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Generated: Feb 16, 2019 1:32 AM
Post last updated: Feb 16, 2019 1:32 AM
robot army
Lorica lands in sentinels!mutant world
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Lorica's out of town; she's been loaned to the Minneapolis team who are having a Stranger problem. Not all their villains are Strangers, though. For example, this combo she's run into seems to be a Tinker and a Blaster.

Her skillset doesn't dovetail as well or as familiarly with the locals as it does with her usual team back home. She's called for backup, but she shouldn't have extended herself in this direction this far in the first place, not without a solider sense of who was on call and what they could do.

The blaster misses her and hits some tech and the tech goes nuts and there's a high pitched whine, a bright light -

- and she's somewhere else.

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This particular patch of somewhere else appears to be an abandoned patch of city. Most of the skscrapers are intact, but some have begun crumbling. 

There are no other humans in view, but she can hear mechanical movement not too far off. 

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Rete can't get into the internet from here, which means someplace that never really had it or someplace that's had it cut off. This isn't Nilbog's town, but it could be a Simurghed city - she doesn't recognize it - what language on the signs?

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English, on what signs aren't too corroded to make it out. 

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She doesn't think it's London, though...

She kicks into the air for a better view.

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Some kind of humanoid machine rises out of a chunk of rubble to follow her. 

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She'd like to think that if there were somebody churning out robots in a Simurghed city she would have heard about it but realistically she probably wouldn't. She doesn't have any of her flock here, just the suit, so she doesn't want to get into a confrontation. Does the robot fly?

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The robot does not seem to fly, but it can jump like nobody's business and cling to the sides of buildings like a goat. 

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Well she can fly, so she's just gonna do it a little faster now.

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Another robot bursts out of the side of a skyscraper on a direct intercept course for her. 

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Well, fuck. She's fast, but if there get to be too many of these things she's gonna have a problem. Can Rete find any radio or anything?

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There exist nonzero radio transmissions, but they're super encrypted. 

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Rete can get to work on that; it has more onboard processing than usual since it couldn't talk to the base station from Minneapolis. It won't be that fast though. Meantime she flies away and tries not to get too close to buildings.

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Two robots burst out of buildings on either side of her. 

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How many of these things are there?? She goes up higher, trying to clear the buildings altogether.

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The robots hit each other, but instead of crashing into each other one of them uses the other as a springboard to leap at her. 

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Well that's just not fair. She gives it a solid kick in the head before veering out of its way.

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Its arm shoots out to grab her ankle before she can get out of range--

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And then a voice from the ground yells: "Hey, pick on someone your own size!"

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--at which point all of the robots immediately cease to pay any attention to Lorica, instead focusing on the other girl. 

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- okay. Lorica cannot currently fight giant robots effectively, she's barely a brute 2 and doesn't have a gun or anything on her. Maybe she can do some quick salvage before the other cape gets herself killed and put together something useful. She zips into a skyscraper, one that's already disgorged its robots, looking for electronics or anything she could turn into a gun or explosive.

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Just before the robots converge on her location, the sewer manhole she's standing on turns into what looks like quicksilver and she falls as it wraps itself protectively around her. The robots follow, breaking through the concrete around the hole. 

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There are a lot of old dead electronics in this skyscraper. Given a power source, some might turn out to be less dead than they appear, but all the batteries have long since lost charge and the outlets aren't outletting any power. 

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She can give something a jolt out of her suit. But first she has to assemble it. Stapler spring - copy machine - glue gun, nail gun - laptops, four of them - coffee machine - emergency part compartment in her suit has some toybox ceramic - strip this, fold that, wind this around that, grab a battery out of a cellphone -

She's working faster than she would if she didn't need to have something in ten minutes or be useless, so she has something in five; it's an infrared gun that Rete can aim. She goes back out and follows the bots.

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The bots are in tunnels underground.

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She holds up her arm. Rete twitches the nose of the gun, and sets it to "melt sensitive internals".

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A metal bulge appears in one of the tunnel walls next to Lorica. 

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Welp that looks like something to get out of the way of. Did the gun at least harm the robot?

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The robot goes down. The bulge opens to contain a couple of girls, one of whom is the one who got the Sentinels off Lorica earlier. She makes a beckoning gesture. 

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"Uh - okay," mutters Lorica, and she steps in.

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The bubble snaps shut, and immediately begins speeding away from the robots. 

"That was a close one," the other girl says. "Are you alright?"

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"Fine, are you? I don't know what happened when I nipped off to make this so I could be useful -" She holds up the gun.

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"We're fine, we've just been playing keep-away so we could rescue you before getting out of there."

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"Oh. Thanks. Where are we?"

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"What's left of Detroit."

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"Since when is Detroit like this? Did I time travel?"

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...She glances up and down the outfit. "Dunno, what year was it last you knew?"

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"Late 2004."

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"Oh, wow, yeah, then, by a lot. It's--1980? I think?" She mulls this over. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure."

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"I don't think Detroit was slagged in 1980 either, am I on the wrong Earth?"

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"...You might be on the wrong Earth, if you are expecting cities in the US to not be slagged in 1980."

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"That's before Behemoth even appeared, and this doesn't look like a Behemothed city, more like the Simurgh, who didn't show up until 2002."

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"Behemoth? Simurgh?"

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"I'm on the wrong Earth. Okay. Well. Hi."

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"Hi. Sorry we got overrun by evil robots."

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"I've seen worse. They self-replicate?"

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"Well, they didn't, but then they gained control of the factories that make them."

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"Rookie mistake, don't do that before you're sure of your software. Okay. Their Tinker still kicking?"

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"Their what now?"

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"Whoever built them?"

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"I have no idea. I guess anyone working on the Sentinels is statistically more likely to have survived, since they didn't turn on their creators for a while."

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"How long have these things been running around without Tinker maintenance?"

