiting room which, to my considerable satisfaction, I was able to leave entirely unbaked, I was eventually ushered into a stark, if spacious, corner office. My host for the day, I realized with some trepidation, was Director Piggot herself. I'd only seen the Director a few times on television - she cut an imposing figure in every sense of the word, including the unflattering ones.
She had quite a stormy expression - easily a ten on the Beaufort scale. PHO thought that I was a joke, but they'd made her the butt of it, mostly because of her weight - I couldn't imagine that I had done wonders for her professional reputation. Not that I'd personally made her talk about how the PRT needed all the cake and nobody else was allowed to eat it, but still.
"So," the Director said, after I'd taken a seat. "You're Ganache, then?"
I'd had to come up with a name for the meeting on short notice, and creative nomenclature has never been my strong suit.
"Yes." I said, clamping down on my nerves. "And, um, I wanted to apologize -"
"That can wait - though it certainly wouldn't hurt." she said, and pressed a button on her desk. "First, though, we need you to answer some questions."
Before I could ask about the 'we', a side door slid open, and an armored figure clomped into the room - with a thrill of excitement, I realized that this had to be Armsmaster.
I was a professional, though, so I said, as coolly as I could, "Armsmaster, I presume?" and hoped that the squeak in my voice wasn't too pathetic.
"Ganache, it's good to meet you." he said, and presumably pretended not to notice me cringing at the terrible name I'd forced on myself. "I'll be assisting the Director with her inquiries today."
If I'd been more on the ball, I'd have asked how he was going to do that, but the Director was already letting loose a horde of questions.
Most of these were pretty rote - why had I used my powers on Squealer's tank (self-defense), how long had I had them (approaching my two-week anniversary), was I underage (a reluctant yes, though I was pleased they'd thought it needed asking), and so on. Occasionally, the director looked at Armsmaster to see if he agreed - but apart from his occasional nods, he didn't seem to be taking part in events, and I was more than a bit confused by his presence.
"Are you aware of how dangerous your powers are?"
That, on the other hand, was a more pointed question. And a wrong-headed one.
"I don't want to undersell myself, but I just make cake out of things." I said. "It's hardly likely to threaten the stability of society, is it? My problem is that I can't control the damn thing - it bakes stuff whether I want it to or not, and I can't seem to stop it."
The question made me pretty nervous. Surely there was something I was missing, given how leading it had been?
The Director glanced at Armsmaster again.
"That's tr-" he began, before pausing, voice trailing off in confusion.
Oh, god. I don't know why it had happened, but I had a horrible feeling that -
Very carefully, hand wavering, Armsmaster reached up to his helmet and snapped off a piece of his new hard-candy visor.
There was a horrendous suspended moment of silence, followed by pure, unmitigated chaos. Armsmaster vaulted over the Director's desk and grabbed me by the lapels, while the Director jabbed at another button on her desk and muttered furiously into an intercom.
"Turn it back!" he yelled, pulling me half out of the seat. "TURN IT BACK!"
"I'm sorry!" I shouted back, officially panicking."I swear - I can't control it, and I don't know how to fix it!"
"I'd be able to tell if that was true," Armsmaster roared, shaking me, "if you hadn't just turned my helmet - my FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLAR HELMET - into dessert!"
It was around then that - I presume at Director Piggot's command - a pair of uniformed troopers burst into the room and hosed me and my childhood hero down with containment foam.
In moments, we were both completely encased - which was enough for my claustrophobia to trigger and set off my power, transmuting the foam, the chair, and most of the office, starting off a tirade from the Director so severe that I could hear it clearly through the sponge cake which I was now trapped inside.
My first day of being a hero was off to a flying start.
AN: Trying something new! Expect this to be short, like the crust of a lemon tart, and sweet, like the filling.