Project Tatterdemalion by Vathara is a sci-fi/horror AU of Bleach, focusing mainly on the older members of the cast. So far Juushirou Ukitake comes closest to the role of "main character", but this is first and foremost an ensemble fic.Project Tatterdemalion is located in a top-secret research base, approximately in the middle of nowhere. This turns out to be a very good thing, when a mysterious pathogen that the Project scientists have been studying gets out of control... and its effects are not at all pleasant.Fortunately, the scientists — led by Kisuke Urahara — have time to create a fast-and-dirty vaccine before the situation gets completely out of hand. However, the vaccine does have a few side effects — such as Combat Tentacles, various psychic abilities, and these voices in everyone's heads...The series so far includes:
...with more to follow, although possibly not soon (as Vathara is quite busy writing Embers).A map of the setting for the second story can be found here.Several characters who are shinigami in canon are not in this fic — the most important of these being General Yamamoto — and at least two characters who are not canonically shinigami are considered such for fic purposes because "enhanced Quincy" counts.Recommended on the Bleach fanfiction recs page.
Action Girl: Of the female shinigami, Yoruichi and Isane are the most "front lines" types (ironic given Isane's timid personality in canon).
Action Survivor: Even with the Combat Tentacles, some of the shinigami qualify, especially at first. For instance: the scientists who have never before seen combat (and may or may not be Reluctant Monsters afterwards), the Project's doctors/paramedics, a twelve-year-old kid who had to fight off his father's zombified remains, and that one data analyst who woke up with a Hollow in his face. Even after most grow into the role of Badass Abnormal, some (like Hanatarou) just aren't meant for the thick of combat.
Alien Hair: Interesting variation in that it consists of tendrils and by getting close enough for them to interweave, two or more can establish a Psychic Link so intimate that it blocks all other sensory input.
Bad Ass: If the character is named and manages to remain alive, the character is probably a Bad Ass.
Badass Bookworm: Five scientists of various fields, three doctors, a data analyst, a covert agent who can pass for a scientist, an administrator whose encyclopedic knowledge is a job requirement... and that one strike trooper who reads scientific journals for fun. All of these people end up as shinigami.
Badass Family: The "family" part is instinctual, and the shinigami are quickly approaching the status of Badass Crew. Literally true in the case of Isshin and Kaien, and (depending on how the author assimilates the revelations of the final arc) possibly Ryuuken and Masaki, too.
Badass Longcoat: Played with. Kyoraku first winds up in a pink camo bathrobe that is decidedly not badass. He does, however, do badass things while wearing it.
Badass Normal: Sergeant Petrillo, General Yamamoto. Also Ikkaku, Yumichika, and Kaien, before becoming shinigami.
Badass Unintentional: At first. Killing a Hollow with a chair instead of a flamethrower, freezing a Hollow solid, blowing up the entire physics lab, and outrunning bullets were all reflex actions on the part of unwitting shinigami... And then they start figuring out the real extent of their new abilities.
Like a Badass out of Hell: This could be the Hollows' escape from containment, but also the shinigami's escape from the project compound, especially since it's built underground and they have to fight their way to the surface.
Beware the Nice Ones: Seriously, you're better off not messing with Juushirou. Or any shinigami, really.
Bio-Augmentation: Strictly illegal in the Republic (the Quincies were only grandfathered in because they were highly prized as human weapons). Which seems like it's going to have some nasty consequences for our heroes, as those laws don't make exceptions for situations like theirs...
Black Speech: When the Hollows "shout," normal responders collapse into the fetal position and whimper.
Blue and Orange Morality: There's a significant difference between the civilian and soldier mindsets, and the shinigami's predatory instincts put even nominal noncombatants closer to the latter. This worries them because they know the vaccine is affecting their minds but there's not much to do except acknowledge it. They also don't all have the experience necessary to put this mindset into perspective. Because of this, it takes a conversation between Juushiro and Yamamoto to avert Poor Communication Kills.
Brick Joke: In his character introduction, Ryuuken's glasses are briefly mentioned as a truly odd fashion choice in a society where laser eye surgery is ubiquitous. It isn't until the third story that Kisuke realizes the glasses probably contained a secret camera.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The shinigami as a whole tend towards this trope, but the best examples are Kisuke and Isshin. Even before the hollowfication incident, their eccentricities were only tolerated because their scientific work was unimpeachable.