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"Eight...years...ish?"

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"We didn't find out about the turning on their creators part until a while after it had happened so it's hard to be precise."

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"That is a really long time! They should have been unable to keep up with their own repairs by now."

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"...Why?"

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"They do have some ability to repair each other," Edie clarifies.

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"Sure, some, but eight years is a long time to run without input from the original Tinker. Maybe a different Tinker picked them up."

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"...Okay, so when you say 'Tinker,' what do you actually mean?"

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"On my Earth, the main superhero organization and its associated unpowered supervillain response team use a system of labels to distinguish loose groupings of powers. Tinker is one of those. People who build, assemble, cook, etcetera, those are Tinkers. I'm a Tinker."

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"Weeeee don't have that. I mean, I guess maybe--maybe Hank. But I can't think of anyone else who even maybe qualifies, and the government wouldn't use a mutant to create mutant-hunting robots."

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"You call capes 'mutants' here?"

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"I mean, not every mutant actually has fun powers, but I can't think of anyone who has fun powers who didn't get it from being a mutant."

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"Okay. And nobody involved in making those robots had a power? Are you sure you haven't just... systematically failed to identify Tinkers as being the same kind of thing?"

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"I mean, unless literally all of them except Hank were somehow kept a secret from us..."

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"Data point: Hank used to work for the CIA."

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"...So unless there's something about Tinkers that would let the government pre-emptively get their hands on pretty much all of them, basically no."

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"Can't rule out a weird Trump in play. Where are we going, by the by?"

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"South. Away from all the Sentinels I can feel, I change course a bit when we hit a new one."

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"Okay. I can be useful but I need parts, this thing has maybe two more shots in it," she indicates her heat gun, "before it melts on me, and I left all my robots at home."

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"Next time I feel a dead Sentinel I'll steer over there."

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"Yeah, that'd be great, I bet I can co-opt one pretty good."

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"Just be reeeeaaaaaally careful."

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"If they really were designed by a non-cape, should be easy, regular tech is like Legos, but yeah, I'll be careful."

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"Like legos?"

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"It's just put together so simply! I mean, within my specialty, but that more than covers robots, so we're probably good."

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"...Right, those were that one toy."

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"Yeah. Sorry."

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"S'okay. Better that you didn't do most of your growing up in an apocalyptic wasteland."

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"Seems counterproductive, too, apocalyptic wastelands must trigger tons of capes."

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"...Huh?"

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"You might call it something else, the thing where your powers start after something bad or stressful happens to you?"

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"...No...we were born with them, most people develop them around puberty, lots of people get theirs somewhere in-between?"

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"That's weird. I know Earth Aleph capes work like ours."

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"...When I yelled, the Sentinels didn't just divide their attention, they ignored you completely. You...might not be a mutant at all."

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"I'm a cape. I triggered almost two years ago and I Tinker stuff. My dad's also a cape so I'm second-gen, but I didn't have powers when I was born, and if nothing bad had happened to me till I was twenty-seven I would have triggered then instead."

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"Yeah it sounds like your thing is just completely different."

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"Huh. I wonder why Aleph and Bet are more alike."

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"No idea."

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"Found one. Heading to the surface."

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"Thanks."

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"I was going to need to surface soon anyway, there's no oxygen recycler in this thing."

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"I can probably rig one up with enough parts."

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"That'd be good. I can make a lot of stuff but, like, it's stuff that I was able to practice when Hank was still around and could draw up plans."

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"If your - metallokinesis? - is good enough we'd synergize pretty well."

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"It's very good. I did this," she says, holding up a bracelet that has extremely intricate decorative engravings, "and I've done plenty of circuitboards."

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"Cool. I'll figure out a screen somehow and then my AI can show you stuff I need, if I'm not good enough at describing it. You can talk to the AI while I'm working, if you want, it can talk through my suit and I'm kind of out of it while I'm building stuff."

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"Huh, okay. AI. Is it a person?"

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"I can't feel it, but then I can't feel you either--telepath," she adds.

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"You can't feel me because I have a secondary power that renders me immune to mind-affecting and -detecting abilities, you can't feel Rete because it's not a person, assuming you work on AIs that are people. Do you?"

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"No idea, never met one."

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"We weren't sure if it was an innate power or not, leaning yes; we have an alloy that blocks telepathy but I couldn't feel any on you."

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"I don't think a telepathy blocking helmet is something I can wedge into my skillset."

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"It originally came in the form of a dorky helmet."

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"I like to think mine is snazzy."

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"It's way cooler, at least."

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"Thank you."

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"It belonged to this guy who wanted to start a nuclear war."

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"Gosh. Well, this variety of apocalypse leaves more salvage."

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"Yeah. And it ends at the border, but Canada and Mexico have a shoot-on-sight policy now in case the next escalation happens when a Sentinel chases a mutant over the border."

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"Really. Okay then. And they can't tell who's a mutant and who isn't?"

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"At first the Sentinels just targeted the mutants. Then they targeted mutants and known mutant sympathizers. Then they targeted suspected mutant sympathizers. Then some moron put in an algorithm with which Sentinels could decide who was a potential mutant sympathizer, and the Sentinels decided 'literally everyone except the people who built and deployed us.' Then that safety went out the window. Right now they're constrained by their programming to operate only within the United States, but no one is sure how long that's going to last and no one wants to go the way the US did."

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"And nobody can come in and deal with them? Are they in Hawaii and Alaska too? Puerto Rico?"

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"We don't know, I can build a radio sometimes but we're lucky if we get anything, even if we're barely far enough from the border not to get shot at."

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"Yeah, everything Rete's picking up is encrypted."

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"We're pretty sure that's Sentinel chatter, they coordinate."

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"Maybe I can jam it. The first thing I made was a radar screamer, this wouldn't be that different."

