Daybreak – 1.7

Previous Chapter                                                                                             Next Chapter

The sun was just starting to set when the police were wrapping up with us.  They’d had to arrive first, of course, the ones who had been on the scene were compromised, victims as much as anything.

Nobody Kingdom Come had affected remembered much of anything.  It was as though they’d fallen asleep – they remembered losing awareness, some reported briefly coming to in the middle of things as the building had shook or they had been knocked around, and they hadn’t really processed or understood much of those glimmers.

A few had reported me as a recurring image.

There was some concern that Kingdom Come might have absconded with someone or that not everyone that had been in the crowd was accounted for, but from what I could tell, it had been an all or nothing thing.  People remembered coming to, many of them dangerously close to a superhero fight in progress, but the recollections were hazy.

I sat on the sidewalk near the front door of the community center, aware that it was very late in the day.  The sky was orange-yellow now, with darkness on the eastern horizon.  The thickest parts of the clouds overhead were cast in shadow, zig-zags of darkness through the amber.

The heat of the day was subsiding, helped by the cloud cover.  Dust and sweat had left my arms mottled with grime and tracks where sweat had wiped it away.  I’d washed my hands after helping Fume Hood, and I’d realized I hadn’t gotten all of Tempera’s paint and the blood on the backs of my hands.  I was painfully conscious of the sweat, grime and blood, yet I couldn’t bring myself to go wash up because that would require attention to it.

Paradoxical, I was well aware.

I turned my attention back to the kids.  Making sure they were okay.  At some point where I had been lost in thought, Gilpatrick had showed up.  I watched until he glanced my way.  He raised a hand, and I raised mine.  Then he turned his attention back to the teenagers.  As it should be.

I’d figured I would be working late.  I’d just thought it would be paperwork and talking to the students.  I’d really liked that part.  It was fascinating stuff when it wasn’t so close to home.

I could relax some, seeing Gilpatrick.  Not because it meant great things, but because it meant I didn’t have to think about finding Gil after, getting the details, putting off hearing the news or delivering the essential details.

I put my hands behind me where I wouldn’t see the blood or the places where the paint had settled into the cracks, oil-black, and I leaned back, eyes closed, trying to focus on the voices and the sounds, on the breezy wind and the ambient warmth.

“I’m sorry,” Gilpatrick said.  He’d approached me.

I kept my eyes closed.  I said, “Are the students okay?  The others?”

“They’re fine.  Some have parents here, I’ve got a bus coming for the others.  Psychologically, emotionally, I don’t know.  It was scary and it was hard to know what was happening.  The staff of the community center are obviously upset about the building, but that’s not on us.”

I opened my eyes.

Gilpatrick wasn’t wearing his vest.  A sleeveless undershirt tucked into black pants, a sweatshirt slung over one shoulder.  Bald, bushy eyebrows, hairy, hairy arms.

“Jasper filled me in on most of it,” he said.  “He’s reliable when it counts, it seems.”

“He’s a good guy,” I agreed.  “There’s a reason I wanted him with me.”

“I get it now, I think.”

“If you want this project to be a positive thing, at least at our school, you’ll want more Jaspers.  You wanted a verdict on the kids you sent with me?  I wouldn’t put them in leadership roles.  Not if there are going to be capes on scene.  What I heard and saw wasn’t very positive, and if there were any who disagreed, they didn’t feel confident enough to say it out loud.”

Gilpatrick ran his hand over the skin of his head, not giving me a response.

My arms were tired from propping myself up.  I leaned forward instead.

“Alright.  Thanks.  Not good to hear, but I appreciate it,” he said.  “I’ll take that under serious advisement.”

“They follow orders, at least.”

“I was really hoping to have more hands to help out,” he said.  “Really unfortunate.”

Some parents were joining students who were talking to the police.  I watched them.  Parent and child side by side, parents concerned as they listened, getting the details at the same time the officers were.

“I am sorry this happened,” Gilpatrick said.  “I meant it when I said it.  I mean it now.”

“I gave my point-by-point retelling of events to the police,” I said.  I stared at my hands.  “Including the part where I was hit by a few emotion-affecting attacks.  It’ll take some of the responsibility off your shoulders, if anyone asks.”

“It’s not that important,” he said.  “Well, it’s important, obviously, thank you, but I don’t want to dwell on that.  If people make an issue out of it, I’ll handle it.  I knew what I was doing when I brought you on board.  That’s not what I want to talk to you about.”

“I stuck around,” I said.  “To be something like a guardian for the students who were acting as witnesses, making sure they weren’t pressed too hard or made uncomfortable.  I stopped when I realized being there was making some things harder, because they didn’t like being around me, or that it looked like I was trying to protect myself by inserting myself into things and influencing their testimony.”

“Yeah,” Gilpatrick said.

“I backed off, Jasper and Landon took my cues, I think.”

“That’s good.”

I thought that’d be the time he followed the thread of the conversation and got around to saying what he needed to say.  He didn’t.

There was a break in the convo.  More cars were pulling into spaces along either side of the ‘square’ of grass, sidewalk, and fountain in front of the community center.  Some more parents.

“Did they mention Fume Hood?” I asked.

“Only that she was taken to the hospital and all signs were good when she left.  Tempera was staying close to her.  Something to do with paint?”

No news then.  “Tempera stopped the worst of the blood loss.  She poured paint in the wound, shaped it, and solidified it.  We might have lost Fume Hood in another way, though.  We might not keep her as a hero after this.”

“Did she say that?”

“There was a brief twilight between when the pain meds kicked in and when the meds knocked her out,” I said.  I moved my fingers, felt how unlike skin the backs of my hands felt, stiff with the stuff I hadn’t managed to wash off.  I’d rushed, because I’d wanted to get back to keeping an eye on the students from the patrol group.

“Are you going to finish that thought?” Gilpatrick asked, his voice soft.

I closed my eyes.  “Um.  We chatted.  She said she was staying with a family member already, so she’d have someone to look after her if she needed it.”

Thinking about family pulled my thoughts in a few different directions.  I could have tried picking a safer one, but I wasn’t sure I was that on the ball, being as tired and discouraged as I was.

I went on, “Her brother cut ties with her when she went villain.  She was living in that area where all the building foundations were screwed up because they were rushed, and everyone had to leave the homes they’d just settled in, reached out to her brother, and she’s been staying with him, reconnecting.  It might give me some hope for her, having that positive influence, but she sounded pretty cynical about it all when we had the conversation right after meeting, before everything happened.”

“Cynicism is understandable, to a degree.  That’s where she’s at.  Where are you at, Victoria?”

“Similar to Fume Hood, really.  I wasn’t evicted because of rushed apartment construction, but I’ve been staying with my dad because it means we each pay half the rent, and I want to keep my options open with things being what they are.”

“I wasn’t talking about living accommodations,” Gilpatrick said.  “Your head, your heart.  Are there any lingering effects from the emotion effect?”

“For the last two years,” I whispered.

“Sorry?  I didn’t catch that,” he said.

“It’s gone.  It really sucked while it was in effect, but it’s gone.  Right now I’m in that heavyhearted, almost-blameless-but-guilty ‘morning after’ phase, where I’m reflecting on everything I did when I was under the influence,” I said.

“I know that well enough.  I’ve been hit a few times by those, back when I was a squaddie and squad leader.  And by you, once.”

“You asked me to,” I pointed out, looking up at Gilpatrick, “and this was a bad one.  Snag?  I read about a thing online, keeping tabs on who was out there.  I’m pretty sure he’s part of a new multitrigger cluster.  It might have been amplified by the tinkering, if it wasn’t, then something else was in play.  That didn’t hit me like it was a minor or secondary power.”

“Sorry,” he said.

He wasn’t a bad guy.  I wanted to be angry but I couldn’t justify it.

“I’m sorry it happened like this,” he said.  “It wasn’t supposed to be anything like this.  I thought it’d get a bit nasty with the civilian protesters but I didn’t think it’d be anything like this.  Not the capes, not the gunshot at the end.”

I hadn’t either.

“Jasper said you guessed why I sent those students with you.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I climbed to my feet.

“I’m especially sorry for that,” he said.  “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have ever tested you like that.  It wasn’t wholly up to me.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Everyone,” he said.  “No-one.  It’s complicated.  Wardens and the hero teams are being pressured to be mindful of who is out there, touching base, and they reached out to some of the other patrol groups with concerns.  They wanted to coordinate, so teenagers wouldn’t be out interviewing or exposing themselves to anyone dangerous.  School got to talking, and they got into CYA mode.”

“Cover your ass,” I said.

“They wanted to be able to say that they’d made a reasonable effort to check that the parahumans the students were exposed to were reasonable and safe, in case anything happened down the line.  I could have kept quiet about you, but…”

He trailed off.

“I wouldn’t have asked you to,” I said.

“…I didn’t get the impression you wanted me to, either.  You weren’t being secretive.  I don’t want to operate that way, either.”

“No.  I wouldn’t want you to,” I said.

“You know I can’t keep you on the staff,” he said.

I nodded.

There it was.

Fuck.

I hadn’t been super attached to the job, but… fuck.

“Using power on kids, the contention about possible conflict of interest, undue influence, danger.  I think things will stay at that, I don’t think it’ll follow you.”

I nodded.

“There’s a dim chance of a student claiming emotional distress because of your aura and pursuing things in court, I’ve already talked to one officer to get them on board and we’ll get something in writing.  I’ll vouch for you and for the events as Jasper described them, one hundred percent, if you end up needing someone to stand for you.  None of this was you.”

“Courts are a million years behind as it stands, and getting further behind every day we don’t have an established system of government,” I said.  “By the time things get that far it’ll be forgotten.”

“That is a factor,” Gilpatrick said.

I wasn’t worried about that side of things.  I was hurt, but I wasn’t worried.

“Do you need a hand getting things cleared out of the office?” he asked.

I shook my head.  I didn’t want to think about that.

“Can-” I started.  I cleared my throat.  “Can I get back to you on that?  I’ve- I guess I’ve got a family thing I should go to.”

“For sure,” he said.  “Anytime outside of usual school or work hours.”

I might have flinched in a way that he saw, hearing that.  I knew why he’d said it, but it still sucked to hear.

I started to walk away.

“Victoria,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Any favor you need, reference letter, intel, if you need Jasper or some other trustworthy faces in uniform to lend a hand with something…”

“Thank you,” I said, my voice lighter and more cheerful than I felt.  “I’ll be in touch.”

I took off.