Children Are Innocent: Subverted with Toshiro, who's all too eager for a sword after his Hollowfied father ate his mother and tried to change or eat him. He's still got a child's naivete, however, adapting very easily to pack-mentality without understanding the adults' reservations about More Than Mind Control.
Combat Tentacles: All shinigami. (And the Grim Squeakers, too.) Hollows are composed of little more than a mass of murderous tentacles.
Control Freak: General Yamamoto. He's annoyed and uncomfortable with the shinigami in part because they don't tend to do things by the book, and is not pleased to realize that some of them aren't actually in his military chain of command.
Cover-Blowing Superpower: When the attempt to destroy the mass transporter nearly fails, Ryuuken is forced to reveal his psychokinetic Quincy powers as a saving throw. Some of the other characters had already guessed he was a covert agent before he revealed his connection with PSWAT...but none of them were expecting a Quincy.
Deadly Hug: All Yoruichi would have to do is squeeze... The guy in question deserves this. Yamamoto even threatens to let her do it.
Dodge the Bullets: And get past the perimeter guard for the general's shuttle, unseal the cockpit, and disarm the pilots (aka "How Yoruichi Figured Out Her Superspeed").
Sgt. Petrillo:(upon hearing this, thinks) A naked. Fucking. Biologist.
Doing in the Wizard : Rather than being mystical, shinigami powers are the result of a genetically engineered vaccine to an alien virus... although the characters admit that neither virus nor vaccine pays much respect to the known laws of physics.
Due to the Dead: In Project Thoughts, when the survivors get a chance to mourn everyone who died in the first two stories.
EMP: The pulses of Hollows, shinigami and normal responders are this.
Flash Step: Hollows can pseudo-teleport. Fortunately, we find this out because Toshiro accidentally does it. Even when not breaking the laws of physics, shinigami can move too quickly for most humans to even try shooting.
Genetic Engineering is the New Nuke: Both Quincies and shinigami owe their powers to genetic engineering, although both were also in large part unintended fortunate side effects of solutions to other problems. It's believed that the creators of Madsen's Hollow are about a hundred years ahead in the biotech arms race, to be able to produce similar results intentionally.
Ghost in the Machine: The in-universe explanation for zanpakutou spirits is that the amount of neural processing required to move the shinigami tentacles creates a sort-of "secondary brain" that the primary brain perceives as a "voice in one's head". Naming that voice allows shinigami greater separation between, and thus control over, the two personalities.
Hangover Sensitivity: It takes mildly neurotoxic azalea honey to get shinigami drunk, which does the trick but makes for a pretty rough morning after. The strikers especially are less than happy about the hangover.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Yumichika and Ikkaku, even pre-shinigami. They've worked together for years, and Ikkaku becomes the only volunteer shinigami because Yumichika's already been vaccinated. Shunsui and Juushirou are getting there by the second fic.
Hive Mind: Both shinigami and Hollows have a network psychic connection that functions this way. While they prefer to use it between their own kind, and can apparently block enemies with enough practice, close combat can become a private conversation between any and all infectees.
Incurable Cough of Death: Averted. Strickland's was incurable, until Juushirou became a shinigami. Also, as it turns out, there was an idea of what the cure could be — it was just illegal because it would have required drastic genetic engineering way beyond what the Alliance permits.
Info Dump: Averted, repeatedly, with brief explanations as necessary, and far more implied. Most notably, see In Medias Res.
In Medias Res: The series kicks off with the to-be-christened-Shinigami just coming out of their chrysillades in a very infected Project. While more than enough bits and pieces are dropped in lieu of an Info Dump, it's not until Part III (not chapter, part) that we get a full account of what lead up to the outbreak. This allows the story to keep a brisk pace without completely confusing the audience.
I Will Only Slow You Down: Juushirou has to flat-out order his subordinates to leave him behind when the base goes into lockdown. They do, which saves their lives. One of them appears later feeling incredibly guilty about having left Juushirou to die (albeit on his own orders); Juushirou reacts by hugging him.
Katanas Are Just Better: The shinigamis' swords, largely justified: General Yamamoto won't let the shingami have more advanced weapons, either because he distrusts them or because his superiors do. However, swords are actually quite useful against Hollows because — like Quincies — shinigami can focus their Psychic Powers through metal. And they use katanas rather than another type of sword because two of them already know how to use katanas and can teach the others.