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"That would probably help, they're more dangerous in groups by a wider margin than just multiplying by how many."

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"Yeah, they coordinated like a flock of Rete bots."

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They surface next to the extremely perforated hulk of an inactive Sentinel.

"Let me know when moving something would be helpful."

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"Can you get its armor off? I have emergency tools but they're pretty low power."

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"I'll try to do it with all the pressure sensors intact," she says, and the chassis slowly pries itself apart.

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"Okay. Here goes. Feel free to talk to Rete while I'm in Tinker fugue." And she goes at the parts of the Sentinel.

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"...So...what's up with Tinkers?" Emily asks Rete.

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"Tinkers have powers that allow them to create products within their specialty that mundane engineering cannot replicate," says Rete. "Lorica's specialty is robotics, loosely understood, but our team in Brockton Bay also includes a Tinker whose specialty is drugs and one whose specialty is compact efficient design, and Lorica makes use of a sort of ceramic produced by a Tinker materials engineer."

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"Do you know why mundane engineering can't replicate it?"

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"There are many competing theories," says Rete. "The most widely accepted is that Tinkers are able to outperform mundane precision engineering with some secondary power and their designs invariably rely on those very fine details."

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"Hm...that makes sense. Do people with powers ever look different from people without?"

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"Yes, infrequently. Some called 'case 53' capes are completely unable to pass for unpowered and have very divergent appearances. Others have minor changes, or have them only when using particular power aspects."

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"That's...odd, if they aren't mutants."

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"It's understood to be a normal power variation on Earth Bet, where Lorica is from," says Rete.

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"Is it usually the same between parent and child?"

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"Capes in general can transmit powers, but it is not genetic and can also pass between spouses, and to adopted children, and to other people with whom a cape spends a lot of time," says Rete. "I'm not aware of statistics on case 53s in particular in this characteristic and can't look it up from here."

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"That's...incredibly odd."

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"Evidently the Earths differ considerably in this respect among others. On Bet, powers have existed only since 1982."

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"We don't know how long mutants have been around, but it's longer than that."

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"I would expect the rate of mutation to be approximately constant if you mean the same thing by the word as we would," says Rete.

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"Not exactly--it got called that at the beginning and it stuck, but actually it's a recessive gene."

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"A single gene?"

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"I think it was more complicated--but it's hard to remember, it's not the kind of thing we've had time to worry about since I was, like, six."

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"That makes sense. I'm sorry," says Rete.

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"I--appreciate your sympathy."

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Handsqueeze.

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"Lorica is likely to remain in fugue for the next several hours, but if we are approached by more Sentinels or must move on for other reasons I will be able to find a least-bad time at which to interrupt her," remarks Rete.

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"Okay. How deep is fugue?"

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"She's conscious, and she's interacting with me through her helmet, but she's very focused and in a flow state regarding what she's working on. She may be able to respond to some questions without breaking fugue, and can snap out of it at need with more or less disorientation depending on timing. She can hear you but isn't resolving what you say into words."

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"I meant more like, if I manage to scrounge enough metal, would I be able to wrap up all of us and what she's working on and get out without interrupting her."

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"It would be better if any jostling happened while she wasn't doing precision work, but if you move smoothly this shouldn't interrupt her."

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"I have learned to do a remarkably good smooth over the past decade or so. Okay, let's see how much I can find."

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"Are there any items you'd like me to add as suggestions on her to-do list?" Rete asks.

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"...Something that can hide or disguise biorhythms? The Sentinels will come after us regardless, but if she doesn't have an X-Gene then if the Sentinels can't tell there's a living human body there they probably won't bother with her."

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"That sounds like a good idea," agrees Rete.

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"Probably some variety in any weapons she makes, the Sentinels are really adaptive."

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"She can build that in pretty easily because her specialty is software-controlled tech and giving a weapon more settings it or I can sift through will make it simpler for her to do."

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"...Huh. That's...unintuitive."

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"It is. Lorica does not have engineering abilities or knowhow outside of her power per se, though, so when it stops helping her, she can't proceed. The thing it helps her with is making software with options, which is why I was easy to create and she had to get very roundabout to program a calculator app."

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"Huh. Is there any reason she hasn't studied engineering since getting her power?"

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"She has had the power for only a couple of years, is required by law to attend high school, and has much of the rest of her time filled with her responsibilities to her team."

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"Oh, yeah, high school...exists. I guess her high school probably wouldn't have engineering classes."

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"It has more than an average public high school, but it would become difficult to hide her power in a classroom setting."

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"Hide her power?"

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"The overwhelming majority of parahumans maintain secret identities. She attends school as her civilian identity and is not known therein to have a power."

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"...They're all closeted?"

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"The term isn't used. The intent is to protect civilian family members from spillover of the conflicts capes enter."

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"The conflicts?"

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"Most parahumans are either superheroes or supervillains. Rogues are officially encouraged but rare."

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"...Rogues?"

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"Rogues are capes who are not supervillains or superheroes. I'm sorry, I thought context would be sufficient."

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"It's just very weird that they're called that."

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"I'm afraid I can't look up the etymology from here."

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"So why are they uncommon?"

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"Theories include that the traumatization of Triggers tends to produce extreme personalities, that the legalities of use of parahuman powers in a civilian capacity are intractable, that the Protectorate recruits aggressively enough to turn most people it reaches into an ally or an enemy, and that it's something about the sort of person able to trigger in the first place."

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"...Huh. What about people whose powers are no good for combat, d'you just not have those?"

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"As far as we know, all powers have some combat applicability."

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"Huh. We have people whose powers are, like, 'hyper-efficient digestive system' or 'doesn't sleep.'"

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"There are parahumans who don't sleep or have unusual digestion but not who have no other power."

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"We also have people who have altered physiology but no powers at all."

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"There are parahumans whose only power is something about their body, such as armored skin or things like that."