There was something very human about the desire to gather around a fire.  Power rationing meant every household had only a certain amount, more if there were more people in the house.  Conversely, there was a lot of cheap firewood.  Streetlights flickered on, and many house lights went off.  In back yards there were three other families on the city block that were gathering around fire pits.  Two of the families were playing different kinds of music, but it wasn’t too discordant.  There were trees in each yard, front and back, and that helped to dampen the sound.

The entire street smelled like burning charcoal, and the light from the streetlights was just a little bit hazy with the ambient smoke.

It was a nice neighborhood, even if it had what I felt was the artificial quality.  Houses with character, sufficiently different from one another in style and architecture, but still so new that they looked more like movie sets than lived-in places.  Time and clutter would wear at those crisp edges.  Paint and attention would turn fences of new wood with the occasional edge still frayed from the saw’s touch into something more personal.

This was the flip side to the hostility and the street-wide gap between protester and community center.  Boyfriend and girlfriend sat on an outdoor love seat together, arms around each other, bathed in fire’s warmth.  Friends sat and talked, beers in hand.  Kids in another yard played with their dog.

With the path I’d taken, I reached the backyard first.  The driveway was wider than it was long, crushed gravel, with room for multiple vehicles, and a fence stretched from the house at one corner to the garage at the other.  My mom had invited neighbors, so it was a thing, even if things had reached a more relaxed point.

My dad sat on one of the lawn chairs, fire pit in front of him with the fire having burned down to just glowing coals.  The barbecue was to his right, lid open, tiny bits of meat clinging to the grill.

He was forty-two but looked younger.  The fact that he was as fit as he was played into it- only the white in his beard stubble really gave it away.  His hair, too, was short.  He was the only one who hadn’t put a sweatshirt or jacket on, owing to the proximity of the two heat sources- he was wearing a t-shirt that was form-fitting in a way that showed off his muscles.  Pretty darn gross, given he was a dad,  my dad, and he was supposed to dress his age.  I would have insisted on clothes that hid any sign of muscle at all, really, had I been given a say.

He looked relaxed though.  As relaxed as I’d seen him in a while, really, and I’d seen him passed out on the couch back at the apartment.

I was aware that my mom had seated herself so that two neighbors sat between her and my dad.  Where my dad had dressed in a t-shirt and sports pants for the occasion, she had dressed up.  Just a bit of lipstick, her hair short and styled, a ruffly sort of white blouse and pencil skirt.  She’d kicked off her shoes earlier in the evening, leaving them beneath her chair.

I was aware of the distinction in how they’d dressed, too.  In another time, before everything, there would have been more… connection, I supposed.  Each influencing the other, until they matched more.

She was smiling.  She folded one knee over the other, then a moment later was undoing the position, both feet on the porch again as she leaned forward, laughing at something someone had said.

I smiled.

The lights were on inside the house, too.  The door was open, and people were scattered through the space between the stairs down to the porch, the back hallway, and the kitchen on the other side of the hallway.  The room to the left of the hallway was dark.  The neighbors kids, I presumed, teens to twenty-somethings.  I saw a glimpse of Crystal stepping into the unlit room, tried to catch her eye with a raised hand as she looked toward the window, and failed.

I did get the attention of someone sitting next to my mom, though.  She touched my mom’s arm and pointed.

I remained where I was, arms folded on the top of the wooden-slat fence, chin on my hands, while my mom approached.

“You’re hurt,” she said, touching my arm, where the road rash was.

“Scuffed up.”

“Did you get the other guy?” she asked.  She reached out and touched my hair, fixing it by moving strands to one side.

“No,” I said.  “But there were five of them.”

“Do you want to talk about it?  I’m interested.”

“Not really,” I said.  “Today-”

My breath caught.

“-Kind of not a good day,” I said.

I saw her expression change, even though the light source was behind her.

“What?” I asked.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t save me the dessert you promised.  Looking forward to that is pretty much the only thing keeping me going right now.”

She smiled, touching my cheek, before kissing me on the forehead.  “I saved you dessert with extras to take home, in case you want pie or pastries for breakfast tomorrow.”

“You’ve done your duty then,” I said, with mock seriousness.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve failed a mission,” she said, in the same tone.  She put her hand on the side of my head.  “You missed Uncle Mike, I’m afraid.”

“Oh shoot,” I said.  “I barely remember him.  How is he?”

“He’s Uncle Mike.  He brought his wife and your cousins, and I haven’t child-proofed at all.  It was… something, in the brief time he was here.  A whirlwind of chaos and emotion, and then he was gone.”

“Ah, too bad,” I said.

In the background, my dad was trying to get my attention.  He’d sat up, and didn’t look relaxed anymore.  He offered me a small smile.  I acknowledged him by lifting one hand up from where it sat on my elbow, in a mini-wave.

“Thank you for coming,” my mom said.  “I know the family stuff is hard, after everything, but it means so much to me.  To everyone.”

“I’m here for the desserts,” I said.  I amended it to, “…and a bit for family.”

My mom lightly rapped me on the side of the head before stepping away.  “Come on in, then.  Meet people, I’ll get your pie.”

As she stepped over to the gate by the garage to unlock it, Crystal stepped out into the backyard, joined by a few others in our age group.  She glanced in my direction, saw me, and froze like a deer in the headlights.

Her arms folded, defensive, like something was wrong.

She mouthed words at me, and I couldn’t see her face well enough at a distance to know what the words were, but I could draw conclusions from context.

My dad’s posture, still sitting upright now, both feet planted on the ground.

My mom’s earlier change in expression.  Even the wording-

I backed away from the fence a few steps.  My mom froze, the gate only slightly open.

“You invited her,” I said.  I wasn’t talking about Crystal.

In reaction to that, my mother didn’t look confused, she didn’t negate.  She looked toward the house, to see what I’d seen that had clued me in.

Whirlwind of fucking chaos and emotion indeed.

“You invited her,” I said, again.  More emotional this time.  “She’s in the house?”

My mother rallied, composing herself.  Now she looked confused.  “I told you I invited everyone.”

“She’s actually in the house,” I said.

I backed away again, and my mother threw the gate open, taking several steps on the driveway, stepping on crushed gravel with bare feet.

I raised my hand, indicating for her to stop.  She continued forward.

I threw my aura out, one push.

My mother stopped.  Crystal stopped in her tracks, already at the fence.  People rose from their seats.

“I thought you knew,” she said.  “I very clearly said everyone.  It was supposed to be a family reunion with everyone getting together again for the first time in… in a really long time.”

“You’re a lawyer,” I said.  “You’re too clever with wording to be that fucking stupid.”

“Please,” she said, with a tone like she was the one who needed to exercise patience and restraint here.  “Let’s keep things civil.”

I couldn’t even look at her.  I trembled as my eyes dropped to the ground.

“I’ve made mistakes, as your sister has,” my mother said.  “She’s been doing so well.  I want to make up for past wrongs and be a mother to both of you, like I should have been from the beginning.”

I looked up, staring at her.

The lipstick, the composed outfit, the words, the everything about this all seemed so false now, so forced.  I didn’t even recognize her.

“You’re kind of fucking it up,” I said, in the kind of whisper that was the only tone I could manage that wasn’t outright screaming at her.  My hands were clenched at their sides.

“That’s not fair.”

“You’re kind of really fucking it up,” I said, in the same strangled whisper.

“Victoria-”

“You’re fucking it up, mother,” I said.  “You’re fucking- you’re fucking- did dad play along with this?”

“I told him everyone was coming.  You, your sister, Crystal, Uncle Mike.  He was surprised, but… pleasantly surprised.”

Dad too, then.  There was that heart-wrenched-out feeling again.  I screwed my eyes shut, inadvertently squeezing out tears.  I was aware her neighbors were seeing.

“Don’t- don’t get emotional, Victoria,” my mom said.  “Please, I didn’t do this to hurt you.  The furthest thing from it.”

“You fucked that up too,” I whispered.

“Stop saying that.  Please,” my mother said.  “It’s the age of second chances, she’s worked very hard to get to this point.  I’ve talked to people who worked with her and she’s getting back into her routine in a good way.  I want all of us to have a second shot at this, and do it right this time.”

I shook my head.

“Leaving things as unresolved as they are is doing more harm than good.  To both you and to her.”

“So you thought you’d invite me to dinner and surprise me with her, and you thought there was nothing I could say or do because people are here?”

“You’re putting thoughts and conspiracy in my head,” she said.  “I want you to be sisters again.  I want us to be a family again.”

“That’s not for you to decide,” I said.  “Holy shit.  Holy shit.  Holy shit.”

“Please, don’t wind yourself up.  You’re getting out of breath.  Let’s communicate.  Please.”

I was getting out of breath.  I gulped in a breath of air.  “You’re aware I can’t set foot in that house again, right?  I’ll see her looming in the shadows, potentially another surprise invite.”

“I want you to find reconciliation, so you wouldn’t feel upset even if she did appear by surprise.”

“I can’t accept any invites from you,” I said.  My face started to contort, and I forced it back into something more normal before I lost the ability to see my mother or focus on her altogether.  “I can’t grab dessert from you or do anything with you again because she might be there, surprise.  I can’t trust you.  How can I trust you again?”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.  I did not realize that was where things stood.  You’ve been doing so well, and she’s been doing well.”

“How-” I started.  I gulped in another breath of air.  My voice was a whisper again when I managed to speak again.  “How do you not realize when you saw me at the hospital?  How do you even think rec- how do you think this is ever possible?  How does-”

I closed my eyes.  More tears.

“How does Dad?  How could you see me then, how could you- how- how-”

My chest hurt.

“Crystal-” I said, I looked toward the house.

Crystal was still on the porch.  Standing guard by the back door, red shield up.  She watched me talking with my mom over one shoulder.

“I told Crystal the same thing I told your father.  She was skeptical but she agreed it was for the best.”

I didn’t trust my mom’s version of events on that.  Crystal at least had my back in this moment.

I tried to find words, and I didn’t have the oxygen.

“Catch your breath.  We can talk this out.”

I worked at it, swallowing air.

“I’ll wait,” she said.

The sound of her voice made it harder, not easier.

When I spoke, my voice was very small.  It gained more strength as I went.

“How can you have not been there, missed visits, or come to the visit and spend more time talking to doctors than to me because it was hard to be around me?  How can you have come to see me then, and have had to avert your eyes mid-conversation with me, and found that hard, and not realize that I had to live it for two years, and had that be a million times harder for me?”