Kill It with Fire: For non-shinigami, this is one of the better options to try against Hollows.
LEGO Genetics: Both the Madsen's Hollow virus and the vaccine, to varying extents. Some elements of realism — a virus is used to deliver the new genes — and a lot of Hand Waving.
Locked into Strangeness: Provides a justification for all the ImplausibleHairColors from the original manga. Here, most characters seem to have started out with realistic Asian hair and eye colors. The implausible hues only show up as a bizarre side effect of the vaccine...and it's permanent because the strands technically aren't hair, they're tiny psychic tendrils. Although Yoruichi's first response is to blame Kisuke, it turns out that Isshin is responsible — the changes are the result of his efforts to safeguard the brain by forcing colorful toxins out through the hair. Even those more mildly affected can experience drastic shifts in hair color (Ryuuken goes from black to white) and some of the characters are quite annoyed about the change.
Majorly Awesome: Major Shunsui Kyouraku. He survives the vaccine despite being thrown out of the safe room as soon as he started to get sick, helps Juushirou and Toushirou escape, then becomes one-half of the de facto pack alpha for the shinigami. All while being about five times more mentally stable than his CO.
Mind Rape: The Hive Mind can "swamp" another shinigami with psychic images and echoes to force the individual into submission to the will of the pack or to unleash their "other". Used to force Isshin and Kisuke to let go of their inhibitions and fight, pull Yumichika and Ikkaku into line with the rest of the pack instead of their own Sergeant (whom they follow like Kenpachi in canon), and force Shunsui to cooperate with his "other" in a fight. So far, done either unintentionally or with the best of intentions, and only by pack-leaders, which arguablymakes it worse.
Must Have Caffeine: Shinigami and Quincies both seem to require extra caffeine to fuel their Psychic Powers. It seems to be caffeine in general, since the characters appreciate chocolate and caffeinated sodas as well as coffee. (This trope is used to justify Juushirou's canon habit of giving Toushirou candy.) Later, Juushirou suggests that the vaccinated (both shinigami and not) like caffeine because it makes their hearts beat faster and that makes them feel "normal".
Never Gets Drunk: Alcohol has no effect, much to Shunsui's horror. Venomous honey, however...
No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted insofar as the mass transporter currently exists only as an alpha-stage prototype but is documented in Dr. Urahara's lab notebooks. Played straight in that Kisuke tends to blow off his paperwork for as long as possible, so General Yamamoto is willing to sacrifice personnel in order to get the prototype out intact. He doesn't get his wish, as the Hollows were seconds away from using the transporter to escape offworld.
No Zombie Cannibals: Averted hard as of Project Thoughts. Hollows are just as cannibalistic as in canon: they grow by consuming other Hollows.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Shunsui's default response to odd/perplexing information appears to be "Huh?" Nanao's conclusion is that the man is definitely smarter than he looks.
Sgt Petrillo:(thoughts on the matter) Nice act. Buys you time to think.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Referenced repeatedly — General Yamamoto and Colonel Hughes are very by-the-book about paperwork, and obstructive bureaucrats are responsible for the Republic's harsh genetic engineering laws. This is also Ryuuken's cover for infiltrating the Project: he's supposedly a health inspector.
Odd Name Out: The characters with non-Japanese names — Hughes, Petrillo, Wilson — tend to stick out.
Oh Crap: A perfectly reasonable response to almost anything that happens in this series.
Outside-Context Villain: Whoever made Madsen's Hollow. The leading theory is "aliens". There's remote chance this was some Starfish Language attempt at "hello" that completely failed in translation, but much more likely was it was an outright act of war, and the main characters are preparing to respond accordingly.
Paper-Thin Disguise: At least under the exceptional circumstances. Even before Ryuuken breaks cover, Isshin and Masaki are beginning to suspect that he is NOT a mild-mannered civil servant, because he is handling imminent danger far too well.
Parental Substitute: Juushirou for Toushirou. (To a lesser extent, the entire pack substitutes for Toushirou's parents, but Juushirou is the most direct example.)
Poor Communication Kills: Outright rejected by both the shinigami and Yamamoto. They may take their sweet time sending each other information (Isshin's memos come to mind), and certain bits of information may have to be hacked (see Un-Person), but at the end of the day they are all stuck in this together, and they really don't have the luxury of miscommunication.