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"But not, like, 'their skin is blue' or 'reproductive hermaphroditism.'"

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"No, never just those things."

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"Huh."

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"It's a little odd that physical changes are a thing at all, if it's not genetic."

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"Some powers are always-on. Other powers cause physical changes only when they are activated. The intersection is what results in parahumans who always look different."

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"...Huh. Are the changes always related to the power?"

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"It might depend on what you mean by 'related'."

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"Oh?"

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"There is a rogue called Canary who has yellow feathers growing in her hair. Her power relates to singing. This is not directly related but seems thematically appropriate."

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"Yeah...I would love to try to figure out how powers work for you guys but that seems, uh, intractable and comparatively irrelevant compared to the problems that we currently have."

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"Yes," Rete agrees. "I think Lorica has finished her exploratory disassembly and will be able to report on what she needs to make further progress, if anything, soon."

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"Oh, that's good."

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And indeed presently Lorica lifts her head. "These things are pretty cunningly put together for non-Tinkertech, but I think you're right that it really isn't Tinkered. I'm going to need more interesting tools and more software-bearing stuff than what I have onboard in my kit, though. A small pile of salvaged laptops, a solar generator I can use or fix, and forty minutes in a hardware store or several hardware stores nonconsecutively will probably do me to get this up and running Rete, if that's what we want."

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"What's a laptop?"

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"Computer that goes on a lap. I can do it with desktops too but might need more and will probably have to strip them down for portability."

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"Mm. If we had better anti-Sentinel weapons we could raid the school. I could make some stuff like Cerebro and the Blackbird and see if there's anything you can use in them? And we can probably find hardware stores. I don't know where we would find intact computers but I can keep an eye out."

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"What are Cerebro and the Blackbird? And they don't have to be very intact, I can cannibalize some for parts for others."

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"The blackbird is a jet; we used it a lot more when there were more of us but now it's mostly more efficient for me to just grab Edie and fly myself; Cerebro is a telepathic amplifier. They both have nonzero circuits in them but I learned to make them by rote, we didn't really have time for engineering lessons."

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"Well, presumably if there's a useful piece you can make just that piece a lot, that'll help."

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"Yeah, I'm pretty good at duplicating things."

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"I could use more of this," she says, holding up a chunk of Sentinel. "It's a decent processor."

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"Okay," she agrees, and sets about duplicating the indicated object. 

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"Odds on finding a solar generator?" She directs this question slightly Ediewards, since Emily is busy.

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"In the short term, not great, in the medium term, okayish?"

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"Okay. My suit can hold up on the charge it's got for another three weeks on power saver protocols."

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"If you need power before you can get something long-term reliable integrated, Emily's power is magnetism, not ferrokinesis."

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"Okay, yes, that would help a lot, with the suit and everything else too."

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"Okay. How d'you want to do that, I know that too many volts will burn out a circuit..."

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Lorica rattles off specs for the suit's charging apparatus - "but I can build or modify a transformer, do you have those cords with blocks in the middle of them, one of those, I can screw with it and work with most anything on the far end."

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"I think so...there are probably some in the Blackbird if you can describe them well enough for Emily to identify."

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"Transformers are things that take power input and adjust it for the tolerances of something that isn't built to take that kind of juice straight."

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"Honestly I think your first description was probably more useful. What it's made of, what it looks like instead of what it does."

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"Uh, okay - I don't have a projector in the suit or Rete would show you one, only the little hover bots have those... got any paper?"

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"Not as such but I bet Emily can come up with a piece of metal about the same texture as a chalkboard and something anodized or oxidized to use as chalk."

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"Sure, that works."

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"We've gotten pretty good at creative uses of magnetism over the last few years."

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"It seems like a really good power!"

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"It is. Was. Is."

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Nod. "It doesn't work on Sentinels for some reason?"

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"It does sometimes, but they have this--ability to adapt to mutant powers."

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"That really sounds like Tinker bullshit, normal tech shouldn't be able to do things like that, but I guess I don't know how mutant powers work in the first place to know how hard they'd be to counter."

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"Did you see that--little dried-up bit of biological material in the center?"

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"Yeah, but I was black-boxing it, I have a M- Parahuman powers almost always work exclusively on one of living or nonliving things, I do nonliving."

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"It's a culture of tissue from a mutant with really adaptive powers, I don't know how exactly they interface it with the Sentinels but they do."

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"Mm. Do you know where Sentinels are built, is it one factory somewhere or a distribution? Tempted to bomb it to shit."

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"It used to be one factory but now there are more."

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"Like five or like seven thousand, that affects how tempted I am to bomb them to shit."

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"Probably more like seven thousand," says Emily, who has made as many of the thing as she can with the available spare metal. "We run into them all the time. And we used to raid them, when there were more of us, to shut them down and in case the mutant they got the tissue from was still alive. 

"She was our aunt."

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"I'm sorry."

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"Thanks. Anyway, you wanted writing stuff," Emily says, and produces a rectangle and stick that can be caused to interact in relevant ways. 

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Lorica draws a basic transformer, narrating about reasonable variations on the design that would be useful too.

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Emily nods along, figures out which part of the jet it corresponds to, and produces one. 

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"Cool - can you tell me anything about the power-gen aspect of your magnet power?" Lorica asks, cracking the box and starting to take it apart.

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"I can make magnetic fields do whatever, and when 'whatever' is moving in a way that causes electricity to happen, electricity happens. I don't have to consume extra food to do this."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, well, that's actually pretty convenient because I can just make a really responsive transformer," remarks Lorica, "and don't have to work around my power or figure out how to hook it up to Rete without much in the way of circuit boards so that's all to the good... fugueing again now but this shouldn't take me fifteen minutes." And she goes in with her tools.

Permalink Eye

They wait. 