“I know it was hard, honey.  I get it, I really do.  But you can’t dwell in the past.  It’s not good for you.  You can’t carry that.”

“You say that, when you still sleep with the lights on,” I said.

It was her turn to not have words.

“That’s different,” she said, finally.  She didn’t say how it was different.

I stared at her.

“I want all of us to conquer our demons,” she said.  “I think you want that too.”

I continued to stare.

Finally, I said, “I want that too.”

“We can talk this out.  We can find things we all want,” she said.  “We can make inroads on this.”

She looked nearly as upset as I felt, even as composed as she was.

But in the end, and I’d known this from very early on, seeing her with- with her, she wasn’t a whole and complete person.  She tried, she put on a good face, but my mother had been broken long, long ago, and with the way she’d put herself together, she retained only sufficient compassion, understanding, and empathy for a very small number of people.  For one daughter, at most.

Second chances.  Second go-around, and I wasn’t that daughter, this time.

“In the interest of putting my demons to rest,” I said.  “I’m going to keep my distance.  Don’t call, because I can’t trust a thing you say.  I’ll figure out what I’ll do about Dad later.”

“Don’t,” she said.  “Nothing gets better if you close off communication.”

There were things I wanted to say to that.

It wasn’t worth it.

I turned to go.

I heard the gravel under her feet as she gave chase, and I pushed out with my aura, hard.

“Do not use your power on me, Victoria Dallon.  That has never been okay, and it doesn’t work anyway.”

I drew in a deep breath.  There were things I wanted to say to that, too.

I settled for, “Let me go.  If you follow me, I’m liable to hit you with something harder than my aura.  I’m pretty sure that would work.”

It might have been a good line, if I hadn’t been choking back emotion as I said it.

I walked away.  I didn’t trust myself to fly when I couldn’t see straight.  Having a panic attack in the air made for an embarrassing moment.

People stood in rows at the fences that bounded their yards, staring and watching.  I wiped away my tears once, then resolved not to shed more, not where people could see.  I set my jaw.

In the background, I could hear my father’s raised voice.

Breathe.  Center yourself.  Move forward.  Plan.

I thought about what I’d need to do next.  I couldn’t go back to the apartment I shared with my dad.

For the time being, I only walked, out in the general direction of the water.  Streetlights lit up in advance of imminent cars and as I stepped onto the streets, turning off otherwise.  Here and there they would turn on for wildlife, illuminating a lost deer or raccoon mid-scurry down the road.  We’d set ourselves up so abruptly that the animals were still confused.

It was getting cooler.  I wore my skirt, my clothes from earlier.  My forcefield shielded against the wind, which kept it from lowering the temperature even further, but it didn’t do a lot to shield me from the ambient heat or lack thereof.

I tensed as I heard running footsteps behind me.  I stopped in my tracks.

Not Crystal.  She would have flown, and she would have set down well in front of me.  She wouldn’t have chased, maybe.

Her, then.

I didn’t want to look.  I didn’t want to speak to her.

I pushed out with my aura, instead.

Another footstep, closer.

Our mother’s daughter.

I threw my arm back and to the side, a backhand swipe.  I tore through lawn, through slabs of sidewalk, and the edge of the road.  Dirt flew across the street alongside clumps of grass and chunks of sidewalk.

A long pause, and then I heard the footsteps again, running.  This time the other way.

Gilpatrick jumped as I appeared in the doorway of his office, nearly knocking over a paper container of noodles in red sauce that rested on a stack of paper.  Paperwork I would have been helping him with, had the day gone differently.

“Victoria?  What’s wrong?” he asked.

So it was that obvious something was wrong.

“I need to call in a favor,” I said.

Okay, hearing my voice, I could get why he’d known.  I sounded like another person entirely.

“If it’s okay,” I said.

“Of course it’s okay,” he said.  “What’s wrong?  Are you cold?  The temperature dropped steeply tonight.  What can I get you?  Sit.”

He stood, circling around his desk.  I backed away a little as he did, which was his cue to stop.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, how to ask.

“By the way,” he said.  “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no need to count.  I consider you a friend, and I feel like a piece of shit for setting you up to fail like that.”

“It’s not that,” I said.  “I just need a place to stay tonight.  While I figure some things out.  I’ll be gone before the students arrive first thing.”

I noted the hesitation before he responded.

“Sure,” he said.

“You paused.”

“Only because it’s not really a great place for staying overnight.  You could come to my apartment, but that’s-”

“I kind of want space to think,” I said.  “Offer’s appreciated.”

“There’s an issue with power rations and temperature is supposed to drop a few more degrees, and this place isn’t insulated well.  It was a bitch last winter.”

“I remember,” I said.

“Of course,” Gilpatrick said.

He kept giving me very deeply concerned looks.  Almost pity.

I really hated those.  I’d had a lifetime’s fill and then some.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’ve got a space heater right by my desk here.  You’ll want to be careful if you’re leaving it running for a while, fire hazard.”

“I’ll be careful,” I said.

“There are blankets we stowed in the locker rooms that you can use if you want to sleep.  You could get something serviceable if you gather a bunch.  I laundered them not too long ago, too.”

“I know where to find them.”

“There are candles too, in case the power runs out.  But again, fire hazard.”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I’ll be careful.”

“Okay,” he said.  “You sure you don’t want company?  We can talk it out, if you haven’t eaten I can go grab something, or…”

I was already shaking my head.

“Sure,” he said.  “I was needing an excuse to go home, this will do.  Unless maybe I should stay around?  You could settle in upstairs, and I’ll be all the way down here, you can have your space to think and you can still have me to talk to in case you decide you need it.”

“No,” I said.  “Don’t let me keep you.  Go home.  You’ll have angry parents to talk to first thing tomorrow, once they’ve figured out what happened and had time to get angry.”

He frowned.  “Yeah.”

“Please,” I said.  “I know where everything is.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “You sure you’re okay?  You’re not going to…”

He trailed off.

“If I was going to do anything, I’d take someone out with me.”

He scrutinized me.

“I’m worried here, for the record,” he said.

“I’ll manage,” I said.  “I’ve managed this far.”

“You have my number,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“You call if you need anything.”

“Yeah.”

“And you… be here in the morning when I show up.  Which will be well before the kids do.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

He gathered up his paper container, a stack of his papers.  He was trying to pick up the remainder when I approached, picking it up myself.

Silent, I walked him to his car, handing over the papers when it was time.  I walked inside and locked the door behind me.  The place was big and it was dark, with the open gymnasium space unlit.

I carted the space heater upstairs, and then I got the blankets.  I got the candles and the matches, and then I found the file boxes, collapsed and gathered in piles.

I situated myself in my office, which wasn’t technically my office anymore, and I set to making the boxes, pulling my things off the shelves, and getting them stowed away.

The space heater hummed and the computer monitor clicked, as I periodically checked something or followed up on something I’d seen on a file.

I made a stack of the things I wanted to read, the files that intrigued or that I’d forgotten about, the magazines I liked.  I was a third of the way through my shelves, twelve boxes filled, when I finally settled down in my chair, pulling blankets over me, and started to read.

I got about two pages read before deciding I didn’t have it in me to read more.

I didn’t have it in me to sit still, when my anxieties were churning.

I stood, dropping blankets on the floor, and walked over to the window.  With the cold, the space heater, and the imperfect seal, moisture and fog had collected on it.

I reached out toward the window, a foot away from touching it.  I turned on my forcefield.

A pause.

Then a handprint on the window, in the condensation.  Then another.

A circular smudge that streaked, a naked breast pressed against the glass, moving.

Then the mark that couldn’t be anything but one half of a face, beneath the circular smudge.

They moved, and I wasn’t asking them to move.  The window rattled a bit as it was pushed against. The prints smudged.

A fingernail dragged against the glass, and produced a high pitched squeal, almost ear-splitting.

I dropped the forcefield.  I sank back into my seat, and it protested the landing.

Not a second trigger.  I was well aware of that.  When I’d first had my forcefield, it hadn’t protected my costume.  I had two theories as to why.

The first theory was that I’d grown, and the boundaries that the forcefield used to define ‘me’ had changed.  I’d breathe out, breathe in, gain a pound here, lose a pound there, and it would adjust for the maximum bounds.  It didn’t explain how my skirt was often protected, but I’d mused on that too, that my legs moved, my hair had been long at one point, I’d been shorter…

I’d been that, the forcefield had adjusted, and that was the new upper bound of what I was, forever with me.

It felt thin, as theories went.

The second theory was that it was the Manton effect, that broad-as-bells term for the built in protections and limitations of the power.  The theory was that the built-in protections of the power only protected what I saw as a part of me, and it had taken some time before the costume was that much a part of my identity.

That that was me, now, as much as the costume I wore.

I couldn’t be that.  I couldn’t sit still and be crushed under the weight of that thing.

I needed to do something, and taking books off the shelves felt like it was moving backward, not forward.

I spun around in my seat, and I loaded up the webpage.  Something to do.  Methodically filling out details on the group I’d seen, researching, filling myself in, and letting others know what they were up against.

Something constructive to keep me occupied until the power ran out, or until I was so tired I had no choice but to sleep.

Previous Chapter                                                                                             Next Chapter

146 thoughts on “Daybreak – 1.7”

  1. TPYO thread!

    “A sleeveless undershirt tucked into, black pants, a sweatshirt slung over one shoulder.”

    The comma after “tucked into” shouldn’t be there. (In the next sentence, there’s “hairy, hairy arms,” but I suspect that’s intended? It works, at any rate.)

      1. “Boyfriend and girlfriend sat on an outdoor love seat together, arms around each other, bathed in fire’s warmth. Friends…”

        Shouldn’t there be an “a” before boyfriend, given the singular love seat?

        “A boyfriend and girlfriend sat…”

    1. Please don’t misspell ‘Typo’ on purpose. I use control-f to find the thread without bumping into spoilers in the comments.

      neighbors kids
      -neighbors’ kids

    2. “hadn’t gotten all of Tempera’s paint and the blood on the backs of my hands”

      Feel like that’s supposed to be ‘off the backs’ rather than ‘on’ but maybe not.

    3. _It was a nice neighborhood, even if it had what I felt was the artificial quality._
      Should it be ‘_an_ artificial quality’?
      _My hands were clenched at their sides._
      ‘_my_ sides’.
      _To both you and to her._
      The ‘both’ sets up a kind of forking-off–the two things following should be grammatically equivalent: Either ‘To both you and her.’ or ‘Both to you and to her.’

  2. ….. oh.