Power Strain Blackout: When Ryuuken first unleashes his Cover-Blowing Superpower, he intends only to short the transporter's circuits but accidentally blows up half the lab in the process, because he wasn't expecting the enhanced firepower from the vaccine. The recoil leaves him reeling. Later, when Sgt. Petrillo asks him to use his powers again, Ryuuken warns him (correctly) that the rest of the group will have to carry him out afterwards.
Pro-Human Transhuman: The shinigami struggle to prove they are still on the side of humanity, even if they aren't technically members of it anymore.
Properly Paranoid: You literally cannot be paranoid enough when faced with Madsen's Hollow; you just have to have enough luck, sense, and insanity to survive the latest Hell.
Puberty Superpower: Briefly discussed in regards to Toshiro; since he's the only child of the group, and symptoms of known diseases can sometimes be age-related, he'll have to be watched carefully for anything... extra.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The shinigami camp includes: five scientists, four soldiers of various stripes, three medical personnel, a covert agent, a data analyst, an administrator, and a twelve-year-old kid. All of whom had reasons of varying legitimacy for being in the top secret research complex, but they do make for an odd collection...
Readings Blew Up the Scale: Last time the government tried to measure Kisuke's intelligence, the test computer dissolved. Yoruichi and Masaki treat it as a successful and excellent prank.
As a striker, Kaien Shiba is used to going through an area with as little trace as possible, and enjoying the scenery. His "other" is especially fond of flowers, and eventually gets itself named after the local orchid-esque "Nejibana." He is still a "delinquent designer of things that go boom," and he and his "other" can make spectacular Hollow kills.
On a lighter note, Kyoraku's first appearance is in a pink camo bathrobe, the closest parallel Vathara could come up with for his canon... "haori". The term "outrageous" is used at least once, but the man also killed a Hollow with a chair. And he's one of the shinigami's fencing experts.
Reluctant Monster: While the shinigami are not monsters, and they will argue the point as long as they have to, they are still People of Mass Destruction with a Hive Mind and who knows what other non-human features. Even certain shinigami have troublewith this themselves, to say nothing of the "regular" survivors who still get... "symptoms". Averted for the Hollows, though, who can't believe they were once weak little humans.
Rock Beats Laser: Justified for the shinigami's swords. One, metal can be used to focus psychokinetic energy, meaning that swords can kill Hollows if the person who's wielding them is a shinigami (otherwise, you need a flamethrower). Two, in the second story, they're stuck in a refugee camp with six hundred people who're weirded out by to downright scared of them. No one wants to give them more advanced weaponry, but they don't want to be helpless... and the general consensus is that swords are better for their image than reminding people that they have claws. Still... space travel, genetic engineering, fighting alien monsters... and they're using swords.
Sergeant Rock: Sgt. Petrillo, commander of the striker squad sent into the Project to recover Kisuke's prototype mass transporter; he's a gruff, blunt career soldier but also the most Reasonable Authority Figure outside of the shinigami pack. When he learns that there are still survivors in the compound, he disregards General Yamamoto's order to focus solely on retrieving the prototype and takes Major Kyouraku and Special Agent Ishida's advice instead.
Shock and Awe: Juushirou and Ryuuken both have psychokinetic powers that manifest visually as "white lightning".
Shout-Out: Kisuke's "This is not the vaccine we were looking for." One character suspects Project Tatterdemalion itself is named after Hastur the Unspeakable, aka the Tatterdemalion King, from the Cthulhu Mythos. Kisuke refers to his mass transport (read: teleportation) device as "an elementary Liaden-Clutch interstellar drive" (though probably just to screw with Yamamoto's head). There are also several tropes mentioned by name:
Apocalypse How (The title of the chapter where the characters realize that the Hollows' goal is the mass transporter, as a way to get offworld and seek new victims.)
Shown Their Work: Vathara has clearly read a lot about plagues (particularly the Black Death and the various theories about it). And predators. And ecology. And the psychology of survival and trauma. And refugee camps. And… Let's just say this universe is saturated with this trope.
For bonus points, the author's notes occasionally include recommended subject-matter reading.
Yumichika:Any issue this stupidly ugly isn't likely to be military at all. When you're looking at a mess bound up in legal loopholes? I smellpoliticians. (There was a short, and very manly, mass shudder of horror.)