Permalink Eye

Fifteen minutes later she stabs an end of the transformer into a port under a scale in her suit. "Juice me," she said, presenting Emily with the other end.

Permalink Eye

And there are rotating magnetic fields and an extremely short yet powerful lightning bolt hits the end Emily is controlling. 

Permalink Eye

"Thanks, that'll do for now. Should hang onto this though."

Permalink Eye

"Give me some time to study it and I can probably duplicate it, if we need to abandon it for some reason, but yeah."

Permalink Eye

"You probably actually can't - or maybe you'd make one that worked for a second and then fried itself, something like that. Tinker bullshit."

Permalink Eye

"Tinker bullshit is weird but I guess someone who had biokinetic powers would be just as fed up with us."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, you should absolutely try it, but save it for something with a less explodey possible result? Like, when I get to a point where I can churn out more bots for Rete, see if you can do those, because it'll take me longer to let it do that itself."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, okay."

Permalink Eye

"I hope I'm not stepping on, like, trauma, with the robot army thing? It's really the best way to deploy me, unfortunately."

Permalink Eye

"If you want to avoid maximum trauma maybe make them non-humanoid? But we can cope."

Permalink Eye

"Oh yeah, they're mostly like, quadcopters. Would you feel better if I took off my - helmet's really useful with the display inside but I could ditch the gloves?"

Permalink Eye

"No, you're..."

Permalink Eye

"You move like a person, so you don't trigger Emily's uncanny valley, and triggering mine is inevitable but you're still way too small to set off my Sentinel Alarms."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, good."

Permalink Eye

"We mostly didn't do the secret identity thing so there weren't so much masks qua masks but there were, like, helmets and goggles and stuff, you're not outside that zone."

Permalink Eye

"Everybody does the masks thing at home except for this one independent hero team that makes a point of having public identities."

Permalink Eye

"It was sort of a solidarity thing for us. A lot of us could totally pass and then go out heroing secretly but there were a lot of mutants who just couldn't or didn't have any abilities that were worth it or both, and--we were in a really good place, papa was super rich, we had a boarding school that doubled as a covert sanctuary for runaways--and then everything fell apart. And there was no point."

Permalink Eye

"Variance in power applicability to combat is interesting. I guess it makes more sense as something naturally occurring? Parahumans might not be naturally occurring, we started suddenly."

Permalink Eye

"It's suspicious but not, like, actionably so, so."

Permalink Eye

"Mmhm. Okay. Next actions? How do you guys get food, I need to eat normal amounts."

Permalink Eye

"Hunting and gathering, supplemented by occasional looting if we find a grocery store that hasn't been completely picked over. Do you mind coming, I'm the best line of escape we have so I don't go anywhere without Edie and at least until you have reliable anti-Sentinel weaponry it makes sense to do the same with you."

Permalink Eye

"I don't mind coming."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. ...If you've been in civilization for the past while are you going to object to eating, like, coyote and raccoon, I can probably find deer but it will be harder."

Permalink Eye

"I... can't claim to be real excited about coyote and raccoon but I don't think I'd literally vomit."

Permalink Eye

"If I find stuff people eat not under duress you can have dibs."

Permalink Eye

"I will build Rete farming chassis. Or at least hunting and gathering chassis."

Permalink Eye

"Are miscellaneous greens better? I can usually find, like, dandelion."

Permalink Eye

"I would be happy to try dandelion but probably can't live off it alone."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, okay." She grabs her sister and the two of them rise into the air. 

Permalink Eye

Lorica follows. "You're likely to be faster than me, this wasn't designed for major overland travel just tactical movement in cities."

Permalink Eye

"That's fine, I can grab you if Sentinels show up."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome." 

She heads out in a suburbanish direction. She spears three pigeons before they see lawn. 

Permalink Eye

"Yum. Squab."

Permalink Eye

"Huh?"

Permalink Eye

"Squab is pigeon meat like pork is pig meat."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, huh, didn't know that."

Permalink Eye

"Fun facts! Do you cook it with lightning?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah, magnetism is actually really easy to heat metal up with."

Permalink Eye

"Cool, that makes sense. Do we have salt?"

Permalink Eye

"Not right now, sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. When I have enough tech that we can defend a base of operations do you know where you want it to be? We should head thataways, I'm not going to take months."

Permalink Eye

The two girls exchange looks. 

"Time to head east, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Do you ever run into other survivors or are they sparse enough that we're not likely to find them anytime soon?"

Permalink Eye

"We run into other survivors now and then but they've all been non-mutants and they didn't want to take the risk of hanging around Sentinel bait."

Permalink Eye

"Are they like, towns, or like individuals roaming around?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, small groups, Sentinels make quick work of towns."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Well. I'll build my own robot army and wreck this one's shit and then there can be towns."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. The way you escape Sentinels if you're not, like, us, is to be in a group bigger than your average group of Sentinels and scatter when they find you. Then the survivors regroup later."

Permalink Eye

"That doesn't sound sustainable."

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "Sentinels are bad."

Permalink Eye

"I know, but that sounds like it shouldn't have been going on very long before it just didn't work any more. How long did you say it's been like this?"

Permalink Eye

"The Sentinels have been around for eleven, twelve years, but they will in fact preferentially target mutants, and we're a lot harder to kill than baseline humans, even with the adaptability thing. I don't know how long it's been the case that they've mostly been left in peace to terrorize everyone else."

Permalink Eye

"Mkay. Fuck. It's practically a United-States-sized Simurgh quarantine."

Permalink Eye

"Simurgh quarantine?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, Earth Bet has three giant monsters that wipe a chunk of a major urban area off the face of the earth several times a year. There's the Simurgh, who's telekinetic and has a mind-affecting song and is also so insanely precognitive that you can't let a survivor who's been near her too long live because they'll turn out to be set up somehow to do something awful weeks or years later. If she hits a place you build a wall around whatever's left after the fight and leave everyone there inside. There's also Leviathan, he's a hydrokinetic speedster and there's no more Newfoundland or Kyushu now, and Behemoth, he's a dynakinetic - radioactive, super-hot, lightning, tunnels under the earth, highest cape death rate."