    No wonder Victoria doesn’t like using her powers. Wildbow, I’ve followed your stuff since near the end of Worm. Your work has repeatedly expanded my conception of ‘awful’. This, though, hasn’t expanded my conception of ‘awful’ so much as added an entirely new type of awful. This is emotionally gut-wrenching and all kinds of fucked up body horror and psychologically twisted but ultimately I can’t put it into any particular category of ‘awful’ and so it just gets its own.

    Wow. Yeah at the start of this story I was kind of skeptical that you could spin Victoria into a whole story of her own, especially with the kinds of wide-ranging *campaigns* that make up your stories. But now? I don’t think I’ll be able to tear my eyes away.

    As for the family reunion … Jesus I barely have words for it so I’m just going to say “I get it”. Every thought and feeling that went through Victoria’s head and every bit of betrayal and shattered trust she experienced … yeah. I get it.

    It’s uh, it’s kind of hard to say thank you for a scene like this. It’s … there’s nothing positive in it (in the emotional sense, not the writing sense). There’s no closure or catharsis or epiphany and grand moment of indignation or righteous hurt. It’s just bad. And ugly. And cruel in a sad and lonely way. So I feel odd saying thank you for that. It feels like there’s nothing to say thank you for. This scene didn’t do anything good for me emotionally, not by a loooong shot. But … But it exists. And it feels complete and whole and honest. So for that, thank you.

    1. For me, the thankfulness goes to “It’s good to know that it’s not just me.” Even if the other person is from a story. The pain I’ve gone through has been intensely personal and intensely lonely.

      And it’s nice not to be alone.

  3. So, is she sure it isn’t a second trigger because she already had one?

    Also, Carol, I know you are a lawyer and all, but you have to learn how to leave the courtly manipulations behind when you get home. That whole “you can’t be mad at me because I told you what I was doing (in a manner that would never conversationally be taken in the manner in which I am using it now)” thing strikes a little close to home, actually, as it is something my own parental unit/lawyer does regularly. As well as the whole assuming that what is best for them is what is best for their children. Really starting to feel for Victoria, now, well done WorldBuilder.

    1. >So, is she sure it isn’t a second trigger because she already had one?

      My take was that she was sure it wasn’t a second trigger because she knew it was just a part of her normal powers. She subconsciously still thinks of the ‘blob’ as being part of herself, so her forcefield has expanded to protect it. Sort of like a ‘phantom limb’ you hear about from people who have had amputations; there are times where they swear they can still feel it, and their brain still subconsciously tries to control it.

        1. It took time for her field to protect her costume, and she spent years as a Picasso painting – I doubt Victoria is in the mood to spend more time further modifying her inner-body boundaries.

        2. My first thought is that you could pair Victoria with someone capable of messing with proprioception and hack the hell out of her power but, like, the first such cape who comes to mind is Amy and just … no.

      1. Ahhh, ok I see now. That explanation really clarifies it for me.

        The concept of her forcefield being changeable is really interesting to me. If it’s molded based upon what she perceives to be part of her. Could it theoretically be extended to another person who she shares an exceptionally deep connection with? Someone who she feels is a part of her because of their strong bond? What if she had a child?

        Probably a stretch and a little philosophical, but that seems like an interesting concept to me.

        1. Well, if Victoria accepts the shape of her force field as independent from her physical body then she should be able to drop the psychological compulsion to hold her force field to the shape she views herself as, at which point her force field could work as invisible limbs, which would be very useful and could be highly effective in close combat.

          1. It isn’t what she defines as part of herself that matters, it’s what her shard defines as part of her. It’s used to shielding the blob, so it keeps shielding the blob. To break her power like that you’d need a trump of some sort, someone like Amy or Ingenue.
            The Manton-Limit-as-a-mental-block theory is common in universe (see the interlude where Faultline tries to overcome her limits) but is mostly incorrect.

    2. Somehow I knew Amy would be there, just from the texts and the knowledge of who those people were. But I admit I can’t tell exactly how I knew.

  4. Victoria Dallon. I used to cheer a little in my head when Skitter and the others triumphed over her. Her arrogance and shortsightedness made her difficult to sympathise with, she might have even annoyed me if I was the type to get really annoyed with fictional characters.

    Now… After the revelations about her past in Glow-Worm and all she’s done in this and the pervious few chapters… my opinions of her have done a complete 180º turn.

    Well done Wildbow.

      1. Why? She didn’t do anything particularly morally reprehensible in Worm. At most she roughed people up more they could take, and was a little more aggressive than normal. The aura thing was unintentional on her part, and she herself got the worst consequences from it.

        She’s not exactly a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine, so why would you enjoy her suffering? That’s a little sadistic.

        1. I don’t enjoy her suffering at all… I mean, this past two chapters were so fucking painful. Literal literary gut punches. Yet, I also get Ataru.

          The complete lack of empathy she had for her sister during the whole slaughterhouse nine incident made it very hard to empathize with her. What happened to her is still on the same level as the Nina incident from FMA in my head (it’s probably worse, but I was younger when I watched FMA.) It’s very fucked up. Yet a part of me always felt like she brought it on herself. No, she didn’t deserve it. Yes, she was a teenager and one can’t really expect her to handle any situation well so soon after her boyfriend died. But she really screwed up.

          I mean, I get that she didn’t know the truth, but trying to be that pushy when someone had just gotten the Slaughterhouse treatment? Hugging her out of nowhere after being warned explicitly?

          It’s very tragic… and you sympathize with Amy because she REALIZES how tragic it is, how fucked up SHE is. While Vic really just focuses on how she felt, and when she learns the truth instead of feeling any empathy she’s disgusted. I just re-read the chapter to refresh my memory. Vic even tells Amy she loves her. Did she not for a minute consider her word choice after the fact? She had two years to mull over her life choices and she spent them feeling resentful, it seems.

          And it’s only natural that she only hates Amy even worse now… Yet somehow seeing this reaction from her just brings back her reaction from back then. And I still really dislike that part of her that doesn’t even try to put herself in the other person’s shoes while complaining other people have the same problem. I’m not complaining about the writing. This is congruent with Victoria’s character 100%. Yet she doesn’t even consider the fact Amy did save her life back then. She turned her into a monster, but she’d be dead otherwise. She fails to consider that her sister had been broken long before her. I’m not asking her to forgive Amy, yet she doesn’t even try to understand.

          I’ve always liked Amy’s character more than hers and while these chapters are really well written, that’s still true after this time skip. Victoria is a broken and interesting character. Yet Amy is much more likeable imho. I’m pretty sure it’s not what we’re going to get, but I’d probably prefer alternating between them on an arch basis. Watching Amy after Marquis influence, being a bit more pragmatic with her powers. It would be fun and a good break from the emotional drain that this version of Victoria. I hope we at least get an interlude!

          1. I don’t see her reaction as hatred of Amy. I see it as still being so traumatized that she literally can’t stand being in the same room with her..especially by surprise. I used to have a friend who was in the Coast Guard, and one day he and his crew got caught in a major storm. They barely survived, and spent several hours being absolutely certain they wouldn’t. Years later, TV spots for that movie, “The Perfect Storm” started. He had to turn off the TV and stay away from it until the movie left the theaters and the ads weren’t being shown any more. Inviting Amy to the family reunion was like inviting my friend to see some home movies and then splicing scenes from the film into the show. Failing to respect how damaged Vicky still is, and how raw the wounds still are, and for God’s sake telling her to “just get over it” was a genuine betrayal.

          2. At this point, I think no part of the problem is her mom’s inability to be in her shoes. Also, fixing what you did 2 years later doesn’t mean the slate is wiped clean. I’m 100% with Victoria here. Mom violated trust, and the fact she doesn’t even understand she did is a twist of the knife. She could forgive Amy completely, have a big cathartic hug moment, and they could be roomies getting that rent paid, and if she said she could never talk to her mother ever again I’d still be behind her 100%.

          3. So I guess in rereading it, you missed the part where Amy put that love in her, like a reflex she swiped through Victoria, and “fixed” that one detail, the one thing her sister never had, romantic feelings for her. That’s what tore them apart, the cronenburging was an attempt to fix the mental/emotional distress Amy had already caused.

          4. Me, I think that everything wrong with both girls has consistently been the upbringing given by at least one very bad parent. It was so with GG’s egocentrism, due to being showered by all the attention, Panacea’s feelings of insecurity due to the instilled black and white morality and neglect which exploded, and is guilty of this here event.

            When a thief steals bread from a merchant to feed his family… often, one can neither call the merchant nor the thief at fault, yet that does not mean no one is at fault… someone created the conditions for the thief to be so poor, after all. Similar principle here.

            Bad parenting combined with mind altering and violative superpowers. I cannot really find fault in either of’em, Vicktoria has every right to be so traumatized that she cannot bear to see Amy even if she has forgiven her, and Amy shouldn’t feel bad for trying to reconcile if ssomeone had led her to believe its an option. The mother is the villain of the scenario.

  5. By far my favorite chapter so far, and that’s saying something. Holy shit, that panic attack felt so real, the way even you yourself aren’t sure how much the emotion is effecting you… it’s weird to say that I enjoyed it since it’s very clearly a terrible thing she’s going through. And the way her field has been (permanently) altered by her… that… and how it reflects the way she thinks of herself is going to be some very good emotion fuel.

    1. Her forcefield isn’t shaped like a sphere or like her body. It’s shaped like a projection of her blob form from the Asylum. She’s still carrying her nightmare with her.

  6. So, seems like Mike was actually Lightstar after all. Yeah, skirting around the bombshell of the barbecue. Issues are there, lot of them. And now I’m really curious about who will net the first interlude.

  7. Jesus.

    I really, desperately, cannot wait until Victoria starts to get her own undersiders. People who she can trust. I hope she can start healing, really healing, soon.

  8. While deeply ironic that Carol apparently still has only one ‘favored daughter’ slot and it’s the other one now, this physically hurt me to read. Family betrayals over small thing hurt a lot. Family betrayals that show consistency in ignoring you destroy families, and the Dallons were never good at being a family even before all of this.

    I feel for Victoria and hope that we get Crystal’s side of things since it’s clear that she was in Victoria’s “safe” zone and no longer will be and probably had the best insight into how badly Carol was fucking this up.

    *Applause*

      1. The way Carol wrote her off in Worm and Victoria’s unfond memories of the visits speak the opposite.

        This isn’t a first offense, but yet another step on the treadmill of not caring at a level of a decent human being.