Sole Surviving Scientist: Averted. Six of the Project's scientists survive the outbreak, including both physicists and biologists. Moreover, Isshin, Masaki, and Kisuke (plus Ryuuken as lab tech) were able come up with a workable vaccine even working in isolation.
Nanao reaches her limit when Unohana calmly informs her that that Madsen's Hollow is most likely of alien origin.
Stuff Blowing Up: Kaien's specialty before becoming a shinigami was explosives R&D. Kisuke's also very good at making improbable things go boom. For example, he requests some medical ether as a more effective sedative for shinigami biology. It just happens to also be highly explosive when concentrated. The general is not happy.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: Ryuuken makes one in the third story, revealing that he has killed in the line of duty before, to prevent a bioweapon terror attack.
Synthetic Plague: There is basically no way Madsen's Hollow could have occurred naturally. Starting with the fact that it was found as spores in an asteroid... yet the disease only affects Earth-native mammals, and messes with their DNA in very specific ways. The scientist characters reluctantly conclude that the disease was probably manufactured by an alien civilization a few hundred years ahead of them in bioengineering technology. A human group might have been able to pull it off, but only through a century of fanatically dedicated work in total secrecy.
Tagalong Kid: Toshiro, the only child survivor from Project Tatterdemalion, becomes the pack's "cub". However, he has been described/best summed up as:
Kisuke:(cannot catch Toshiro at tag) You pixie out of H. R. Giger!
Telepathy: The organic version of Electronic Telepathy, in which EMPs ionize the air, making it possible for electroreception to work above water, turning characters into living electroencephalograms. They cannot communicate with just anything this way, though. You have to have been vaccinated or infected.
Teleporters and Transporters: Kisuke has a prototype "mass transport device", which seems to be the beginnings of teleportation tech for this 'verse. Its workings are suggested to be connected to the "right angle to reality" dimension that Quincy psychokinesis draws on.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The creators of Madsen's Hollow clearly believed this. About four out of five victims of the virus just die messily from an incomplete effect. The "Hollows" — those victims fully affected by the virus — have claws that can cut through steel, Combat Tentacles, neurotoxic glands on those tentacles, psychokinetic abilities, and can infect others by biting. Except for the infectious part, this is also true of the shinigami.
This Is Gonna Suck: If you get any prior notice, yes. It will. Otherwise it's just gonna unexpectedly suck.
Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Several of the shinigamis' powers were only discovered because of a moment of sheer rage or terror. Isshin and Kisuke in particular had difficulty activating their abilities, as they were both more afraid of their own tempers than of external dangers.
True Companions: The shinigami "pack"… although, this is largely driven by instinct at this point and is consequently still rather fragile. For example, Shunsui and Juushirou go from casual friends to Heterosexual Life-Partners because of their shared transformation and a few days of fighting monsters. The emotions are real, and they're getting to know each other — but there is still the potential for infighting, misunderstandings, all that good stuff.
Un-Person: Retsu refers to it as being "ghosted" — no birth certificate or bank account, no paper trail in the planetary database — and this has been done to almost everyone who survived Project Tatterdemalion/showed up to help with the initial quarantine. Specifically, the shinigami are subject to this as "unlicensed genetic alterants." And potential weapons, of course.
The Virus: Madsen's Hollow is essentially this; although first detected as spores, throughout most of the fic it's transmitted by bites or tentacle-stings from other Hollows. In the third story, Retsu concludes that it was primarily intended as a wide-dispersal airborne pathogen, direct infection just shows symptoms much more quickly so that's what they've had a chance to observe in detail.
We Are Struggling Together: The shinigami and the rest of the refugees are at an...uneasy...equilibrium. Some are coping with this better than others. Even within the shinigami camp, they're struggling with overall cohesion.
You Are Not Alone: A major theme. The Hollows are driven by a primal need to make others like them and the Shinigami hold back their own primal insticts through the companionship of the Hive Mind.
You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry: Isshin and Kisuke. Especially Kisuke. The characters eventually conclude that this is because they're the least familiar with violence out of the shinigami. Although they've always had very fierce tempers that they fear and restrain, they have also never been in killing fights before... or even exposed to blood much. Consequently, they have less control over their "others" (zanpakutous/amplified survival instincts) than those with some military training.