Permalink Eye

"Yech."

Permalink Eye

"I - uh, I triggered in a Simurgh area. I am under the maximum exposure limit - and not just because the song stopped affecting me when I got my power - but usual policy is actually just to straight up murder anyone who triggers that way, they threw every single mind-affecting power they could dredge up at me to see if they could justify letting me live and I think it still made a big difference that my dad's a longstanding hero and couldn't be kept in prison."

Permalink Eye

 

"Do you want a hug?"

Permalink Eye

"Not in my kit, but thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense." Emily could probably render the kit malleable enough to hug through but that might fuck up the Tinker bullshit and also it would be weird so Edie doesn't even mention it. 

Permalink Eye

"So anyway, there's still civilization in the United States in addition to other places - well, Africa's mostly warlords now and stuff like that - but everywhere's missing chunks, I don't want to give the impression I come from Paradise here."

Permalink Eye

"If the Sentinels never lose their 'stay out of other countries' limit or other countries develop better weapons before they do we might just be better off, on the level of humanity if not us personally."

Permalink Eye

"I expect to be able to solve the Sentinels problem with your bootstrapping assistance unless one gets in a lucky shot before I find enough salvage. I'm unusually well suited, but I'm not the only cape who could pull that off. Endbringers can be driven off by hundreds of capes teaming up to fight them but can't be killed."

Permalink Eye

"Enough Sentinels tended to win in a fight against enough mutants, but that was mostly because they have specific anti-mutant advantages, maybe after we fix the Sentinel problem we can figure out some way back to your world and mutants will turn out to have some kind of weird advantage against Endbringers."

Permalink Eye

"That would be keen."

Permalink Eye

"Like, I dunno, maybe some power that isn't by itself combat-oriented turns out to synergize really well with one that does? Or...hmm...I assume they're immune to telepaths, one way or the other..."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think generalized telepathy is actually a parahuman power that I've heard of, and if there were one who worked on Endbringers I'd definitely know about it. There are loads of mind-affecting powers and information-gathering powers and some empath stuff - which I don't think works on Endbringers - but nothing you'd really call telepathy per se."

Permalink Eye

"Really? Well, that might solve the problem all by itself."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure the Endbringers are people. Like, they could just be really extreme Case 53 villain types, but they're really special, and they're coordinated - when a new one shows up, the other two show up less often to keep the overall schedule, and it's never the same one twice in a row."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, it might not, I am approximately useless against Sentinels except that back when there were enough of us to coordinate I could do that, but my powers don't just work on people, I held the pigeons still while Emily speared them."

Permalink Eye

"Well, that would have applications - maybe you could empty Ellisburg, who knows - but I don't think it'd be a good bet directly against Endbringers. - Ellisburg is a city that this one guy, uh, ate. He triggered with a power that converts biomass into whatever he wants and then the whatever he wants does what he wants it to and now he lives alone with all his biomass in there under siege."

Permalink Eye

"...Eugh. Yeah, I could probably fix that one."

Permalink Eye

"It'd be nice, the property values in the neighboring bits of New Jersey are crap. Although I wouldn't put it on a top ten list since he doesn't actually do anything having finished eating Ellisburg."

Permalink Eye

 

"Well. I could deploy him against Endbringers."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, guess so."

Permalink Eye

"It's not the kind of thing I'd normally do but 'world ending monsters' is a really good reason to and 'ate everyone in a city' erodes a lot of my reluctance."

Permalink Eye

"Mm-hm."

Permalink Eye

"And I can probably knock him out and operate his powers manually, I don't have to leave him awake for it. Or read his mind at all."

Permalink Eye

"Might or might not work, powers are weird. Some Master powers - a category which includes things like 'operate someone else's body manually' - allow it, though, so you'd have a good shot."

Permalink Eye

"If your Master powers aren't telepathy-proper I dunno if generalizing from them works--and, like, there's a difference between me and a normal telepath, I am approximately the second-strongest telepath I've ever met."

Permalink Eye

"What I mean is that there's no reason to think parahumans might hard-no-sell power-co-opting."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, sorry."

Permalink Eye

"What all can you do?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh--there hasn't been a lot of time for, uh, figuring out specifics in a rigorous, communicable way--basically if you assume that as concerns me and one of the fundamental forces and concerns her and, like, minds, we are traumatized teenage gods, you might overestimate scale but are unlikely to be far wrong on scope?"

Permalink Eye

"Wow. Okay. I'm still super immune, right? That will help me sleep at night. Nothing against you personally I just kinda have a thing."

Permalink Eye

"Super immune, I can't even tell you exist without looking at you, it's why you're a little uncanny valley."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Sorry not sorry if that makes sense."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not upset or anything. One of our parents used to have a helmet made of anti-telepathy alloy and I couldn't tell HE existed either, when he wore it, and when I was really really little I thought it made him stop having thoughts, but like, he was still my dad and I still loved him."

Permalink Eye

"Aww."

Permalink Eye

"This'll probably get a little confusing if we keep being oblique--I think we mentioned reproductive hermaphroditism earlier as a physical change mutants get--it can be surprisingly subtle, no one had yet discovered it that we know of until, uh, we happened."

Permalink Eye

"Gosh. I don't think parahumans get that commonly but I guess it might have ever happened. Probably as a weird side effect of something, though, since it's not directly combat applicable."