        And yes, Carol’s damaged and likely doesn’t realize what she’s doing in her futile efforts to balance her daughters out, but that doesn’t make Victoria suffer less.

        1. It may also be that Victoria perceives less than 100% as nothing. We’re not always fair with our perceptions.

          It does seem more likely than not that Victoria’s right though, particularly given the incident we’re shown.

          1. Yeah well… I kinda got reminded of Taylor this chapter. Early Taylor. The one who was bullied and had lost her ablility to believe in society and institutions to do their jobs. And Taylor as time went on, well people’s perception of her changed in real life, as we gradually picked away at her flaws and fuck ups. We might look back 4 years later and be a lot less sympathetic to Vicky.

            At the same time I can’t really bring myself to hate the family, or even Amy. They do want things to be fixed, for the family to be as whole as it can be. And if Vicky is supposed to be supporting the idea of leaving old grudges and wounds behind, but clings to hers… Who was she then to defend Fume Hood? I understand what the family wants, and was trying to do. They are naive, but I don’t think they are wrong. And Amy, she would give anything I think to fix things. But it’s not something you can fix, unless Vicky can leave it behind and move on. The Trauma that is. And that… That is going to be a hard thing.

          2. @negadarkwing it’s one thing to avoid meeting the person who cause you years of horrific trauma (that is, in a way, ongoing), it’s another thing to actively try to kill or abduct someone. It seems to me that there’s no conflict between defending Fume Hood and avoiding Amy.

          3. I don’t disagree with your point, but well during her own interlude back in worm Carol said that “Victoria is gone. There’s nothing of her left but that mockery. Mark and I fought over it and this was what we decided.” in response to Dragon saying she would have rescheduled so that she could see both Amy and Victoria off to the Birdcage/Asylum.
            So while it isn’t strictly impossible that things have changed, it wasn’t entirely in Victoria’s head back then at least.

          4. Can’t reply to NegaDarkwing directly.. I gues a reply to a reply is not a thing 😀

            I agree that I’m not gonna hate on Carol or Amy. The desires are good, but I do think they screwed it up with the ambush. Especially Carol. They should not have staged a half-intervention.
            It was a selfish approach. They should have had Carol or Crystal TALK to Victoria about it before hand.

            On the same note, Victoria is fine supporting Fumehood. I see no hypocrisy here, which I think is what you are implying. Its far easier to forgive those who have hurt others than to forgive those who have hurt you. That doesn’t mean there is no desire or consideration, it just means Victoria is in no condition to do so.
            It takes time and effort. There hasn’t been enough yet. who knows if there will be.

            There is alot of tragic irony Wildbow has going on here, since Amy’s affection for Victoria is probably due at least in part to an unhealthy and prolonged exposure to Victoria’s unmitigated Aura.

            They are playing emotional tragedy ping pong w/ their powers on each other when they both were happier as close sisters.

      2. Ironic because that’s what Amy felt way back in Worm. That she was never wanted and her mother had love only for Victoria

      3. The problem is, we’ve seen inside Carols head. At best Vicky has a fully accurate grasp of who she used to be and she’s changed. Her current actions aren’t a great defense for the woman though.

  9. I see Pact in this chapter. And even though it’s ugly and painful, it resonates. Looking forward to this story’s progression more now, somehow.

  10. ” She tried, she put on a good face, but my mother had been broken long, long ago, and with the way she’d put herself together, she retained only sufficient compassion, understanding, and empathy for a very small number of people. For one daughter, at most.

    Second chances. Second go-around, and I wasn’t that daughter, this time.”

    Gods above, I think I literally said “holy shit” out loud when I read that line. Dammit, Carol. She’s clearly trying, but it’s not enough…never going to be enough. I wonder how this meeting would have gone without the catastrophe of the assignment – I can see her still outright rejecting Amy, but then I don’t know.. What monumentally bad timing either way.

  11. I am very curious how she got back to normal.

    Panacea could not have been involved and Bonesaw is the only canon character who we know has equal expertise. If it is Bonesaw, what is she doing nowadays? Going to highschool, being an amazing surgeon, and curing cancer so people don’t murder her I imagine.

    1. Why couldn’t Panacea have been involved?

      I watched the individual members of the swarm touch ground. The girl with healing powers had been placed deliberately next to a living pool of flesh with multiple heads of golden hair. The healer’s hands were covering her face, but she didn’t step away.

      Her hands slowly lowered, and she laid her eyes on the monster, which was actively, ineffectually reaching out for her.

    2. It was Panacea. From chapter 30.7:
      “The girl with healing powers had been placed deliberately next to a living pool of flesh with multiple heads of golden hair. The healer’s hands were covering her face, but she didn’t step away.
      Her hands slowly lowered, and she laid her eyes on the monster, which was actively, ineffectually reaching out for her.”
      So I guess, Amy repaid her debt to Victoria and then they both went their separate ways. Because what else would they do?

      1. I figured it was Amy and Riley*. Amy because she wants to at least try to begin fixing things, Riley because she wants to be a good girl. But the sort of truama Vicky went through isn’t so easily forgiven. It’s questions I’ve seen before relating to forgiveness and atonement. It’s easy enough to say “forgive them, they are trying to make amends.” when it’s not you. At the same time, if someone is genuinly repentent and trying to atone, especially if it was an action that was a mistake or a break and not malicious or evil, should they be damned forever, treated as though they are still a monster, and wished to go to die and go to hell by the world?

        * I use Riley to differentiate from Bonesaw. One’s the person who’s trying to not be the other.

        1. Victoria never said any of those things about Amy though. What she indicated here (and what we have seen in her thoughts) is that she just. can’t. deal. She literally can’t even think about Amy. She sure as hell can’t go to a BBQ where-surprise! She’s there all of the sudden.

          She can’t forgive Amy, but she doesn’t condem her. She didn’t decide to go in and kill her estranged sister, or rant about how she should be in jail or any of the things that would indicate this was soley about her anger. She didn’t attack Carol for talking to Amy or having a relationship with her, as this whole conversation seemed to strongly imply that A. Carol and Amy have had a relationship for a while and B. Victoria knew all about it. Rather she couldn’t deal with those worlds intersecting. And since Carol tried to do it without clearing that with her, now she can’t trust Carol. It’s obviously not the first time they’ve had a conversation about this. I’m pretty sure Victoria made it very clear she was not equpipped for a reconcilation. And Carol, like every parent out there who probably needs a therapist herself but thinks all therapists are full of it, thinks it’s about time Vicky just got over it and decided to push the issue. The sad thing is she’ll probably be upset over why her daughter was just so obstinate about this.

          1. I do not think its so much “unability to forgive” as it is “overhelming PTSD manifesting itself in the form of extreme phobia” tbh.

    3. I’d guess Bonesaw is still in Protectorate custody, along with the Goblin King and probably some others they think are too dangerous to be granted amnesty.

      1. I figured they have been granted amnesty but are too dangerous but useful to be left on their own, so they are kept busy with healthcare projects with Amy under close monitoring & are undergoing therapy.

    4. I’m pretty sure it went like this: Victoria was happy to see Amy on Golden Morning because she was still under the influence of Amy’s mind alteration. Then Amy fixed Victoria, and at the very end un-did the brain-change.

    5. Btw, it’s inappropriate to call post-Blasto Riley ‘Bonesaw’. Overriding your own Shard after letting it rule you for years should be respected, although she got some help to guide her on the way.
      Maybe she chose a new cape name, but we have yet to hear it.

      1. Actually there’s no real evidence that the Chiurgeon shard was in any way influencing its host. That’s what Contessa implied, but she has no reason to tell the truth. She has no reason to even know the truth. She just knows the things she must say to get Bonesaw to reach the conclusion she wants. As for Riley’s own observations, they were done on the growth of Blasto clones with fabricated memories, and can hardly be generalized to regular humans.

        Perhaps Bonesaw’s shard was pushing her to use her power for evil. Perhaps the influence Bonesaw attributed to her shard was actually Jack Slash. Perhaps it was always just Bonesaw alone – perhaps she always had the potential to be a monster, and the things that happened to her just provided a convenient excuse.

        1. Even if it was an excuse, someone else’s influence or whatever – she consciously decided to drop it along with what it represented, and asked for her second chance.
          Using the correct name to address her present self would help with that. Rather appropriate considering this first arc.

          1. While I don’t disagree with the Protectorate policy of granting second chances to everyone, no questions asked, I don’t see why that should mean trying to sweep the past under a rug. She WAS Bonesaw. She killed a LOT of people, in very nasty ways. It happened, and if she dislikes the consequences now, she should have thought of them beforehand. If she can’t even acknowledge her old name as part of her legacy, I don’t see why she should expect her many victims to tolerate her.

  12. I had to read and re-read the window section a couple times before it clicked. In the same way that Victoria is so good at avoiding thinking Amy’s name (girl, it’s gonna be such a bombshell when she finally says it) she’s very good at avoiding directly naming the state she was in.

    I really hope there is a bright side to some part of Victoria’s life that we find out soon. Reading about her emotional turmoil is fantastic (because it is written so well and is so interesting and real, not because of any sadism), but everyone needs something good to fuel them. I wonder if the job Victoria gets next will be that.

    Thank you for the amazing chapter!

  13. Brandish you terrible mother. Your surprises are terrible, she could’ve at least talked about this with her a few days beforehand.

    1. This is one thing I find super sad. Brandish is deeply broken. So many wormversians are damaged horribly by the cape world.

      It’s both fantastic in a way because it feels real in a way that I think the MCU isnt. MCU is bright and fun but seems like platonic ideals and symbols facing off. Wormverse feels like flawed people being given hand-held artillery and dealing with consequences.

  14. I like Amy. I feel like she’s done a lot of growing as a person since The Incident, and I hope to read more about her.

    But I’m still 1000% with Vicky on this one. Its *not* her mom’s call to make for when, if ever, Vicky meets her abuser.

    1. Yeah. I’m sorry Carol but there may be no way to ever mend the relation between the two, and if you want both of them in your life… Well you can’t do it in the same place at the same time. At the very least you’d need to set it up at a neutral location and let Vicky know what’s going on.

      And I really can’t bring myself to hate Amy. She’s tragic, not evil. She broke, just for a moment, but that’s all it takes sometimes to destroy everything.

      1. While it’s easy to think Amy’s mistake as being the product of a single moment, I don’t think that’s actually true. Amy spent *years* repressing and suppressing her thoughts because it was easier than confronting her problems. That was expressed in a single awful moment, to be sure, but that moment was still a culmination of years of Amy dodging her own issues.

