Brockton Bay, NH, USA
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
My aura changed and twisted like the cog of some great machine. the gear turned and a new connection was made. The new type was nearly as enthralling to me as fighting. Bug: Eos' type.
As I settled down to sleep, I considered all the different pokemon I could become. I loved Eos. Truly and completely. But… I thought about the role Eos played on my team, namely that of my heavy flying artillery. A single Hurricane could scatter a veritable sandstorm of combustible scales across an entire valley before it all detonated in a majestic blaze of glory.
No, perhaps turning into a volcarona was not the best idea. I still had to live in this city if nothing else.
'But if not a volcarona, what else?' I wondered to myself. Scizor. Heracross. Pinsir. Vikavolt. Scolipede. Yanmega. Bug had a deceptively large pool of combat-viable pokemon.
There was of course ribombee. It was commonly used by rangers in Alola as field medics and scouts. As long as no one was allergic to pollen, it could do a decent job of working at the hospital if I wanted to do that.
Another option was to visit the base. Crustle and durant were amazing diggers who could easily excavate another room. Or perhaps Emily would like a second entrance somewhere? That way, if something ever happened to the ferry station, she would still have a place to stay.
Or… more silk. So many pokemon could learn String Shot. Not just snom as I'd used, but ariados, the quintessential spider. There was an idea. Would Emily like a silk hammock?
The more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that as cool as fighters like scizor were, the primary allure of the bug type was in its producers. Silks. Wax. Honey. All sorts of powders.
'Yes,' I decided, my mind made up, 'tomorrow would be a production day.'
I was so excited for all the things I could make that school passed in the blink of an eye. I received some strange looks from Dean in English and over lunch, but I passed it off as something that happened at home. I wasn't even lying. Marcus' crew apparently won their dance battle, for whatever it was worth to me.
The first thing I did after school was rush off to this world's equivalent of Silph co. Apparently it was called Walmart. I didn't get this world sometimes. How could a single company have so much money and still be so hopelessly soul-sucking? At least Silph did something useful with their hard-fleeced wealth.
There, I bought several sets of plastic containers in varying sizes and lugged them back to base.
I was lucky enough to find a quiet place to sneak into the ferry station. I walked back into the far hallway and chucked my purchases down the chute.
"Eep!" I heard.
"Blake? What the hell?" she called up.
I scurried down the ladder to find my curly-haired friend leaning against one corner, reading. "Sorry, I didn't think you'd be down here. I thought you hung out at the library."
"I did, but then you gave me my own battery and light so I don't have to spend so much time that everyone starts asking awkward questions. It's kind of running low though. Can you charge it for me?"
"Yeah, sure. Give me a sec. Shift, charjabug."
I grinned as my body shrank. My limbs were replaced by knobby feet and I felt my body become encased in a hard exoskeleton. I was, all told, about a foot and a half long and a foot high.
"Eww, are you a grub?"
I did my best approximation of a shrug, which was basically just a little wobble. "Ehh, more like the pupa, the middle stage."
"Why are you a grub?"
"Pupa. And so I can charge your batteries. You did ask."
"I meant could you take them home and charge them overnight…"
"Yes, but your friend is awesome now let me… go… charge… them…" I crawled. And crawled. And realized that pupa, even magic aura-enhanced pupa, weren't very good at moving around. "A little help?"
"Do I… have to touch you…?"
I sighed. "Yes, Emily. Pick me up and carry me to the camping power station. Then your flashlight. And whatever else needs charging."
I felt something nudge my back, then I was rolled onto my side. "Are you using your foot?"
"Hey, bugs are gross, okay? Are bugs your theme today?"
"Yeah, so get over it and pick me up, woman."
"Ugh, fine." I felt two hands wrap around my carapace. "Happy?"
"Yes, this is what I wanted, to be in the arms of a beautiful woman," I drawled, dry as a flygon's asscrack.
The actual charging process was simple. I placed my specially adapted mandibles to the ports and let instinct take over. There was a reason vikavolts sometimes carried charjabugs to use as batteries after all.
"You know, now that I'm used to looking at you, you're kind of cute like this," Emily mused as she rapped the "lenses" of my carapace with a knuckle. "Like, butt-ugly, but cute because you're ugly, you know?"
I shifted back and stared at her disapprovingly. "Laugh it up. I'm going to need your help anyway so it's good that I caught you here."
She looked at my hardened eyes, then at the bag full of empty containers. "Umm… Can I get out of this if I apologize?"
"But… I don't like bugs…"
"Don't care. Help me."
"Aww… Don't I need some special protective gear?"