Permalink Eye

"Each of us has one of our dads' powers verbatim, which is something that happens sometimes but not always--like we have a cousin who got his dad's power exactly, too, but there's also this friend we have who inherited variants on both of his parents' powers. And we know the direct inheritance thing isn't just an our-family genetic thing because his mom--"

Permalink Eye

"--our aunt whose artificially-replicated tissues enable the Sentinels to be so dangerous--"

Permalink Eye

"--was adopted."

Permalink Eye

"Cape families can have trends - New Wave are all similar except their adopted one too - but my dad and I have really different powers. He's a teleporter."

Permalink Eye

"If you were mutants then my guess would be that if your mom had had the X-Gene she would've been a Tinker."

Permalink Eye

"Mom's not a cape, and if she did trigger she'd probably branch off Dad."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, you're way more explicable in our system than yours."

Permalink Eye

"Once, back before everything, there was this anecdote that came up--there was this guy who married two different unrelated mutant women, divorced each of 'em after he found out but not before he'd had kids with them, and each of the women had one mutant kid, and the kids' mutations were nothing like their moms' but a lot like each others'."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. And this guy didn't even have the gene - so its expression is controlled by something else?"

Permalink Eye

"We think so."

Permalink Eye

"Weird. Why would genes for powers even exist in the general population? I guess if they're applied like random numbers to some set of outcomes that the gene has available as a preset list, but that's - bizarre. And you'd expect a high proportion of useless or worse powers, though maybe there was one."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, we're really far on the useful end of the bellcurve. And, like, Hank helped a lot--the kid I told you about who inherited variants on both parents' powers? His dad shot uncontrollable rings of plasma all over the place until Hank invented a vest that let him focus it into beams, and his mom--actually his other dad but, like, his incubating parent, he was like us that way--his power was basically that he could survive anything, which is the only reason that pregnancy resulted in neither of them dying, because the baby's variant on Dad 1's power was incontinent plasma eye beams, Hank eventually figured out goggles that worked but until then the two of them had to stay in the underground bunker after the kid was born so no one would get hurt."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I'd be surprised to hear about a parahuman with incontinent plasma eye beams and I'd expect a survive-anything power to - be described differently, but that's likely just cultural."

Permalink Eye

"His power's way more complicated than that it's just that survive-anything is de facto part of it and it's the part that's relevant to carrying to term a baby that starts incontinently plasma eye beaming during the second trimester."

Permalink Eye

"Anyway, part of that anecdote is that we think the bell curve is being affected by the fact that a lot of the more inconvenient mutations just fail to produce a living mutant."

Permalink Eye

"One possibility that we've considered is that the X-Gene has been around for a long time and the only reason it's being noticed now is that mutations are finally producing more visible survivors than lethal manifestations after a long period of selection."

Permalink Eye

"Wouldn't the gene have been selected away long ago if it depressed fertility and seldom produced a good power?"

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "Dunno. Like I said, we were six the last time this was being seriously studied."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Sorry."

Permalink Eye

"It's okay, we're pretty functional for as fucked up as we are."

Permalink Eye

"I appreciate that."

Permalink Eye

"Survivorship bias."

Permalink Eye

"Capes manage to get to be astonishingly fucked in the head and kick around like that for years, but yeah, I suppose naively that's kind of odd and I shouldn't expect it here."

Permalink Eye

"Also you probably have more surviving capes."

Permalink Eye

"Cape life expectancy is really, really bad, but there's always more triggering, so yeah."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

They reach suburbia. Emily kills two deer and a wild turkey and builds a makeshift smokehouse out of scrap metal since they can't eat that much meat quickly and don't have refrigeration abilities. 

Permalink Eye

Smart. Lorica goes looking for dandelions.

Permalink Eye

Dandelions are super prolific! No one is around to slow their invasion now >:3c

Permalink Eye

Lorica slows the dandelion invasion. Then she goes back to picking at the sentinel, not quite fugueing. "What I really need here is an input method, either for Rete to be able to radio the chip here or to be able to hook it up by hardware to a keyboard or something."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, if you want a radio I can make a radio, that's easy."

Permalink Eye

"Can you make the Sentinel chip listen to it, is the question, I do have radio on board."

Permalink Eye

"...I don't know anything about their encryption, sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I'm gonna probably have to do the hardware thing."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know how much help I can be besides duplicating parts, there."

Permalink Eye

"- If I popped bits out of my suit, could you duplicate them without affecting the originals?"

Permalink Eye

"...I was going to say definitely yes but I guess if the originals would be affected by enough magnetic field passing over them for me to perceive them..."

Permalink Eye

"How much is that?"

Permalink Eye

"--I dunno, I mean I know but if magnetism has units I never got around to learning them."

Permalink Eye

"Can you start lower than that and ramp up and Rete can warn me if you're stressing something?"

Permalink Eye

"I can try, is there a less than maximally essential bit to try this on first just in case?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, but it has to be something with the right kinda sensors..." Lorica thinks for a bit, then reaches behind her back. A scale of armor pops off into her hand and she holds it out.

Permalink Eye

Emily frowns at it and ever-so-gently pokes at it. Like maybe as if there were a classroom bar magnet across the room. 

Permalink Eye

"Harmless," Lorica pronounces.

Permalink Eye

Emily increases it slowly until it is enough that she can get some fuzzy details of the interior. The bar magnet is now about halfway across the room. 

Permalink Eye

"Still good."

Permalink Eye

Metaphorical bar magnet is now adjacent and she can feel enough detail that if she's missing anything it's not obvious to her. 

Permalink Eye

"If you stepped that up another time Rete'd have to start compensating but as-is it's fine."

Permalink Eye

"I could plausibly but not definitely get more relevant detail if I stepped it up."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, let's try a scan at this level on something I could use more of and see if it comes out good enough or at least tweakable into good enough." She pops the scale back on. She hesitates, then takes off her helmet.

Permalink Eye

"I still can't read you, if that was in doubt."

Permalink Eye

"It wasn't, I don't have anything that would do that. I just usually don't unmask, my team thinks I'm paranoid."