        Amy knew she was dangerous. She knew that she might do *exactly what she did* and that’s why she refused to let herself touch brains. She knew. The right thing to do in that situation is to seek help. Talk to a therapist, ask elder capes for tips on control, work up the courage to talk to Victoria, etc. But instead of actually working on the problem, Amy did everything she could to ignore it.

        Amy made conscious, intentional decisions regarding her own mental health, over the course of years, that directly resulted in a harm she knew was a risk. So I don’t think it’s quite true to say she broke “just for a moment”. She’d been laying the groundwork for that moment for a long time.

        1. I completely disagree. I’ve struggled with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), especially in high school. It’s not quite the same thing but a lot of the same problems arise, especially because Amy and I had the same avoidant personality. It’s not in the sense of avoidant personality disorder, though there may be overlap. Our instinct is to avoid thinking about those problems because they’re so overwhelming. It’s really not a conscious decision. I needed years of therapy to recognize that pattern and learn how to redirect my thinking.

          Yes, in theory Amy could have gotten help, but from whom? Victoria was too close to being part of the problem. Mark was too depressed most of the time and almost certainly would have told Carol. Amy knew Carol wasn’t supportive, if not hostile. The rest of her family might have told Carol. It’s doubtful Amy was the type to actually befriend the nurses she worked with. Her family would have asked why she wanted a therapist. More problematic, Amy was terrified. If she told anybody they would realize she could be the lovechild of Heartbreaker and Nilbog. They might have confirmed her worst fears, told her she was unredeemable, and she’d know there was no hope. Subconsciously, I think it’s likely Amy even bought into the idea that she was doomed to harm people. Furthermore, they could have turned Amy into the Protectorate and she might be Birdcaged immediately or put down as too much of a risk. We can debate the validity of that (I doubt that it would be that severe, considering her usefulness) but the point is she felt there was no safe person to talk to.

          Did Amy make the healthy choices? No. But most people with similar mental problems (if not so extreme in the consequences) don’t make the logical choice either. The problem is completely grounded in toxic emotions and thinking.

          I’m not saying this to excuse what Amy did. She was responsible for all the harm she caused Victoria. I might even over-identify too much with Amy to see the issue clearly. I just don’t see Amy as responsible as you do. She was a teenager with mental issues beyond her capability- beyond most people’s ability to handle. I completely understand and support Victoria’s decision not to see Amy. I just feel bad for Amy.

        2. The thing I mostly blame Amy for is volunteering for the Birdcage afterwards. She could have tried again to do something about Victoria’s shape, with some help, after a few months rest, but nooooo. She thinks the only way for her to atone is to fuck off to the one place in the world where absolutely no one can get to her. Turning her adoptive sister into a shoggoth wasn’t enough to get her to stop running away from her problems, it took several more years and the Gold Morning.

          1. Her response was VERY teenager, and not surprising. As horrible/tragic as it was, I think Wildbow wrote it just right.

        3. If we’re too ignore how Amy’s anxiety and deep depression made seeking help very much impossible (If every person with depression went to a therapist immediately suicide would be far less common), then we aught to assign blame to Victoria as well for constantly harassing Amy to do something she felt was out of her grasp. To hug her when expressly warned not to touch her. To refuse her offer to reverse the effects right there, before her body had been melted so poorly Amy could only remember her best features and not her real self and created an abomination. She should right NOW acknowledge that Amy did save her life and probably regret what she did and try to mend things. If we’re to ignore how mental problems interfere with ones ability to make correct decisions, then Victoria fucked up pretty badly at all stages of this.

          Let’s not forget Amy might have fallen in love in Victoria from constant exposure to her powers. Victoria might be partially to blame for Amy falling in love with her. Yet she didn’t for a moment try to understand that. She responded with complete disgust and avoidance to a mistake caused after a SH9 attack. The kind that turns normal children into fucking Bonesaw.

          We’re speaking about a teenager handling well above the sort of thing that causes medical professionals to fall into depression WHEN THEY HAVE A VOCATION FOR IT. Amy was forced into the medical field by her powers. Stayed because people would DIE if she quit, and she felt responsible. All of that before reaching emotional maturity.
          If anyone’s to blame for this, it’s Amy’s parents and New Wave. She should’ve been in therapy from day one. Way before she even needed it. Instead she had absent parents that saw her as the daughter of a super villain and resented having to take care of her.

          It’s very much a tale of a broken family that really sells you on Caldron’s lies.

      2. I’m pretty sure from the tone of the conversation that’s how it’s already been. Vicky and her mom have had the “you should meet up with amy” conversation before, is the context I read here. And Vicky was willing to keep up with her mom as long as they were kept seperate. But this is the first time Carol has tried to force the issue, hence why Vickey kept talking about the trust. She wasn’t shocked Amy might be there at all, she was shocked Amy would be there at the same time and she had no warning.

    2. Same- I’m honestly hoping that Amy and Victoria are able to mend their relationship eventually. But yeah, forcing an abuse victim to meet their abuser is the absolute wrong way to go about it, and only lessens the chance that Victoria might ever be able to forgive Amy…

  15. This chapter knocked me around a bit. Somehow, starting at the very first sentence, I managed to let myself be convinced that the gut punches were over after each one and that Victoria would get a moment to stabilize herself and recuperate. Boy was I wrong.

    1. It only took 1/2 way thru worm to realize Wildbow doesn’t pull punches to the MC the way namby-pamby authors like Jim Butcher do to their knock-down characters.

      Nope, in wormverse, if they get knocked down REALLY REALLY hard, its a warning that something worse is coming, maybe 2 somethings worse in quick succession.

      1. Calling Jim Butcher a namby-pamby author in what amounts to knocking main characters down is a clear sign of Wildbow overdose. You should seek therapy.

  16. Thoughts flitting through my mind:

    How does Kingdom Come function, if there’s truly no attackable ‘main body’? New body from scratch, or possession/overwriting of a possessee..?

    Somehow, in the context of Golden Morning having happened, the idea of someone taking someone else to court for *emotional distress* made me laugh. I see though that it can make sense that Golden Morning maybe made everyone more sensitive to that, making it more problematic? In practice, how do people behave after disasters? Higher tolerance thresholds to more-normal things or lower?

    For the forcefield, I wonder about when she was punching through a wall; does the forcefield punch through and ‘go down’ before her fist reaches it, or does it stop at a solid object until her real flesh reaches it? (I wonder if Victoria’s self-image will have adjusted again after four years in human form, 2*2 years.)

    Springing Amy on Victoria in a casual context, rather than with full emotional preparations and consent (if at all, mutual non-interaction arguably best for both): predictably doomful.

    It’s somewhat surprising that Amy is interacting with her foster family at all now, given the treatment she received from (almost all of) them, her interactions with her father when she entered the Birdcage, and the extra complications from what happened with Victoria (guilt/blame). Nowhere else to go..? Even so, wouldn’t she herself have preferred other options? With her abilities, there can’t be a shortage of organisations who would want give her shelter in exchange for her help.

    Thinking a little on another comment. I didn’t like Victoria as an individual in Worm, and from her thoughts so far I still see an absence of what would be necessary for her to be likeable/empathisable now. How should I put it… ‘Self-doubt’, perhaps. She acts, she remembers, she *suffers*, she gets upset about her suffering, but–though my memory is poor–I cannot recall any instance where she has had thoughts indicating regret for being less moral than she later would have preferred. For regret, perhaps at most “I shouldn’t have agreed to go along–I was being too good a person, and it made things horrible for me”. She thinks more about how Fume Hood feels, she empathises with her, and that’s good. We haven’t seen yet that she’s capable of regretting not having empathised more. My perspective is biased in that Amy’s case is something that she doesn’t seem to be capable of thinking about, while the thing I’ve been most hungry to find is a feeling of regret/responsibility for her part in letting Amy’s mental state get to that point, even each of them was the closest person to the other (other than Dean?). There could be nuances to her thoughts *other* than her thinking of Amy as Evil Incarnate and herself as an innocent martyr, but if so I can’t recall us seeing them yet.

    1. “How should I put it… ‘Self-doubt’, perhaps. She acts, she remembers, she *suffers*, she gets upset about her suffering, but–though my memory is poor–I cannot recall any instance where she has had thoughts indicating regret for being less moral than she later would have preferred. For regret, perhaps at most “I shouldn’t have agreed to go along–I was being too good a person, and it made things horrible for me”. She thinks more about how Fume Hood feels, she empathises with her, and that’s good. We haven’t seen yet that she’s capable of regretting not having empathised more”

      Ah thank you, that’s kinda what was reminding me of early Taylor. I’m not saying they are the same, but if they were songs there’d be a few familer chords in Vicky’s that I’d recognize from Taylor’s

      1. Early Taylor had the Undersider’s group dynamic and the proactive heists to occupy us. I really hope we get some group dynamics going or this will be a twice a week dose of utf-8 encoded depression.

    2. I highly doubt she thinks of Amy as “evil incarnate.” I imagine it’s a good deal more complicated than that.

      Also, she’s mentioned in this arc several times that she’s trying to be less reckless and more careful, which is an implicit admission that she did bad things in the past (combined with, you know, her explicit admission to this effect in the last Glow-worm chapter).

      1. I look forward a lot to that ‘great deal more complicated’! (Ideally distinct from shades-of-negativity such as the difference between horror at prolonged suffering, perceived theft of maternal affection, any feelings of disgust, et cetera.)

        Reviewing the last Glow-Worm chapter–has there been compelling evidence that Point_Me_@_The_Sky is Victoria? I don’t recall her using those message boards in the main chapters, though it could have faded from memory. If it is her, then the ‘regret and misdeeds’ phrase raises my opinion of her. In the main chapters, while it was clear that she wasn’t just holding back to try to preserve her job, it wasn’t clear whether she was holding back from her previous familiar violence because she felt it was wrong of her before, or because she just didn’t have a healer by her side to fix them up afterwards. (Remembering an early scene in Worm with her not taking seriously Panacea’s recriminations about casual over-the-top brutality.)

        (I had thought that Victoria, given her state at the time, would have had very little part in Taylor’s climatic events, if any (though I’ve seen the quote from Speck about reuniting with Amy ), but I could have misundestood certain things, or perhaps she’s become more insightful than I gave her credit for. Hmm. Now, where does she go from here… and where does that group of people from Glow-Worm come in…)

        1. Victoria references the same books/comics/whatever those are in Chapter 1 as PM@TS does, with a similar musing on how important it is to preserve information. The chapter also references that she had taken this job to try to improve her college application and that it didn’t work, and in the PHO chapters we see PM@TS get rejected from college.