"I bought you gloves so you could handle my Alolan ninetales form. Wear that and I'll wrap your arms in silk. You won't need any other protection."
"I'll pay you."
"No, no, I'll do it for free."
I shook my head. "Nope. I expect this to be an all-day affair. That means for the next few hours. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't pay you. Think of this like a job."
"Okay… Thanks, Blake."
Once a minute wore on by, I swapped back to a snom and had her hold out her hands.
"Jacket, Em. Unless you want silk all over that too."
"You could have explained better," she pouted.
"But then I wouldn't get to see your pouting. It's cute. Like a chipmunk."
"You're a jerk, Blake."
"But you love me anyway. Now strip."
She pulled her jacket off and held out her bare arms. "Ugh, whatever."
"Good, now hold still." I molded some silk in my mouth and began to coat her arms liberally, all the way up to her biceps before shifting back. "This will protect you in case you have to touch something dangerous."
"I promise nothing is going to hurt you."
"Fine, let's get this over with. What's up first?"
I handed her the plastic containers. "First off, you're going to take a container and hold it. I'm going to shake a bunch of pollen and powders into the thing. That's all. Not dangerous, see?"
She raised a dainty hand. "What if I'm allergic to pollen?"
I stared at her flatly. "You're kidding."
"I mean, not super allergic, but I do sneeze. Here, I have an idea." She wrapped her jacket around her face and tied it tight behind her head. "Ta-da!"
"Okay, great. Shift, ribombee!"
"Awww, you're so cuuttteee!"
"Emily, the box."
"Can I hug you?"
"Box. And you're allergic."
"Box," I stressed.
"Fine," she pouted. "Here, your bossiness."
"Pollen Puff." I generated a yellow puff of pollen and tossed it into the plastic container. We worked like this for several minutes when I noticed her shoulders shaking. "Are you okay? You didn't breathe anything in, did you?"
"No, I'm trying not to laugh because you look like Tinkerbell with little golden pom-poms."
I couldn't see her face, but I just knew she had on a shit-eating grin. I sighed and decided to just enjoy the fact that she felt comfortable sassing me. Better this than her walking around on eggshells around me because she was too afraid that I might kick her out.
By the end of the hour, we'd filled up almost two whole containers with Pollen Puff. I decided it was good enough.
The second hour was… It was a disaster. I shifted into a butterfree to try and get a few doses of Sleep Powder on hand. Even though caterpie were as common as dirt, their evolved forms were highly sought after by rangers for this one move. Massive area denial and crowd control was useful in practically every situation.
Unfortunately, we barely managed to acquire two quarts before Emily started to feel drowsy. And it wasn't as though I could control the Sleep Powder with any finesse.
Her jacket must have come loose because she began to wobble. I laid her down on her sleeping bag and was forced to wait for the powder to wear off. I spent the rest of that hour just cleaning the residual powder off the floor so we wouldn't have this problem again.
Emily woke up about forty minutes later, arms stretched in a back-cracking yawn. "That was an excellent nap."
"Glad one of us had a good time," I grumbled.
"Yeah, sorry, guess I didn't tie the jacket tight enough. I'm ready to go again if you are."
The third hour thankfully went without by without any problems. I decided to switch to ribombee again in the hope that a smaller wingspan will help me control the powder spread.
By the end, I acquired another two containers worth of Stun Spore.
Then, I turned into an ariados. A spider taller than three feet at the shoulder understandably freaked Emily out. Minor heart attack later, she was ready to help.
I wanted to maybe keep some of this silk for emergencies. It was a wonderful material. It wasn't as comfy as snom silk, but it was all but completely stab-proof. Even scyther struggled to cut it in significant quantities.
If I could get Sabah to weave this and the snom silk in some kind of hybrid fabric…
It'd even be good to have just to choke someone out. Or as climbing rope. Really, rope was always nice.
I was ready to spit silk over Emily's arms. She'd twist once I was done, then place the pre-made spool into a container. We didn't get that far because shit went to hell in a handbasket.
My head began to ring. It started as a dull drone. I let out a chittering groan as I retreated from Emily.
"Uuu," I moaned. It was getting worse. What started as a dull ache became a more pointed throbbing. My legs went to my head as I nursed my headache.
"Blake? You're scaring me."
"Sorry, give me a minute. Head hurts."
I suppressed a cry as the headache became an overwhelming command: COME. GATHER.
A psychic intrusion. But.. How? Were there other pokemon here? And how'd they find me?
COME, it insisted.
Fuck no. Fuck this. I was Blake motherfucking Isley. I was an aura master. I raised one of the most powerful psychics in the world, a gardevoir so absurdly strong that when she retired, she took over all of Petalburg Woods as her personal fae court.