Permalink Eye

"Is there a particular reason for you to be more careful than them? Not that you need one, just," shrug, "trying to map how your world works."

Permalink Eye

"My identity's tied to my dad's because we're publicly father and daughter, and I like my cape name more than my real name, and I don't plan to stay in the Protectorate after I graduate the Wards - that is, I don't plan to continue to be an official government superhero after I turn eighteen plus or minus six months."

Permalink Eye

"Some people like a mutant nickname slash codename better than their birth name, that's not unusual for us...did you tell us yours? We haven't been, uh, using names much the past few years, I'm not sure we would have retained it if you did..."

Permalink Eye

"It's Lorica."

Permalink Eye

"That's pretty. Does it mean something?"

Permalink Eye

"Latin for 'armor'."

Permalink Eye

"Very nice."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Rete means 'network'."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that makes sense, I figured it was just a name."

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I wanted a theme."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "I would've used Hebrew but statistically speaking you're probably not Jewish."

Permalink Eye

"I am not. And while I don't go out of my way to reassure the local Nazi-themed gang that I'm not a priority target I wouldn't really be inclined to go the opposite direction either."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"...Local Nazi-themed gang."

Permalink Eye

"There's a lot of gang activity, much of it supervillain-spearheaded, and Brockton Bay has a chapter of the Nazi one, plus a weird pan-Asian one, and some smaller ones, yup."

Permalink Eye

 

"Dad was a Holocaust survivor."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"It does kinda rub salt in the wound that we have a family history of genocidal bullshit but, like, also I really want to do something definitive to your nazi gang."

Permalink Eye

"They are unfortunately inaccessible but off the top of my head I don't think any of them are immune to mind-affecting stuff."

Permalink Eye

"What are their powers?"

Permalink Eye

"- not wearing my helmet, so Rete's not going to be able to pull up data for me, but off the top of my head there's Hookwolf who turns into a metal wolf thing, and Kaiser who makes metal things in whatever shape protrude from surfaces, and Crusader has a self-duping power of some kind, and Purity's flying artillery - that's a catchall for people who fly and shoot, there's also 'Alexandria package' for flying super-tough folks, those are both common combinations."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, Hookwolf and Kaiser'll be fun."

Permalink Eye

"You'd have to find them first. And stick to nonlethal, they play by the rules too much to have kill orders."

Permalink Eye

"...I'm not planning on killing them but that's...completely separate from any governmental rules about whether I can or not. They're nazis and I'm a holocaust survivor's daughter and our government created the Sentinels."

Permalink Eye

"Well, uh, my government didn't?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I expect to be able to work with them a non-zero amount, it's just...even if it's not the same United States Government, 'the United States Government says no' just...doesn't mean I'm not going to do something if I think I should."

Permalink Eye

"When I say they don't have a kill order, this is a short way of saying 'none of the things generally agreed up on to be conduct that suspends the rule about murder have occurred'. My government has its flaws but I think it's actually fairly reasonable about kill orders and murder being illegal."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. That's reasonable, it's just not where my mind went, because of the murderbots."

Permalink Eye

"Fair enough."

Permalink Eye

"We are probably not that great at this point at interacting with governments that are acting in good fairth. Or at least doing a good enough job at faking it that we have to pretend they are too."

Permalink Eye

"I hear you. I spend a lot of time letting Rete imitate me so I don't have to say polite things, and over much less serious problems. It went and did such a good job I got made team captain."

Permalink Eye

 

"That's amazing."

Permalink Eye

"You think so?"

Permalink Eye

"Absolutely!"

Permalink Eye

"I confess this is not the reaction I was expecting."

Permalink Eye

"The only authority I have ever respected in my life was literally my parents."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, but I bet you didn't build an AI to recite conciliatory sentences to all the other ones."

Permalink Eye

"Well, no, but I can't write AI."

Permalink Eye

"Fair point. I have usually found people who hold authority in contempt feel the need to display this in a way that's legible to the authority."

Permalink Eye

"Well, usually, but sometimes authority can actually make your life harder if you disrespect them, in which case you build up the resources you need to make this no longer the case and then thumb your nose at them."

Permalink Eye

"Yep, that was the plan, get out of the Wards and be a rogue tycoon."

Permalink Eye

"See? Awesome."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You're very welcome."

Permalink Eye

"We got sidetracked," Lorica remarks. "I could use a buncha these." She pops out a component and shows it to Emily.

Permalink Eye

"Okay, let me see..." she murmurs, and she picks up a glob of artificially-liquidish metal and starts fiddling with it. 

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, hey, you're the first hope we've had in years."

Permalink Eye

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to make a bigger impact than consumer grade robotics, so, uh, hope is mutual?"

Permalink Eye

"Different kinds of absence of hope."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I dunno, we can't keep up with the Endbringers, Earth Bet might, like, have End brung."

Permalink Eye

"True. At least we know the rest of the world is probably fine."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. We'll go check on 'em when we're more stable, howabout."

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

"How's the chip coming?"

Permalink Eye

"It's...fiddly, I've got my duplicate in mostly the right shape but I've still got some detail work left."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Sorry for interrupting."

Permalink Eye

"It's fine." Fiddle fiddle. 

Permalink Eye

"I can give you updates if you'd rather not interrupt her."

Permalink Eye

"I suppose that's one feature of telepathy, sure, if she doesn't mind."

Permalink Eye

"We've been living half in each other's heads since we were too little to remember."

Permalink Eye

"...mm."

Permalink Eye

"...Mm?"

Permalink Eye

"Nothing I really want to get into. I'd appreciate the updates."

Permalink Eye

"Alright." 

Pause. 

"She just figured out a tricky bit."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

 

"It's a reciprocal arrangement, she gets as much from me as I get from her." 

Permalink Eye

"Okay."