          I suppose it’s not 100% definitive, but it’s strongly compelling evidence, which is more than we can sometimes say for Wibbledibbles.

          1. I see! Thank you!

            (Somehow I had started thinking of Point as Triumph, though I honestly can’t remember whether he survived or not.) (From the personality, and how Point’s talking about Taylor reminded me of Triumph’s thoughts/feelings/{personality-tone} when meeting ‘Defiant’.)

            ‘Might go for long trip before h.school semester starts + I get busy with work. Visit home.’: fits with what we see. (Then again, didn’t Victoria’s place-of-work not require a long trip in order to visit home? Hm.)

  17. ** Minor Spoilers Ahoy for Worm/Pact **

    This was painful for me to read and I think that’s a good thing because that shows the writing is sucking me in like classic WyldeBough.

    Good to be in on the ground here. I needed time to get into Pact and definitely see a kind of reflection here. Really hope Victoria isn’t going to fall through the cracks.

    Her reaction makes me think this isn’t ever going to be whatever direction Guts and Glory was going to be as a team up but who knows.

    I too took a bit of schadenfreude in GGs failures in Worm pre-Incident. I really feel for her here.

    I’m hoping Victoria has redemption and gets her ptsd under wraps but holy crap are the gut punches really digging into the liver here. Did Twig spiral into darkness like Worm/Pact/This? This feels more hopeless already to me than fighting the Simurgh seeemed or certain bullying.

    This just became for me the most empathy inducing insight into ptsd I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for more though I hope we see some hope in this wild post GM multiverse.

    1. Easy obfuscation to keep spoilers away ? Call 1-800-ROT13.
      http://www.rot13.com/

      Warning: Rot13 abuse may lead to acute loss of SAN points. Do not use while driving or under the influence. Can cause skin rashes, nausea and summoning Great Old Ones. Mild choking hazard.

    2. > Did Twig spiral into darkness like Worm/Pact/This?

      This has quite a lot of spiralling cut for it in order to catch up with Twig.

  18. I wasn’t expecting a bonus chapter this early so this was a very delightful surprise (and the kind of surprise that’s never been possible when I just binge-read through Worm). Thank you for this gift of your writing, Wildbow.

    I was moved by the part about the window, and realising how Victoria’s force field works now. After watching her come down from the emotional intensity of the fight to confirming her job is gone, and then having things devolve even further when she realises what her mum is up to — after all that, to then realise her very force field now embodies — literally — her worst memories?

    One wonders what exactly happened in that asylum, what it was that broke her so much — I feel like it’s way more than whatever we might imagine.

    There’s so much brokenness going on, right off the bat in this story, though. In 7 chapters, already, we’ve got not only our broken protagonist, we’ve also found brokenness in her entire family (Carol, Mike, and certainly Amy), and we’ve also got Fume Hood.

    I can get that some people don’t like Victoria (perhaps because of how she’s set up in Worm), but I’m loving her character more and more with each chapter and each reveal.

  19. I definitely had a sense that Victoria spoke about herself and her physicality in ways that made me think she had lingering physical effects/consequences/trauma from her ordeal in addition to emotional/mental trauma. It didn’t occur to me that the things I was picking up on were paraphysical, rather than physical, or that they belonged to Glory Girl more than to Victoria. It should have, maybe.

    Or maybe not? Part of the reason parahumans stories hit so hard is because they all engage with those boundaries and how blurry and poorly defined those identifying lines can get.

  20. I thought the writing in this chapter was particularly artful. I mean that as a compliment (some people use the word pejoratively, but I can’t think of a better word).

    In the break just after the first section, as Victoria describes the neighborhood, there’s a sense of distance and detachment. It very much captures the feeling of decompression/relief after a long, hard day. I also felt a sense of distance that made me feel a bit disoriented, and wonder whether she’d flown to the reunion. The paragraphs seem to describe more than you could easily see from the ground.

    That broadened field of view could represent the widening of one’s awareness that happens as you relax. Able to see more as you amble, not focusing on anything in a familiar area. It could also represent a sort of time dilation, where one’s experience of time seems to spread and smear a bit. When you “notice” a bunch of different things that you actually saw in the past fifteen minutes or so, and also maybe work in older memories into your present experience.

    That’s certainly reminiscent of many walks home for me. It’s an odd and oddly therapeutic feeling. A sort of personal debriefing that sharply contrasts with the experience she just had.

    Anyway, in Victoria’s case, this distance/perspective could also represent flying, and I only slowly realized that she was not and that this would be out of character for her. I gradually zeroed in on her position on the ground, starting at “With the path I’d taken, I reached the backyard first.” and finally landing at “I remained where I was, arms folded on the top of the wooden-slat fence, chin on my hands, while my mom approached.” It’s really not until that point to me that it’s absolutely clear she’s not flying.

    And that’s beautiful and sad to me. As I said, that sense of detachment from things you can have on a walk home is therapeutic. And that’s beautiful. For me. That *Victoria* has to be on the ground to feel this way, when I’d expect flight to be the place she finds that kind of perspective, is a reminder of just how entangled her ability is with all the things she’s trying to get away from. That is the part that feels a bit sad. And plays into the chapter’s ending quite nicely.

    But I want to get back to the writing on the middle segment of this chapter, because I really do admire the “putting words together in a certain order”-level craft here. The descriptive, distanced, relaxed walk home has all the longest paragraphs in that section. Once she’s interacting with the family, everything shortens up, the time scale is in smaller intervals. The paragraphs are just a few sentences long.

    Then, when she realizes what’s happening here, it’s all staccato, even faster. This isn’t just the convention of splitting up dialogue with paragraph/line breaks.

    Some of them are single-sentence paragraphs. Some of them are just sentence fragments.

    “My dad’s posture, still sitting upright now, both feet planted on the ground.”

    “I looked up, staring at her.”

    This is her attention, flickering frantic. Things are happening too fast, and these things impose themselves on her awareness, but then the next paragraph, the next event, the next thing somebody says pushes that aside. All the slow, meandering description is left behind for this new tempo after she realizes what’s happening here.

    It’s gorgeous, just that manipulation of sentence and paragraph length. But I love it. It so well captures that emotional tumult/contrast that makes the heart of this chapter.

    1. Yeah, this level of writing first hit home for me with Nice Guy in Worm, and it’s why I kept reading Twig despite hating the how gruesome the universe was.

  21. Oh for fucks sake Dallon family! That was really stupid. Also sad. I feel like forgive and forget should be a thing here… But this isn’t something you really can. At the same time I can’t help but think that really Vicky is just practicing avoidence. And the laws of narrative causality won’t allow her to ignore Amy forever. So I hope it’s forgiveness rather than violent bloody battle to the death.

    And Amy… Sorry, you might be able to fix anything for the body, but that relationship, well all the King’s horses and all the King’s men ain’t putting that Humpty Dumpty together again.

    1. She could probably fix her mind too, if she got a chance to touch her. Well, “fix”. Alter it so that Victoria isn’t bothered by her past. I don’t think Amy would really consider that a satisfactory solution, though.

      1. Amy could just make Victoria like her. That’s how this whole thing started after all. Imagine how twisted reading this would be if they partnered up like that.

  22. Goddamn, that’s good. Took me a second to get it, but damn.
    I have a feeling the first Interlude is going to follow Amy.

  23. What a wonderful surprise, I wasn’t expecting a bonus chapter, thank you very much Wildbow !

    Seriously, what the fuck Carol ? In wich universe could it be a good idea to ambush Vicky like that. I really hope that Victoria will find her own “Undersiders”, people she will trust and who will make her happy.

  24. I might be reading too much into this, but when Vic did the backwards arm swipe and tore through part of the lawn and sidewalk, I was wondering how it would have been possible to do that from a standing position. The end of the chapter seems to have made the answer clear – she was able to do it because the ‘arm’ of her forcefield nearly touches the ground when she’s standing. Doing that wasn’t just a warning to Amy that she shouldn’t come any closer – it was also a visual demonstration of the fact that she hadn’t fully erased her mistakes. I think that’s also part of the reason why Amy actually ran in the opposite direction instead of simply stopping in her tracks. What do you think?

      1. By saying ‘erased her mistakes’ I didn’t mean she had tried to alter memories, I just meant she had failed to even fully return Victoria to the way she was before.

  25. Wow, that was a chapter…

    I first thought that this might be the first time a Wildbow protagonist actually has their family, especially parents with them to help on the long torturous journey of what it means being a wildbow protagonist, even being able to help due to their own abilities…guess I was wrong. We just can’t have that.

    Next is that I was actually surprised by Victoria’s extreme reaction. I kind of guessed that in the long time the two would have reconciliated or at least had a talk about the whole affair. But it seems I was wrong.

    Also, who is Uncle Mike? Is he Marquis? I doubt it, as Victoria says she barely remembers him which means she meet him a long time before, but it’s a hilarious thought that Marquis has become a family man. Wonder what he’s up to now.

  26. It seems to me that people are forgetting Amy screwed with Vicky’s brain as well as the body, and from the looks of things here, undid everything at the end of GM.
    I think being deathly afraid of and angry at the person who did something like that to you is a very natural reaction, and one hell of a fail from the parents to try to “fix” this.

    1. I thought she’d fixed the brain part when she turned her into a monster. She’d been wanting to do that after all, then she got lost and couldn’t fix the body. That’s how I understood it, not sure if I’m right or not.

  27. Hmm, I think I have a theory to Carol’s thought process here.

    So, we know she was emotionally distant from Amy. Try as she might, she couldn’t see past her Fathers image, which tied in to her past trauma of someone close to her betraying her.

    It wasn’t until Carol saw how utterly broken Amy was from her actions that her misconceptions were dashed to the wind and she realized that she screwed up.

    What I’m thinking, is that Carol had the epiphany that if it worked for her trauma, then there’s the chance that Victoria seeing her sister as she is now would do the same.

    Or something to that effect.

  28. Yeah, Vicky’s ‘functional’ panic attack hit pretty close to home for me. I know functional isn’t the right word because it’s more coping and slogging through the motions than actually functioning but I can’t find a better word. In a lot of media panic attacks are often depicted as a burst of hysteria followed by the person kind of shutting down afterwards or the person just straight up shutting down. I don’t get those. Mine are a lot like Victoria’s to an uncomfortable degree of familiarity. The causes are obviously different but I can absolutely relate in the after stages.