I knew better. I'd learned better. Titania and I spent countless hours honing each other's mind just as Luca and I honed each other's bodies.
I refused to obey!
Aura pulsed in my soul as I broke the link. A pulse of unrelenting will loosed itself from me, traveling down the connection. It was like a gas fire set along a spider thread, burning the connection wholesale.
"Whoever that was, I'd bet they felt that," I huffed as I shifted back.
"What?" Emily looked at me with her doe-like eyes, worry shining through.
"Someone or something pulsed in my mind. It tried to make me go to it."
"A master effect?"
Her whole body stilled. "A-Are we safe?"
"Yeah. If you didn't feel anything, it meant that was only effective on bugs. Or maybe spiders."
"Oh," she sagged with relief. "Are we finished for the day?"
"Yeah, I don't feel safe gathering materials right now."
"I'm going to follow the connection," I told her. It was there. It was faint ever since I shifted back, but I could feel the general tug of where the burnt thread once lead.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Yeah. You stay here, Em."
"But if they control bugs what are you going to do?"
I winked before shoving my helmet back on my head. "Don't worry, I've got a few more tricks."
I climbed up the chute and began to run towards the pulling sensation. I had to find the threat. If they knew who I was, I would either have to fix that… somehow…
At this point, it was the unknown more than any actual threat that moved me to action.
I ran out onto the street and began to dash towards the connection. It was fading fast. I wasn't a bug anymore and I'd been thorough in tearing the psychic bond to shreds.
"North," I muttered.
I scanned the crowd. They couldn't have gone far. They were calling every bug. Every single one. I couldn't even begin to imagine how taxing that would have been for a psychic in my world. Save Titania herself and the legendary pokemon, I could count perhaps six or seven at most who would be powerful enough and skilled enough to pull off such a widespread network of psychic links.
More importantly, if they were trying to gather all bugs to them, they'd have to wait. Likely somewhere out of the way.
I began a brisk walk north, looking for anyone like that. Then, I saw her leaning against an alleyway. She was a year or two younger than me with long, dark hair held in an unintrusive bun. She was tall for a girl, maybe an inch taller than me. Her head was braced limply against the cool brick wall as if nursing a killer migraine.
The last whisps of her attempted psychic link pointed towards her. She was the one.
'Okay, Blake,' I thought. 'I found the mystery psychic. Now what?'
She… She didn't look like much, this girl that tried to control me. That was an impressive feat of psychic strength, if it was her at all. I read the papers. I wasn't the studious sort, but even I could see that there was something rigid about parahumans. Some of their powers could seemingly rival the Legends, but they all lacked the flexibility. "Mastery" for a parahuman meant restraint, whereas for a pokemon, it meant pushing boundaries. Getting stronger.
This girl was the one who tried to control me? She looked so frail. More than that, she looked broken. Worn down and downtrodden like the pavement beneath my feet. It didn't escape my notice that she dressed little better than Emily, an actual homeless girl.
It was like everything she did, she did with the aim of sinking into the background.
No, I decided. This was not the person who attacked me because that was not an attack. I wasn't not looking at a master manipulator, but a young parahuman learning to control her power.
And I took her psychic link and did the equivalent of drenching it in gasoline before lighting it on fire.
A migraine was completely understandable.
Now that I saw her, I could feel a part of myself stirring. It was the same part that saw Emily and had to help. My "saving people thing." But… How?
She clearly didn't want to be found.
I ruminated for a bit then decided that I'd speak her language. Literally. I walked a block away and ducked into another alley.
I floated up to a rooftop and settled down to scan the city.
My mind exploded.
I saw it all. I saw a father buying hot dogs out of a stand for his kids. I saw Glory Girl floating off near the Medhall building. I saw and saw and saw some more. It was like I could sense every mind in the city, a full six miles of coverage in every direction.
I saw so much, but restrained myself. I leashed back my expanding awareness, quashing my nearly all-consuming desire to know more. Instead, I focused on a single curiosity: the girl.
That was when the same probe returned.
'All bugs then,' I thought to myself, 'not just spiders.'
Orbeetle weren't as popular as alakazam or gardevoir, but they were hardly pushovers as psychics. More importantly, they were natural telepaths. Psychic power expressed itself in different ways and orbeetles were uniquely suited for information gathering in every way.
Subverting this level of connection was easily within my newfound capabilities. I twisted the psychic connection with Telepathy and strengthened it. It was akin to reinforcing a single spider thread with thicker weaves.
I reached out and touched her mind.
'Hello, little girl. Are you well?' I thought at her. It was a strange sensation that was different from my experiences with Titania. A difference in worldview, I concluded. An orbeetle just saw the world in ways that a normal human or gardevoir didn't.
'W-Who are you? What are you? How? GET OUT!'
I sighed. She was panicking. Already. Was she so arrogant as to initiate an indiscriminate telepathic call then expect no one to answer?
I shook my head, admonishing myself. Of course she was. She was a parahuman. She likely had no idea how her ability worked, if she had a modicum of control in the first place.
She'd require a patient touch.
'Be calm, girl. I am Menagerie, an independent hero. Perhaps you have heard of me? I heal people at the hospital.'
'No you're not. Menagerie isn't a thinker. Get out!'
'Menagerie is a powerful changer whose forms have a diverse range of abilities.' I sent her an information packet. The mind was not such a clear-cut thing. Words were often tied to impressions and memories inextricably. I sent her the image of an orbeetle, alongside the memory of myself changing. 'As you can see, I am indeed Menagerie.'
'What? How did you do that?'
'I have a great many forms, as I told you. One happens to be capable of telepathy, and not your haphazard attempt at it.'
'My ability is just bug control, not telepathy.'
'And you do that through whistling do you?'
The impression I got from her was of an indignant huff. That was good. I'd rather have her annoyed than panicking. 'You're a bug.'
'At the moment.'
'You… You were the one I tried to control!'
'I was a creature called an ariados.' Another image was sent her way. 'That hurt by the way. That was a form I used to make loads of thread, certainly not to handle mental combat. I thought I was being attacked.'
'I noticed… You… cut the connection…?'
'That's right. I have a rather strong will, you see. In any case, what are you doing? What could you possibly want with so many insects?'
'Spiders,' she grumbled. 'I was trying to pick up spiders to make silk with so I could weave my own costume. And then I noticed a connection that wasn't there before.'
'Ah, that certainly explains it.'
'C-Can I meet you?'
'Oh? Meet me?'
'Y-You moved the tanker, too, right?'
Her mind shifted. It was subtle but noticeable, akin to a girl shyly shuffling in her seat. Her attitude towards me was significantly more positive now. 'Dad works for the Dockworker's Association. He said that the tanker being moved was the best thing to happen in the Bay in years.'
'I didn't do it for him,' I told her. 'Truth be told, I don't have a high opinion of the dockworkers. Weren't they the same fools who decided to ground the tanker in the first place? Over a worker's strike?'
'Whatever the case, the tanker was damaging this city's ability to recover and so I decided to move it. That is all. Thanks is unnecessary.'
'I still appreciate it. So does dad.'
It was a spur of the moment thing. I wasn't sure if I should, but if meeting her meant I could help her out, then it was a worthwhile trade. 'Yes,' I said.
'Yes, I'll meet you. Do you know of a neutral place?'
'I… Fairfield Park, two blocks north of Hillside Mall. Do you know it?'
'Yes. Would you like to meet there?'
'Around the tables with chessboards carved into them. No one ever goes there during the weekdays.'
'Fair enough. I will be wearing an orange helmet and black jacket. Come find me.'
'Huh? I'm only a block away.'
My carapace opened up, unveiling my transparent wings. 'I promise I'm faster. See you there.'
I flew there and landed behind the public restroom before shifting back. I didn't want to draw attention to the fact that Menagerie was meeting some girl. It wouldn't be a big leap to assume she was a parahuman.
A minute later, I saw The girl reach the park. She looked at me with wary eyes. Her walk was uncertain, what confidence she'd regained in our conversation gone with the wind.
"Hello, Menagerie?" she asked tentatively as she took a seat.
"That's right. To prove it, I just told you that dockworkers were fools."
"So you said. Hello," I teased gently. "What's your name?"
"It's Ta- It's Theresa."
I rolled my eyes from under my helmet. The unwritten rules… They were so obscure most of the time, then showed up in moments like these, seemingly for no other purpose than to get on my nerves.
It'd almost be more preferable if the girl was better at lying. "It's a pretty name," I told her.
I leaned forward and began to fiddle with a pawn piece. "So, you wanted to meet me. Here I am. What did you want to talk about?"
"You didn't think that far ahead?"
She nodded shyly. It was kind of cute, if in a "shrinking violet" sort of way. "Okay, I'm going to talk then and you can jump in with some questions. First off, when did you get powers?"
She froze. As expected. No one liked talking about their triggers. "This month…"
"Same here. Happy New Year's, right? Well… I'm going to give you the same speech that was given to me. What do you know of the unwritten rules?"
"Umm… no unmasking?"
"True. And I'm glad you were smart enough to give me that silly fake name, Theresa, but I suggest you get better at lying."
"I know. I'm just teasing. It was a spur of the moment thing. I get it. Well, the unwritten rules are a bit more broad than that, and a lot more complicated. No unmasking, yes. But also no murder. No rape. No sexual assault of any kind for that matter. Make sense?"
"Isn't that… common sense?"
"You'd be surprised how often the unwritten rules get violated. In my case, it was accidental on my part, but here we are."
"Anyway, another big one is 'no escalation.' Basically, if you fight someone, be prepared to be greeted with the same amount of force you use. If you punch someone, expect to get punched. If you pull a gun, well, you better be bulletproof."
"Wil the gangs follow that?"
"For the most part, yeah. Some won't. I doubt Hookwolf or Oni Lee care, but a lot of others understand that escalating a fight will mean more attention to yourself."
"How do you know? You haven't been in a fight either."
"No, and that's by choice. I'll say one last thing about the unwritten rules: They exist so long as people agree on them. But, if you give a faction any reason to believe they can get away with violating the rules, they will."
"The heroes wouldn't do that."
"They might. Are you willing to trust their goodwill?" Silence was my answer. "Good. You're smart. So, next topic. What's the plan?"
I waved at her. "You. All of you. What's the plan?"
"I want to be a hero," she said. It was something in her eyes. There was a near manic gleam in them that spoke of determination. Or perhaps it would be better described as fevered obsession.
"A hero, huh? Alright. You can control all bugs in an area, right? Yours truly excluded?"
She slumped. "It's not a heroic power."
"It isn't. It's definitely not as flashy as Lady Photon's. Or Glory Girl's. But it's a versatile power. One that'd be great for all sorts of things like scouting. You said you were looking for spiders to weave yourself a costume?"
"What if you became a support hero? Stay in the background and scout. Make stab-proof vests for PRT and police. Use your bugs to sniff out drugs and gunpowder. Maybe even specialize in containment. Silk is very strong after all, and you've got to have access to poisons. These all sound like things Lady Photon can't do. Things the Protectorate might desperately want."
"I can't," she whispered.
"Why? You didn't hurt anyone, did you?"
"No! I'd never! It's just…"
I saw it then. She had the same eyes that I had once upon a time. She desperately wanted to prove herself. To the city. To other heroes. To herself most of all.
"You don't want to be just a face in the crowd," I finished for her. "You want to get out there and make a difference. You want to prove to them, whoever 'them' is. You want to prove it to yourself."
"Yeah…" It was a whisper, as if she was afraid to admit it to herself.
I considered it. What could a new parahuman do? the obvious option was to join the Wards, but she didn't seem like the type to do thrive there. This was a girl who was beaten down, who did everything to avoid being the center of attention. Even now, I could see her sinking into her seat, as if begging for the concrete to swallow her.
"How 'bout a few patrols?"
"With me. I can show you the ropes."
She looked at me skeptically. "You don't even have a costume. Have you even been on a patrol?"
'She's got a point,' I thought wryly. "It'll be a learning experience for the both of us. Besides, a patrol with a partner is much safer, don't you agree?"
"If you're still not convinced, I can drag Glory Girl in too. She did tell me she wanted to go on patrol with me."
That got her to dig in her heels. "I'm good. I just want to finish my costume first."
"I understand. I'm going to leave you my number. If you want to, we can meet up someday, okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Menagerie."
"No problem, Theresa."
"I'll have a proper name by then."
I got up and began to walk off. "Sure, sure. Whatever you say."
I got the impression that she'd call me sooner or later.
Dinner came and went and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on homework. Cape life was not conducive to academics. Though to be fair, I wasn't exactly a stellar student even before I became a cape.
After a quick shower, I took the time to lie back and reflect on my day. All things considered, I did alright. I stocked up on powders, freaked out Emily for a good laugh, and met Theresa.
So, Taylor. We rolled a nat-1 for luck so I made them roll several WIS saves to not get mind-fucked. They passed the CHA save to leave a decent enough impression on her.
Not gonna lie, chat was a fucking shitfest trying to decide what to do with Taylor. I have some plans of my own of course, but the point of a quest is that I be willing to let myself be derailed. Taylor's still trying to make a costume so it's going to be a while before she properly takes her place as our glorious Queen of Escalation, but ehh.
Now for the animal facts... Don't know if I used this one already (I make a lot of these), but some varieties of spiders, especially jumpers, have metal deposits in their teeth that make them fracture-resistant. Scorpions, crabs, and funnily enough, beavers, also have metal deposits in claws and teeth.
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