    “I didn’t have it in me to sit still, when my anxieties were churning.” There were a lot more wham lines this chapter but in re-reading this one is most personal to me.

  29. As someone who struggles with dissociation myself, chapters like this are super hard to read. Wildbow, you’ve done an amazing job of putting to words what that feeling is actually like. Thank you for wording it so well. I’ve never seen it portrayed so accurately. It really means a lot to me to see a character facing those same struggles.

  30. Don’t let it be said that Carol has ever been a good mother.

    But that, that really takes second place to the way Victoria’s mind is portrayed this chapter. The feeling of detached helplessness tends to be quite an interesting one to describe justifiably, without overly relying on the character’s flaws. Here we see how, with help from the previous events, we are shown the exact way Victoria is unable to feel better after the past two years.

    And I find that fascinating.

    Thank you for your writing.

  31. Ergh, one hell of a first day. Pie’s just not enough to deal with that stuff.

    All your characters are so damned lifelike, it’s incredible.

  32. Definitely my favourite chapter so far, we got thrown into Victoria’s life very abruptly at the start of the arc and now everything has broken down in one horrible, horrible day. I guess you could call this the proper beginning of her story after a short prelude.

    And it feels like we might get an interlude next chapter. I’d rather have another regular Victoria POV instead of an interlude, which surprises me, considering the interludes were always the highlight for me while reading Worm. Probably because I’m reading Ward on a weekly basis now.

  33. This was by far my favourite chapter up until now, and it paved much more away for me to start empathising with Victoria than any of the previous chapters. I reckon that this Saturday will get to have our first interlude.

  34. Where’s Jessica Yamada when you need her?

    I have very conflicted feelings about the Dallon family. They might be the most broken group of people in the Worm-verse.
    I think there was some bad communication centered around Carol. I’m guessing that when she talked with Crystal and Mark she probably gave them the impression that Victoria and Amy would both be informed. And I think that her mind, she did inform Victoria. I know that when I read the text I wondered who “everyone” included. Now, Victoria doesn’t seem like she’s the best at listening to people and is self centered. So, was Vicky being dense or was Carol being coy? My guess is that neither realizes how they could be changing the dynamic. I’m more inclined to blame Carol, in part because she’s the authority figure and the one who orchestrated the barbecue, and in part because her interlude made her seem like kind of a bad person, and definitely a bad parent.

    Victoria’s not blameless. When we first met her she was reckless, a righteous bully. I said before that she’s self-centered and doesn’t listen. I’m thinking specifically of how she didn’t listen to Amy’s plea to not be touched and how that started them down this path. If not for Carol’s interlude, I’d be hesitant to trust Victoria’s judgement that she could only love one daughter. I’m guessing she only realizes how Carol felt about Amy because of how often she asked about Amy when she was in the hospital.

    Amy is the most sympathetic, probably largely because we had the best view of her trauma. But she was very casual about threatening “bad” people who she could use her power on. Now, she wasn’t going to follow through on those threats, but she also wasn’t above making them. She does get points from me for recognizing her weaknesses and trying to avoid hurting people, even if she did make some questionable decisions. She also has the scariest and most strategically useful power.

    Mark intrigues me. He’s the one who took Amy when Carol couldn’t treat her as a daughter. He’s the one who Victoria can live with. When Amy healed him, he was grateful and loving. We don’t know much about him. We don’t know what his trauma is, how he triggered, even if he triggered.

  35. Most insightful chapter so far, MC-wise. I was actually a bit confused about how her forcefield was working in the recent fight; this clears it up.

    Thought I must say . . . ouch. 11/10, 720% noscope, screw-this-I’m-out, OUCH.

    Classical, brilliant Wildbow.

    PS: First bonus chapter! The heavens have answered!

  36. Did something bounce off of Victoria weird when she was fighting the villains? I swear there was foreshadowing for the blob forcefield

  37. Well, I’m really surprised. That Carol would do that, and that the others would agree to it. Especially Amy. Then again, I guess she wouldn’t refuse if Carol told her to come. Still, really not what I had imagined.

    Seems like a different note from the last word we had on New Wave in Worm, when Marquis says that Amy is saying goodbye to her family and it sounds like it will be for good. Wishful thinking on his part, maybe, but it seemed likely enough given the circumstances.

    I’m actually kind of impressed with Carol, on that note. Not with her horrible, unimaginably awkward plan, but that she tried. Given that in her interlude she decided she would never forgive Amy, this is pretty surprising. Then again, I’m not sure if I believe what Victoria thinks about her or not. On the one hand, it is a convincing argument. On the other, Victoria doesn’t know Carol especially hated Amy’s father. Also, Victoria is back to human shape and probably doing about as well as Amy must be, so there’s no reason for her not to go back to being the #1 daughter if there is a #1 daughter.

    Either way, it is good to hear that Amy went back to being a healer and stays in contact with New Wave. This seems like a much more convincing atonement than some guilt-free normal life with Marquis or becoming a villain or whatever. She must be feeling that Carol’s love is a bit of a poison chalice, though.

    Suppose it’s perfectly ironic that now Victoria is the one running away from her family and it’s Amy who comes after her, only to make things worse. The revelation on the forcefield was great, too.

  38. I never Victoria at all from worm. Sure, there was some schadenfreude seeing TattleTale mock her at first. I get the feelilng that alot of readers who hated her might be projecting some personal experiences on her that don’t really fit.

    Victoria had this really great PoV early in worm. There was this really interesting relationship between Amy and Victoria. Then she got very little screen time in worm until she was taken out of action completely during first S9 arc.

    She seemed like a strange mix between a bystander tragedy and the groundwork for a bigger story.

    I’m quite satisfied that Ward is the bigger story. Very excited to see where this goes.

    There is one part of the world building that gets under my skin though. Its the narrowly defined bigotry of different parties. E88 more than ABB, but moreso, and more presently to Ward, the human vs Parahuman mentality. Actually Its not really narrowly defined biggotry. Kaiser, Purity and Hookwolf and others all got a chance for their different perspectives of their racism to be shown. Im having trouble articulating it. Its probably the lack of countering GROUPS of people.

    Victoria made the point at the beginning of this chapter talking to Gil about the students. If any disagreed with the biggots, they weren’t willing to speak up about it. Sure, this is completely believable in context. However, the pattern of it in wormverse feels overwhelming and lopsided to me. Sure, as groups people can be pretty lousy. But I’ve been at the scenes of accidents where lots of people stopped to help. Extreme circumstances or disasters bring out either the best or worst in people; both individually and as groups. I feel like wormverse is too lopsided in this regard.
    Granted, its a fictional, spin-off universe, and the plausibility is there. Also, Wildbow builds heroines brilliantly in response to very horrible situations.

    I’m pretty sure it doesn’t fit with the narrative of Victoria’s story, but I would have expected some people, capes or non-capes to have been much more positive towards Victoria following the incident with Fumehood’s gang and Lord of Loss’ gang.

  39. Really enjoyed this chapter, perhaps more because it was very easy to follow despite the various nods to prior events or deductions required about her forcefield. Am I the only one who’s found it harder to visualise the events of combat in Ward than in Worm? I struggle to track who’s where and the layout of the building or room etc.

    1. Did you read Pact or Twig? I kind of get where you’re coming from wrt fights being more difficult to follow than in Worm and I’m wondering if it could be due to a lack of skitter’s bug sense being conferred as an advantage on the reader.

  40. Carol is heartbreaking here, but in a very human way. Pushing for reconciliation, making demands of her daughters. Assuming Vicky can just talk things out, or face her fears.

    And I can’t even blame her really about the visiting. That fear/inability to visit someone, the unwillingness to put the time in to talk. Not wanting to make a trip to a hospital. Again. Its a very human wrong. Its something that we’ve probably all done at some point.

  41. Yeah… Not going to be able to see any incarnation of Carol as anything else than a sociopath right now.
    We all know there’s something very wrong with that woman, but I believe we’ve underestimated just how wrong it is.

  42. Everyone’s hating on Carol and Vic’s family. I think I get them. All of them were hurt. Perhaps not as much as Vic, not as gruesome. Yet harder than most people reading this story for sure. They’re all broken. So when Carol suggested bringing the family together… Even if it might’ve ocurred to them it might be fucked up, how much they wanted it to be true. How much they wanted to have both daughters together, healing and being sisters again. That ideal future clouded their judgement. They’re broken people that need healing. They see everyone having second chances and they want their second chance to try to be a family.

    It’s sad, it’s not how any of that works. But you can understand why no one speaked up. Why they all went through with it. They just wanted it to happen so much they cast their doubts away.

  43. I’m really interested to know if it was actually Amy. I don’t doubt it but you never know, she never straight up looked back. I’m so anxious to see Amy/sweet ol’ Panacea!

  44. Eh, Carol honestly came off like she thought Victoria would be okay with seeing Amy again, even if she didn’t catch the hint.

    Granted, she got WAY overly defensive and refused to see Victoria’s point of view, and Victoria obviously can’t see how Carol blames herself for Vicky’s condition, which is at least partly one of the reasons she stopped coming by (which Vicky obviously wouldn’t know about), and you have a near-perfect lack of communication making everything worse, due to preconceived biases coming into play.

    Personally, Vicky’s ‘languishing’ over Dean feels kind of unearned from last chapter, but I guess a part of her is using it to ‘make sure’ she properly hates (at least the idea of) Amy in her head.

    Vicky’s quip about ‘only able to love one daughter at a time’ is absolute bullshit, but it’s understandable bullshit.

    I do think this is a pretty crass/blatant way to ‘isolate’ Victoria from any support to push her more towards her own role (in a way that feels somewhat forced), and some part of me can’t believe that Amy just let Vicky go without trying to reconcile things, but….I suppose we’ll have to wait and see on that front.

  45. This definitely reminded me of Worm with the way Social situations seem to pile up and mix together.

    Carol definitely messed up here, though it is something of a positive that she was willing to try.

    On the plus side, at least Gilpatrick seems pretty cool

  46. “I threw my arm back and to the side, a backhand swipe. I tore through lawn, through slabs of sidewalk, and the edge of the road. Dirt flew across the street alongside clumps of grass and chunks of sidewalk.”

    I don’t get this. Most people’s arms don’t reach the ground when standing, and also aren’t long enough to reach so many things in one swipe.

    Is this a flubbed description, or is this her virtual force field blob body’s arm that she is using for unconscious telekinesis?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *