Flare – 2.2

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There was something to be said about the fact that the hospital was still in construction while it was running.  There were patients in the waiting room, sitting in the chairs that had been bolted to the floor, and the unhappiness of needing a hospital visit was compounded by the fact that a third of the way across the room, behind a plastic sheet that had been taped to walls, ceiling and floor, a team was using power tools and calling out in loud voices as they built the rest of the room.

The hospital staff looked pretty miserable too, most of them sequestered on the other side of a counter, walled off from the patients by a plexiglass window.  Security guards stood off to one side.

“Can I help you?” a secretary asked.

“I was wondering if it was possible for me to see a patient?”

“Visiting hours are open.  Patient’s name?”

“Fume Hood.  I don’t know her real name.”

The secretary stopped, then looked at the male secretary, who sat at the other end of the counter.  She looked past him at the security guard.

Of course.

“I was one of the people giving her medical attention when the ambulance arrived,” I said.  I knew it wouldn’t matter, that they would assume I’d been lying, but I hoped it would temper the reaction.

“She’s not accepting visitors,” the secretary said.

“One second,” I heard.  A female voice.

Two overlapping sections of the plastic sheet peeled apart.  Tempera ducked through, and put the tacky sides of the plastic back together.  She was dusty from plaster and streaked with paint that wasn’t from her power.  She wore overalls, a black t-shirt for a top, and had a different pattern to the paint she’d applied over her eyes with fingers, more like she had applied it to her fingers and pressed them to her eyes as a series of vertical bars, each bleeding into the one beside it.

“Hi, Victoria,” she said to me.

“Hi.”

She looked at the secretary, “We know her.  Can I take her back to the room?”

“Let me get her information, and I’ll buzz you two through.”

I took the clipboard with the paperwork, and I filled out the information, checking my phone to remind myself of the specifics of Crystal’s address.  She took the clipboard, read it over, and let us through.

We walked down the back halls of the hospital, past individual clinics and their signs and separate waiting areas, past patient rooms and nurse’s stations.  Tempera indicated the turns.  We didn’t rush it, an unspoken agreement that we’d take our time, have a chance to talk.

“There was one attempt on her life.  We were worried there would be another,” Tempera said.

“Are you standing guard?” I asked.

“I am keeping an eye on things, but mostly by accident.  I’ve been helping with the construction.  I like getting my hands dirty,” Tempera said.  She smiled as she held up one hand, which was covered in wet white ‘paint’ down to the elbow, the paint turning black before transitioning to her light brown skin.  “Look at you, though.  You look tidy.”

Tidy.  It was an amusing choice of words, when Tempera looked anything but.  I smiled.  “Looking around to see if any teams are looking to fill positions.”

“And?”

“Only one was actually posting any openings, a corporate team, Auzure.  Foresight and the Attendant were open to interviewing me.  There are two other big teams; one gave me a hard no, and the other is folding into the Attendant and won’t exist soon, they didn’t give me a response yet, and with how the talk with the Attendant went, I don’t think it’d work out.”

“They’re pretty conservative.  In a lot of respects.  A lot of the religious capes went to the Shepherds and will be part of the Attendant.  I’ve been paying close attention to that.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “One or two of the sketchy people from Empire Eighty-Eight, too.”

“Empire Eighty-Eight?  They sound familiar.”

“They had a presence for a while.  A few years back they broke up into two other groups.  The Pure and Fenrir’s Chosen.”

“Ah.  I know the Chosen.  They were linked to the Clans, I think?”

“Yes.  The Clans spread out across multiple cities, and would funnel anyone who got powers over to the Empire Eighty-Eight core group, back before Leviathan broke the group’s back.  They were a background element in my childhood and cape career.”

“Ahh.  Was that a factor in your wanting to join?”

A very carefully neutral question, that.  I wondered if she was prodding me, not declaring a stance while feeling me out.  I was still an unknown, in a way.

“Violent racists on the team?  Definitely a factor, big point against.  Question is, are they ex-violent, ex-racists?  Gets muddier.  Even then, I might draw the line there, and not join.  If they were contrite?  I could roll with that, I think.  Barring one or two especially scummy individuals.  Interview didn’t get far enough for me to raise the subject.”

Tempera nodded, not saying anything.

“I think… maybe I’m being unsubtle, saying it, but I think there’s a big difference between who those guys were and who Fume Hood is.”

“I think so too.”

“How is she?”

“She’s hurt by what happened.  It’s hard, to put yourself out there, face your shortcomings, try to be better, and get shot for it.”

“Partial facing of shortcomings, from what she and I talked about,” I said.

“It’s why I said face, instead of ‘admit’,” Tempera said.  “But I don’t want to quibble.  Change of subject.  You said your meeting went badly.  Can I ask what happened?”

“Fallen,” I said.

“Did you get in another fight?”

“No,” I said.  I sighed.  “No.  They did what they often do, they caused a disruption, and that’s a playing field that suits them well.  I’d call it a draw, but I’m pretty sure they’re still out there recruiting and I’m not out there counteracting that.”

“There will always be bad guys.  They will always be out there.  There will always be murders, there will be theft, there will be drugs.”

I nodded.

“Question is,” Tempera said, “Where do you want to be, in relation to that, as it happens?”

“That is a deceptively tricky question,” I said.

“You definitely put yourself out there, backing us up when things went sideways at the community center.”

“I really appreciate that you see it that way,” I said.

“You put yourself in front of Lord of Loss.  I don’t know how your power works, but it’s obvious you can bleed.  There was some danger there.”

I acknowledged that with a small nod.

“And now you’re interviewing for teams?  So soon after?  It sounds like you want to be out there, helping.”

“I do.  I’m zero for three, though.”

“You don’t want to be independent?  Hold on a second.  We’re nearly at the room, but let’s finish talking before we go in.”

We stopped midway down the hallway.  A nurse’s station was a short distance away.

“I-” I started.  “I think, the way things are going, I might end up going that way.  Teams are a complication of their own.”

“They are,” Tempera said.  “I had a phone call earlier, offering a position.  I can go right there and sign the paperwork if I want to.”

“With?”

“The Attendant, as it happens,” Tempera said.

I was momentarily lost for words.  She’d been doing what I’d thought, inviting me to answer without declaring a position, but from a different angle.

“I want to wait and see how the merger with the Shepherds shakes up, how it feels after, they said not to wait too long.  It’s decent money, decent exposure.  A lot of decency.”

“Don’t let what I said change your mind on anything.  I’m griping, it’s-”

“It’s fine,” she said.  “I invited you to gripe, if we’re going to use your word.  It’s interesting to hear that take on them.  I didn’t know about the racist ex-villains joining.  I’m curious about how they handled the Fallen there, too, in your situation.”

“I think, uh, don’t tell them I said this…”

“Of course.”

“…I think they or the people they’re taking guidance from are approaching that stance of there always being bad guys to deal with, and they’re deciding to conserve their energy.  To not fight that fight.  Maybe it’s right to.”

“You got a draw.  That’s better than a win for the bad guys there.”

“It’s- yeah,” I said.  “I tried to use reason, draw on the stuff I studied, old knowledge I had about the group.  Who they were, how they operate, the families, the names.  Put that information out there, so the potential recruits would know the key facts.  I tried to get them to say who their leader was, pressed the issue, and of course it was the least bad one, so the argument I was gunning for didn’t have much clout, and I lost steam.”

“I picture the Fallen as a group that’s pretty comfortable defying reason.”

“Them, yes.  The recruits, I think they were open to hearing it.  I threw out some more information I remembered at the last second, but the Fallen were getting pretty loud, I didn’t want to start a riot, and that was more or less it.”

“And the Attendant?”

“Weren’t keen on me making a point of things when the word from on high was to let the Fallen be.  I didn’t get my invite to the team.”

Tempera made a face.

“I don’t like ignoring the monsters.  And I do think the Fallen are monstrous, as a collective force.”

“They’re a headache I was always glad I wouldn’t have to deal with,” Tempera said.  She scratched her nose as she scrunched it up, the paint there highlighting the creases.  The scratching deposited more paint on the bridge.  “One I guess I’ll have to prepare myself for dealing with.  Or possibly not dealing with, if I take the Attendant’s offer.”

“Possibly,” I said.  “Don’t give my words too much weight.”

“I’ll try to be sensible about it.  I might end up asking those questions you didn’t get a chance to, if that’s okay.”

I nodded.

“I think I’ll be okay, whatever happens.  The Wardens facilitated Attendant’s contact with me, and from their tone, I think they’d push to get me on another team if I didn’t go with that one.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“I could put in a word for you.”

“I wouldn’t say no,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ll get my hopes up, either.”

Tempera frowned.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to sound negative.”

“Are you finding your way, with these setbacks?”

I shrugged.  “Complicated.  Just wanted to check in on Fume Hood, while things are quiet.  When the law or the system fail to outline a process, do what seems right.  When it’s not clear what’s right, go with the law.  When neither is clear, reach out.”

“For perspective?”

I shrugged.  “That too.  More eyes on a problem never hurts.”

“Another point for the team, instead of going independent,” Tempera said.  She looked back down the hall, in the direction we’d been walking to.  “Hold on a moment?  I’ll check if she’s decent.  I wouldn’t mind bringing Fume Hood into it, now that we’re past the semi-confidential stuff about other teams.”

I nodded.

She touched the wall by the door as she rounded the corner, stepping into the room, and she knocked on the door as she entered.

There was a brief pause.  The handprint of paint on the wall dropped to the floor with a splat as Tempera said, “Come in.”

The blob of paint on the door fell to the ground as well.  Both moved along the ground as I entered, spattering against the back of Tempera’s shoes and the back of her overalls.

Fume Hood had donned a mask, but she didn’t wear the hood.  She lay down on the bed, which was angled so she could sit up at an angle.  A blanket had been pulled up to her waist, covering her legs.

Crystalclear sat in the chair between her and the window, the crystal configuration on his head slightly different than before.  He wore a t-shirt and shorts.  There was something odd about a guy with crystals where his eyes and hair would be having very ordinary hairy legs.

“Heya,” Crystalclear said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey, patrol girl with a name I can’t remember,” Fume Hood said.

“Victoria,” Tempera volunteered.

“Victoria.  Right.  Thank you for helping to hold my blood in,” Fume Hood said.

“You’re very welcome,” I said.  I noted the flowers and cards sitting beneath the window.  “Sorry I didn’t bring anything.  This is my awkward ‘I was in the neighborhood’ visit.  I saw the hospital name and remembered you were brought out this way.”

“I’ve got too much as it is.  Turns out that the key to popularity and acceptance is to get yourself shot.”

Her tone was light, almost amused.  Tempera had said Fume Hood was hurt on an emotional level, but I didn’t see a sign of it.  I could remember how Tempera had acted on my first meeting with her, how in tune with her team she had been.  I was willing to put a lot of stock in her take on things.

“Victoria, what I was going to say, before deciding I’d rather say it here, was that we’re going our separate ways, yes-”

“Longscratch is already gone,” Crystalclear said.  “But I don’t think he was ever going to stick around on a permanent basis.”

“Yes,” Tempera said.  “Which is a shame.  I do hope he finds what he’s looking for.  My point is, I don’t want to lose touch.  It’s helpful and nice that Crystalclear happened to be here to help illustrate that maintenance of contact.”

“Happy to take credit,” Crystalclear said.

“Victoria said- if you don’t mind me repeating?”

“No.”

“She said that it’s important to reach out, if I’m recalling that right.  I’d like to stay friends with you,” Tempera said.  “Crystalclear, Fume Hood.  Victoria, you too.”

“Why?” Fume Hood asked.

“What do you mean?” Tempera asked.

“We’re very different people,” Fume Hood said.  “I don’t get how that works.  How do you stay in touch with people you have very little in common with?”

“Easy.  Grab a bite sometime,” I said.  “Sandwich, beer or soda, share stories, get different perspectives.  I wouldn’t mind.”

“That’d be nice,” Crystalclear said.

“But-” Fume Hood started.  She frowned.  “Okay, whatever.”

“You should find the words for what you’re trying to say,” I said.  “In case it festers or gets in the way.”

“I dunno.  I don’t get why you’re here.  I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong.  You put pressure on my wound, Tempera gave me first aid and used her paint to keep me from dying.  I probably owe you my lives.  But that whole fiasco was my fault.”

“I blame the attacking villains, not you,” Tempera said.

“Yep,” Crystalclear said.

“Are you trying to be clever and get me to keep being a hero, then?” Fume Hood asked.

“I’m here because I was interested in how you were doing,” I said.  “Obviously I’d prefer it if you stayed a hero, but that’s not the objective.”

“If you guys keep showing up with flowers or to make small talk, you make it awfully hard for me to fuck off and go back to being a villain.”

“That’s a plus,” Tempera said.  “But like Victoria said, it’s not the main point.”

“On the topic of pluses,” I said, “I’m interested in who those guys were.  So if you hear anything, I wouldn’t mind a heads up.”

“The guy who shot me did so of sound mind, no Kingdom Come in play.  Independent, apparently.  No money in his accounts, he didn’t have internet.  He was just pissed off.”

“There were the villains, too,” I said.

“There were.”

“And we don’t know what they were after,” Crystalclear said.

“Multiple conflicting stories,” I said.  “Blindside lied to me when I asked.  It bothers me, and I worry it’ll happen again.”

“Give me your cell phone number,” Tempera said.  “I’ll get in touch.”

There was a brief pause while we sorted things out, me getting the contact information from each of the others, and giving them mine.  They already knew each other.

Reaching out, making and maintaining contact.

A part of me had hoped that Fume Hood was wrong, that the team wouldn’t have dissolved, that they’d be together, willing to give things another try.  That it might have been a team I could join.

“The cards and flowers might have something to do with how you’re the topic of the moment,” I mused aloud.

“I heard something about that,” Fume Hood said, indicating Crystalclear.

“From me,” Crystalclear volunteered unnecessarily.

“If you guys were to try again, there could be more attention, more support,” I said.

“More gunshots?” Fume Hood asked.  “I’m stepping down and going into hiding.  I’ll recuperate, let the heat die down, and then figure out what I’m doing.”

“If it matters, I think more people are siding with you than not,” I said.

Fume Hood nodded a few times, taking that in.  “Weird.”

“It’s good,” Tempera said.  “I think Crystalclear already accepted the offer from Foresight, though.”

“It was a very promising offer.”

“And I’ve been contacted by Attendant.  I don’t know what I’ll do with that.  And Victoria-”

“Is not having much luck,” I said.  “But I want to do something.”

“You were thinking you might go independent?”

“Which doesn’t pay,” I said.  “Not in this environment.”

“How does that work?” Fume Hood asked.  “If you’re a crook, it’s easy, you take jobs at the villain bar, or you rob some place, or any number of things.  You just… go out on patrol?”

“There are a few other things to do,” I said.  “One way is to essentially run a protection racket that isn’t a racket.  It’s easy for that to go wrong.  There’s a higher level effect, which is easier to pull off when, say, a city has a downtown area and the shop owners gather together to pay a wage to the hero that draws attention and has a positive influence on their area…”

“Things have to be stable before that happens,” Tempera said.

“We’re not there yet,” I said.  “There’s training and support.  Offering powers for helping with the rebuilding, which Auzure was doing a bit of.  There’s merchandising, but that’s a dead market right now, I think.”

“We fished in that pond prior to getting underway and we didn’t get any bites,” Crystalclear said.

“I was selling my brain, I know a lot about capes and the community, having grown up with it.  That job’s done, and I don’t know if there’s much more opportunity for that.”

“Tell you what,” Tempera said.  “I’ll put out feelers.  See what people say.”

I nodded.  “Sure.  Thank you.”

I was lost in thought enough that my retracing of my steps on the way out of the hospital turned me in circles.  I approached the same nurse’s station for a second time, and I stopped at the desk, waiting for someone with a spare moment to give me directions.

I wanted to do something.

There weren’t any openings.  I was pretty sure Advance Guard had turned me down because of my background, the two year gap prior to Gold Morning.  Others had their reasons for rejecting me.  As it was, the field was fairly cluttered.  Villains were keeping their heads down.  As much as there was always going to be the bad guys, like Tempera had said, we didn’t have the systems in place to identify them or address them.

No way to make money off of my powers, to pay the rent and get out of Crystal’s borderline uncomfortably cluttered place.

“Yes?” a nurse asked.

I blinked.  I didn’t ask her for directions.  My thoughts went in another direction, spurred to life by my thoughts of the unpaid cape work.

“If I said ‘crisis points’, would that mean anything to you?” I asked.

“It’s been a long time since I heard that.  Yes, it means something.  Do you work with capes?”

“I… kind of am a cape.  Would you be open to me giving you a hand?”

“Let me look into it.  I’m not sure what the usual methods are, and it’s not fresh in my mind.”

“You’d want to identify the key patients, check with any parents, if they’re under eighteen, and they often are.  Then with me, you’d want to check with legal, you can call my references, which I do have on hand…”

The mask wasn’t the quality sort I was used to, more of a Halloween costume.  The top I wore was a men’s small, a little too big in the shoulder, while it simultaneously squashed my chest.

From the ages of the patients in the pediatric wing, I wasn’t sure they would pay much mind to my chest, squashed or not.  Most were twelve or younger.  A few heads turned, people paying cursory attention.

I still wore the skirt I’d worn to the interviews, the belt.

Room 5, bed C.

I entered room five.  There were four beds, one in each corner.  One monitor was beeping, the other kids were lying down, looking bored.

Bed C was a little girl, with a face chock full of freckles, and sandy blonde hair.  The curtains had been partially closed, blocking the views of the boy sitting to her left and the girl sitting across from her.

“Audrey?” I asked, peering in.

I saw only a glimpse of misery on her expression, while she stared off out the window.  Then she raised her head and the expression was gone.  She assessed me, head to toe.

“Great,” she said, after she was done.

“Great?”

“Ooh, yay, it’s Legend, except he’s a girl now,” she said, sarcastic.

The t-shirt I wore was styled after Legend’s costume.  The mask was the same.  Something the staff had kept on hand from the past Halloween.

“The nurses pointed me your way,” I said.

“Well, my day sucked, but now fake Lady Legend is here, so I’m all better.  That’s great.”

“I can take the mask off if you want,” I said.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that, fake Lady Legend.  Your secret identity might be compromised!”

The sarcasm ran strong through this one.

I pulled the curtain closed a bit more, then pulled off the mask, flying a bit as I said, “I never really had the secret identity.”

With that, at least, her eyebrows went up.  No smart retort.  She moved around her hospital bed, craning her head to see my feet, trying to spot the trick.

“I don’t know you,” she said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.  “The nurses mentioned you’d had an especially bad day.”

Again, that momentary look of misery.

Yeah, I knew that.

“Back before everything turned sour, when I’d come to the hospital, with, um-” I stopped, drew in a breath, and sighed.  “It’s something heroes would do.  Check in on people who had really bad days.  And when I came to the hospital, sometimes I’d do that.”

Crisis points.  More a PRT thing than a New Wave thing, but we’d done a small share.  Looking out for the recent triggers, putting our faces and names out there, staying in touch with the public.

“A nurse sat down with me for a while,” she said.  “No offense, I appreciate it, but I’m kind of talked out.”

“Instead of talking, um,” I said.  I showed her what was in my hand, letting the straps dangle.  “What would you say about going flying?”

I saw her eyes go wide.

“The hospital called your dad’s work.  He said it was okay.”

My feet left the hospital rooftop.  Flying was unwieldy, especially with my burden.  I was untrained.  Having the benefit of my forcefield to protect me in the event of a crash would mean having my forcefield up, and that had other connotations, with my power as distorted as it was, the fact that I couldn’t necessarily control the movements or know what they would do.  Not doable, when I held someone.

There was uncertainty too.  The source of that flight, it had never let me down, but if push came to shove, in a crisis, would my maneuvering be sloppier?  Would I decelerate or accelerate in a different way?  I’d carelessly trusted my power, once, and now I wasn’t sure I could.  I knew what the source of that power was, now, and what its goals were.

It was emotionally heavy, even as I felt almost weightless physically, to be reminded of what had changed so dramatically.

I could feel my charge’s intake of breath, as I held one arm across her lower ribs.  I didn’t trust the harness we’d grabbed from the physio center.  Not enough to hold someone for me.  She was strapped with her back to my front.

The ground was a good ways below us now.  I hadn’t even ascended that fast.  I’d been a little lost in thought.

I felt her laugh, nervous and small, while I turned us around, giving her a view of the area.  Norfair and its community center was off in the distance, one way.  The farms were off in another direction.  From here, it was easy to see the tall buildings of the city, the places that looked like a slice of the old world.  To look to the fringes of those areas, where the tents and shoddily erected structures stretched off, so endless it seemed they reached to the horizon.

“I got you,” I said, in answer to the nervous giggles.  Had I laughed like that, on my first real flight?

“Yeah,” was the response, a small, quiet voice.  Then more giggles.

The giggle became laughter on her part, borderline hysterical.

“You okay?”

She nodded, fast and fierce, then drew in a deep breath.

“Wooooooooo!” she whooped, top of her lungs, loud enough to be heard on the ground.

“Hood up,” I said, reaching up to tug the hood of her hoodie over her head.

“What?  Why?” she asked, panting from the cheer.

“Just in case it’s cold,” I said.

“Cold?  Why-”

Before she could fully catch her breath, I dropped from our position, diving, fast, hard, and surprising enough that even I felt my stomach’s contents lurch.

She didn’t have the ability to cheer, as the drop stole what little breath she had, but her arms went up and out, to either side of my shoulders, fingers spreading to feel the wind, the sun-warmed air.

I smiled, letting the swoop dash all of the other thoughts and feelings from my mind, vicariously enjoying the experience of flying for the first time.  Of flying at all.

“Juan?” I asked.

Juan was younger than the other kids had been.  Eight, if I had to guess, but he wasn’t well, so that might have screwed up my estimation.  He was thin at the arm and wrist, and puffy around the face.

“The first time I came to the hospital, one of the nurses wore that costume,” Juan said.  “He was a guy though.”

“How does it look on me?” I asked.

“I think it looks really nice,” he said.  “You’re very pretty.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “That’s sweet.”

“Some of the others were saying a lady superhero was going around taking people flying.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s the plan.  Your mom and dad said you might enjoy it, and you should be well enough.”

“They had to go to work,” Juan said.

“That’s what I heard.”

“They always have to go.  Even when I have bad days.  And there’s nothing on television.  There’s only three channels and they’re real boring.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I really hate hospitals,” he said.

I took a deep breath.  His words echoed my feelings, which only magnified the feelings.

Yeah.  I really hated hospitals too.

“It’s getting dark,” I said, “But if you want to try flying, maybe that’d be a bit of a break from the boring stuff, and a break from the hospital.”

“Thank you,” Juan said.  “But flying sounds like it’s very tiring.”

“It can be,” I said.  “I can go slow if you like, or we can do something else.  We could talk.”

He nodded at that last bit, then started looking around.  I pulled up a nearby chair, and sat down next to his bed.

“I got a lot of books,” Juan said.  He deposited a stack of kids’ books and comics on the edge of the bed, between me and him.  “Uh, before.  I said I didn’t want to be stuck here and be bored, my mom went and came back with books and comics, and then they both left.”

“That was nice of them,” I said.  I picked up one of the books.

“My eyes are tired today,” he said.  “The letters are blurry.”

“Do you want me to read some out loud?” I asked.

That got me a firm nod, and the first smile I’d seen out of him.

“Good Simon to start, then?” I asked.  Another nod.

There were pictures, so he shuffled over to the edge of the bed, and I sat on the other side, my ass half on the bed’s railing, and I held the book between us, so we could both see it.

Two good Simon books, which were most likely aimed at someone just a bit younger than Juan was, but he didn’t seem to complain.  I moved on to a comic involving the robot prison ship, peeking ahead so I could skip past the scenes which were aimed at someone much older than him, and then, to be safe, moved on to something aimed at a younger age again.  Kids in animal masks getting into trouble.

There wasn’t much likelihood that Juan had powers, but he’d had a bad day, and this was okay.

I was halfway through that book when I saw someone look in at the door, peeking around.  A boy.  He stopped as he spotted me.

I finished the page, then paused, partially closing the book, and checking on Juan.  Fast asleep.  I checked his pulse, because I was paranoid, then fixed his blankets, and eased myself up off the bed with flight, to not disturb him.

I used a notepad by the side of the bed, and wrote a brief farewell:

Nice to meet you, Juan.  The nurses have my number so if you want to go flying sometime, we might be able to arrange something.  🙂
-Victoria

I walked over to the door.  It wasn’t one of the ones I’d taken a flight with.  Older, thirteen or so, with what might have been his first pimples.

I saw the hesitation on his face.

“Come on,” I said.  “Let’s go to the cafeteria.  It’s late, I don’t think many people will be around.”

He nodded.

“Hello?”

“Tempera?  Hi, it’s Victoria.  I’m sorry to call you so late.”

“It’s fine.  I don’t sleep much, and the call is more than welcome.  Why the call?”

“I’m at the hospital, talking to someone-”

“You’re still at the hospital?”

“Yes.  I’ve been talking to a teenager, he’s listening in on my half of the conversation right now.  He’s got a friend with powers, but she’s not doing so hot.  It’s new and it’s scary and neither he nor she know what to do.”

“We’ve been there.”

“We’ve been there.  Yeah.  I know you’re in touch with the Wardens.  They’re decent, they have a lot of resources, they have some good people.”

“Absolutely.”

“He can describe particulars and you can let them know.”

“Not a problem.   Just so you know, it might be hard to get someone on the phone this late, but if it’s a problem, I know some people I can round up and we can go talk to her as a big supportive group.”

“Great.  I’m going to hand you off now.”

“Wait, one second.  Victoria.”

“Yes?”

“Call me back when this is over, or call me first thing in the morning.  I was sounding out some people, it’s not an invite to a team or anything, but with something this messy, we need all the hands we can get.”

“Messy?”

“I’ll explain later.  For now, we help your buddy there.”

I handed the corded phone over.  We stood at an empty nurse’s station in a hallway where the lights had been set dim.  My hands were free, and I’d intentionally used their phone so my own would be free.

There were other calls I needed to make, including one to Crystal to let her know where I was.  I put that one off.  Crystal was easygoing.

I sent one to Mrs. Yamada.

Me:
I know your caseload is full, but found a kid with some power-related troubles.  Contact is reaching out to Wardens soon.  Maybe you can keep an eye out to make sure all goes smooth?

The boy was explaining in a hushed voice about his friend’s circumstance.  An uncontrolled, messy power, and she had no place to go.  He hadn’t given me many details, but I could tell he was scared, and I could infer from that that she must be terrified.

The reply came back.

Jessica:
Absolutely.  I can’t promise I take them as a patient but I can help with initial moves.

I nodded to myself.

The boy was relaxing as he talked on the phone.  A distant, authoritative, kind voice, and the promise of some answers or help.

My phone buzzed again.

Jessica:
A patient canceled for later this week.  Do you want to meet for a late lunch?  There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.

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138 thoughts on “Flare – 2.2”

        1. Mangled_Wings used to be a villain, but

          “Kraken_in_a_Jar: we represent the lead we want others to follow
          stability
          strength
          cooperation
          and honesty and good health and kindness and moving forward and all of that junk.”

          That doesn’t really scream villainy at me.

      1. Somehow I have the suspicion that Jessica’s “something I’d like to talk to you about” is related to Tempera’s “something this messy.”

    1. I finally caught up with this! I started reading Worm right at then end of October and I am glad to have caught up. I agree that the ending is a bit worrying. Victoria is walking a bit of a tightrope here.

  1. Ooh, I really like this chapter – Victoria working as effectively a Make-A-Wish type thing is really sweet, and also serves to reinforce the differences between Worm and Ward, I feel. This sort of quiet moment, just making a little difference to one person at a time, feels like something Taylor couldn’t have really done – her heart was in the right place, but she had to be always moving, always preparing for the next grand gesture, the sort who would put up orphans in her base but had to leave taking care of them to her minions. It’s nice to see where Victoria’s mentality leads to different places.

    Also, I’m definitely interested in these plot hooks!

    1. It feels like this chapter is all about setting this up as different from Worm and Twig. Specifically, the part where she talks about doing what’s right, and then following the law, and then reaching out. Completely antithetical to Sy and Taylor, but nice. (I haven’t read enough of Pact to comment on that).

      This chapter kind of makes me wonder what sort of arena Ward is going to play out in. Worm was pretty clearly plot focused, and Twig was all about relationships. Obviously the first part of Ward is going to be about Victoria figuring out Victoria, but is that going to expand into Victoria and Amy? Figuring out the relationship with one person & figuring out a dyad, instead of with a group (worm) or dropping it alltogether (Twig)? Interesting also that it starts here, focused on Victoria’s psychology and rebuilding that, when all of Wildbow’s previous stuff has started with a broader, less MC’s-psychology-focused scope ended in such a complete loss of self in one way or another.

      good chapter.

      1. Blake is funny. Compassionate to his very few allies, cruel to his very many foes, but no matter how fucked his situation got he never turned into a Villain. But overall he had bigger fish to fry than kindness.

        1. Blake was kind, but Pact was so intense he never really got the chance to exercise it at large, because there was so litle downtime and so much danger he didn’t get a chance to.

      1. What’s the robot prison ship? Is it the next work he’s planning, perhaps?

        (My first thought was the Birdcage, but I don’t think these things ever allude to the same universe … )

        1. Unless Dragon and Armsmaster have set up an actual robot prison ship somewhere, and started printing promotional comics about it, it’s probably a reference to something as yet unpublished. Do you think this Good Simon is the same Goofus and Gallant kind of stuff it was in Twig, or if it’s about the other Simon and the title is ironic?

          1. Yar, Dragon and Armsmaster sail the seven+ seas on their own robot pirate ship now, pursued relentlessly by their cyborg rival, Circuitbeard, captain of the DOS’s Revenge.

          2. A long time ago (early twig or maybe some point in pact) somebody had mentioned that the good and bad guys in the mentioned books tended to be switched around. So Good Simon might actually be about Good Simon. Of course, since it’s meant for young kids, it’s probably also moral-lesson oriented, like the other Good Simon books (which may have also been alignment-flipped references to our Noble friend, now that I think about it)

          3. I think it’s the same kind of moral lessons as from Twig, but pushing different virtues because it’s not a dystopia’s indoctrination material.

          4. Robot ship, Interesting considering that part of the stated problems on Bet is the rapidly advancing robot army.

            As for references to Wildbow works in other Wildbow works..

            Worm: Maggie Holt books (Pact) and Good Simon (Twig)
            Twig: Dollman and Revenge of the Swarm Queen (Most likely alluding to Skitter Vs Mannequin)
            ,
            On the subject of Victoria and teams. I can almost see her being part of an ad hoc team simply comprised of people who can/have worked together banding together because they mostly just have each other. And even as I wrote the previous sentence I though about their motivations and feelings being based on betrayal, real or imagined.
            .
            For Victoria, it’s Amy. For Weld, it would be the irregulars. For Sveta, it would be XxVoid CowboyxX, aka Greg iirc, whom she’d only wanted to game with. Fume Hood, it would likely be tried to face her faults and was shot down, (in both contexts of the word).

            So that would make for a team of four basing their team on trust. Thoughts?

            And now, inspired by PG:

            “Yar, Dragon, bring our ship around!”
            “Bringing her around, eh!”
            “Careful we’re caught in a cross (over) wind!”
            “I know, I can see Mechanicsburg from here!”

            *
            “My Lady Heterodyne, there’s an airship approaching and it’s full of advanced clanks.”
            “Hail them Franz, remind them of the rules, or if the weren’t aware, inform them.”

            *
            Armsmaster watched as the creature flew towards them. He calculated odds, responses and then, remembering conversations with dragon on how to behave more organically (the irony of that conversation after Leviathan fight had hit him shortly after Gold Morning), he called out, “I think they’re asking you to attend a family reunion!”

            Dragon just sighed.

          5. At first I thought it was a straight refrence to the kiddie books but after ive read some of the comments I really, really, really hope that they tell a kid safe version of the OTHER (good?) Simon..
            The implications would be devastatingly funny

      2. Huh, didn’t catch that at first.

        Was there ever a Peer reference in any other Wildbow work actually? I can’t remember but it seems to be the only one which is left out (which is a shame, because I actually loved the snippets we got).

      3. I’m starting to wonder if Wildbow doesn’t come up with a concept for childrens books, then make it really dark and mature. Well I can feel better about my personal reimaginings of the Parahumans characters as gold and silver age comic books.

  2. Typo thread?

    >> I probably owe you my lives. But that whole fiasco was my fault.”

    Is that supposed to be “lives” at all?

    1. “I moved on to acomic involving”

      Missing space between a and comic

      Not a typo, but she only mentions needing to make calls, then says “I sent one to Mrs. Yamada.”, implying she’s calling, then sends a text. A little confusing.

      1. Not really a typo but it looks weird to me that Victoria draws an android smiley ( ☺) on her note. Shouldn’t it be something like 🙂 instead?

    2. “When the law or the system fail” should be fails, that annoying rule where verbs agree with the closest part of an or sentence, I think.

    3. I didn’t trust the harness we’d grabbed from the physio center. Not enough to hold someone for me.
      -to me?

      Two good Simon books,
      -Good Simon

    4. “…I think they or the people they’re taking guidance from are approaching that stance of there always being bad guys to deal with, and they’re deciding to conserve their energy. To not fight that fight. Maybe it’s right to.”

      I’m not sure but I think it is “Maybe it’s right too*”. As in “maybe they’re right as well.” Though you could be trying for “Maybe it’s the right thing to do.” in which case it is grammatically correct, but maybe a tad off to me.

  3. I feel like it got really nice and heartwarming just to set us all up for a sucker punch in the gut next chapter. Regardless, I enjoyed it.

  4. And now, my actual comment:

    Spent half the chapter wondering if this is a lead-up to Victoria joining Tempera’s team, but apparently it’s gonna be something more entertaining.

    Loved the interaction with kids at the hospital very much, an interesting juxtaposition of her somewhat crass internal monologue as opposed to the joy she brings the kids.

    Warrior Monk Victoria Dallon does good work.

  5. Good Simon books! Great for kids and Mushrooms of all ages!
    The kids with the masks are from Face i presume? it could also be about twig i guess.
    Great job as always WB! it makes me all fuzzy inside that Vicky might get her therapy after all, she seems so very human, and i makes me realize how broken Taylor was,was her case so covered up that she didnt even get a hero visit?

    1. Well, if I were going to assign a hero to visit a traumatized high schooler, and I had exactly one ward who attended the same high school…

      1. Said ward was also a probationary nutcase who you didn’t want within a country mile of any PR event, let alone one in a hospital.

  6. Loved the mention of Good Simon😂 I’m really curious about the girl with the powers, though it sounds like she won’t be very important. Now we know that turning on her forcefield with someone that close by has complications, I wonder how significant that will be later, and what problems it might cause.

  7. > I smiled, letting the swoop dash all of the other thoughts and feelings from my mind, vicariously enjoying the experience of flying for the first time. Of flying at all.

    The feels…. There must be a Master on this page, because I can’t control them!

  8. Interesting that both Tempura and Yamada want to talk about something. I wonder if it’s related? Some sort of crisis in the near future?

  9. Imagining Taylor going to the children’s ward of a hospital and being like “Hey kids anybody want to get strung up in spiderwebs while cockroaches crawl over you? Trust me its just like flying.”

    1. Taylor *did* do something like this, in Drone 23.4. She started a butterfly-catching contest and then explained that drugs are fantastic and crime pays 15-20 million for a few months work.

        1. You just need to balance it out. First, use a fake account to post a somewhat implausible prediction, e.g.:

          “The child the Simurgh created wasn’t actually killed; Lung used his previously hidden time-travel powers to send it back to 1969 where it briefly appeared at Woodstock where it was dismissed as a hallucination before being transported to an alternate Earth where it grew up to be Contessa, who later slipped a vial of Cauldron formula into one of the coke bricks she threw at Lung, giving him powers and completing the cycle.”

          (Of course, for it to be believable as a fan theory, you’d need to work in something about how this would cause Taylor to have a second trigger event.)

          Then wait until a few people have commented on it before deleting the original post. Now anyone who suggests you delete posts that accurately predict plot twists will have to choose between either accepting the bogus posts as correct predictions, or having to guess which of the deleted posts are accurate and which aren’t, just as they would have had to do if none of them were deleted in the first place.

          1. Or I can just leave it up. With the number of readers I have people are going to guess stuff whatever happens.

  10. “Only one was actually posting any openings, a corporate team, Auzure. Foresight and the Attendant were open to interviewing me, one team gave me a hard no. The other is folding into the Attendant”

    Here “the other is supposed to be the Shepards but this reads like it’s Forsight.

  11. Since Yamada was taking big cases like Valkyrie, maybe her canceled patient is a similarly significant cape relapsing or putting off therapy to do possibly traumatizing overtime.

    1. I am (perhaps pessimistically) assuming that Dr. Yamada’s sudden cancellation is related to the messy situation that Tempera mentioned. And that it’s permanent.

      1. Probably related to the “stuff” heroes were mentioned to occasionally disappear for. Some thing big is brewing in the background here.

      2. I sort of want see Tattletale have a session with Doctor Yamada. It’d be better than what I can think up, that’s a surety.

        “Doctor Yamada?”
        “Speaking.”
        “I wish to make an appointment.”
        “I’m quite busy I’m afraid.”
        “I need someone I can trust implicitly. As the doctor who counseled Skitter, Glory Girl and is sending someone to Panacea-”
        “Tattletale?
        “Yup. People have told me that it’s better to seek counseling before others are certain you need it.And considering what happened with the other three…”

        Doctor Yamada sat in her office. This was going to be one truly awkward patient. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Rachael Lindt. Someone had told Rachael to go to therapy and that had meant the first thing to greet the Counselor was a Labrador puppy. Before Jessica could correct Rachael’s assumption, the girl had asked her, “Who takes care of you?”

        1. I wonder if Yamada can even take Lisa as a client, or if it would count as a breach of the privacy of all her other patients?

          1. Damned good point there, Upthorn. Maybe thinkers revealing secrets gleaned through therapy sessions should now count as equivalent to an Endbringer truce breach?

  12. Loved this chapter so much. Wb is such a master of feels. Loved the Good Simon reference but the comments are confusing. Was the series mentioned in Worm and Pact? I’ve only seen it in Twig

    1. Each series has books in it which reference plans for other series. Most of them have been to obscure for me (though I’m going to guys that the animal-masks are Red and Co.), but I remember chapters of Pact and Twig which mentioned either book characters or titles, and they always have this kind of speculation in them. I only know Worm had it because I specifically remember somebody else pointing out the pattern.

      1. After Worm, Wildbow pitched a few chapters from a few ideas he had. Pact was one (obviously), a proto-Twig following Fray was a second, a third was some high fantasy story that almost nobody except me liked, and then there was some kind of battle-royale thing with animal masks and an irritatingly passive protagonist.

  13. Although you said you didn’t like focusing so much on characters after Twig Wildbow, your progression as a writer has definitely improved as a result of it. I’m really enjoying seeing Victoria slowly searching for her fit, and yet still fragile as a person who was so badly broken in such a horrific manner. Really looking forward to seeing her develop more. Thanks for yet another awesome story!

  14. I’m still putting some stock in my idea that Victoria is going to become the accidental leader of an ad hoc team, and now I think it might have something to do with her outreach here. But that’s just a wild guess. Any thoughts?

    1. Could be. Personally, I feel like she’d end up more as the heart of a team, not the head. Between this outreach, and the way she’s focusing on staying centered and stable, dealing with issues, it seems more like her natural role is the one who keeps everybody together, works on their issues, but isn’t necessarily making the big decisions. Just my thoughts, though.

  15. So what’s the difference between a hero and a superhero?

    A hero saves a life one day, a superhero saves the day.

    This chapter shows one of those non-crimefighting things that supers can do to make the world a better place. It also shows that Victoria does NOT understand 12 year old boys very well. I’ll guarantee they noticed the shirt. Ya see, when I was a little girl growing up, my balls smooth as the day is long, I knew what it was like to be hurt and see someone I found attractive. Then I’d get that feelin’, like I needed sexual healin’. Was actually quite painful that time with the coconut. I, uh, fell in the shower while shaving. Yeah, they’ll buy that.

    Of course, I did indeed grow up into a man and put away childish things like the coconut. I’d long since busted it by then anyway. But I never forgot what it was like to be a whirling mass of hormones pulling my body in different directions; the head in one direction and the head in the other direction.

    On the plus side, I think she could turn that into a steady gig there, even if taking adults for a ride would be more lucrative. It seems to help people heal when they think someone cares for them, at least until they die of embarrassment like Fume Hood. It looks like our friend the Gas Bladder will be sticking around a bit. Maybe her injury will even somehow prompt Victoria to seek out Amy’s help.

    It’s going to be so delicious to watch Victoria and Amy talk again. I’m going to start stockpiling the popcorn now. And the coconuts.

  16. Also, perhaps Tempera can help Victoria with her sister problems. After all, Tempera’s got a twin of her own who also has powers. Granted, those powers are to cover things with a deep fried batter instead of paint, but she still has lesser villains cowering in fear of the great… Tempura.

  17. So there she was, the tense young woman enjoying another night of calm painting after a hard day in the city. She had her earphones in, a Bob Ross video playing, and a nice blank canvas before her. A smile played across her lips thinking of the possibilities within a blank canvas. It could be anything. Bob said it best and seemingly directed right at her: “In painting, you have unlimited power. You have the ability to move mountains. You can bend rivers. But when I get home, the only thing I have power over is the garbage.”

    She tried not to think about the garbage part of that. She had to run and leave a scrambled egg sandwich uneaten the other day and a couple nights in the trash hadn’t improved the smell. That was another thing Bob helped her forget about. She let herself drift into the gentle motions of painting, coaxed on by his calming voice in her ears. For twenty-five minutes a day, he freed her from a life of being called names just because she wasn’t interested in that asshole Bernard.

    Her thoughts drifted to him again and she muttered a curse. She preferred to forget about him and his “nice guy” act. He’d been one of the cool ones where she worked, seemingly unintimidated by how she kept her hair or the firm muscles that showed even through normal clothing not meant to bare skin. That lasted up until he asked her out and she said no. “It’s not me,” she explained. “I’ve sworn off dating after my last breakup.”

    “Oh,” he said. Her mouth spread in a lopsided, apologetic smile until he added. “So you’re just one of those dykes who likes to string a guy along.”

    After that, he went out of his way to make the dumbest and crudest lesbian jokes he could think of. She sighed and raised the pointy end of her brush up to scratch at a spot on her head. She was plenty attracted to guys, she just wasn’t attracted to him. He nearly got her fired once, calling an escort for her while she was at work. Neither her boss nor the woman in the tight red dress and high heels cared for that practical joke, but Bernard kept his name out of it.

    She sighed. Bob was painting a happy little ocean wave. She had the beginnings of a miserable little toilet. But, as Bob always said, we don’t make mistakes. “Just happy little accidents,” she said to herself.

    Just then, the door slammed open. Three guys in ski masks stormed in, the one in the lead pointing a gun at her. “Looks like we got a big girl here, boys!” he shouted, something familiar about his voice. She fell off her stool trying to move back away from the barrel of the gun. The more she looked into it, the larger it appeared. She wondered if it was pointed at her head. She snapped out of it when the man pulled it back and smacked her in the head with the barrel. Her head bounced off the canvas, mixing the white paint with a bloody head wound.

    “Jesus, you said this was a joke,” said one of the others.

    “So why aren’t you laughin’?” the one in the lead asked. He turned to her.

    She didn’t notice the knowing sadism in his eyes at first. She was focused on her picture. It had a smear of read on it. How was she going to blend that?

    Her assailant knelt over her. “Pay attention to me!” He grabbed her hair and bounced her head off the vinyl floor of her apartment. Then he reached up and pulled his mask up, just enough to show the face of her least wanted admirer. Bernard.

    “You lesbos love all this artsy stuff, huh?” He shoved his gun into the back of his pants and grabbed her palette and brush from her hands. He shoved the brush into her black paint. “You don’t want to look at me, fine.” He swiped the brush across her eyes, trying to paint them out.

    She struggled, but she’d already been taken by surprise and had a wound pulsing in her head. The moment she realized she was bleeding, so much of the fight had left her. Even worse, she couldn’t use much of her strength from this position. She threw a punch at him, but he slammed the palette into her face once, then a second time. Again, and again, and again.

    Then she saw it. Another kind of ocean, full of colors she couldn’t dream of. Every hue of the wind, part of a grand painting that stretched into infinity. Planets shown in ways no human had ever seen with a naked eye. In the middle of them, a leviathan swam. It wasn’t painted itself: it was the art. Once she knew how to look at it, she saw it wore masterpieces as a skin. One of them broke off from her. A blank canvas. It came to rest in front of her, and she realized she had a brush in her hands still. She raised it to paint and…

    She had grabbed Bernard’s hand. Black and white fluid flowed up her arm and encased his, squeezing it and the palette it held. “The fuck?!” he started, and tried to jam the backside of her brush into her eye. She ducked her head to the side and popped him in the chin with a punch.

    “Fuck this, I’m going,” she barely heard someone else make out.

    The other voice added, “Me too, this is no joke.” Sneakers squeaked on the floor as they raced out.

    Bernard got his feet under him and managed to pull free with a shlick. His sudden liberation dropped him on his rear when he couldn’t keep his feet under him. “What is this shit?” he asked. “Oil?”

    In her ears came the voice of Bob Ross again. “It’s time to clean our brush off in odorless paint thinner and beat the devil out of it.”

    “No,” the woman said, rising to her feet. Paint dripped all around her. She’d gotten it everywhere, but she could fix it. She could fix so much now. There were no mistakes, just happy accidents.

    She smiled as the realization hit Bernard before she did. “Not oil. It’s tempera.”

      1. This is why a lot of us secretly hate you. Reading this masterpiece on mobile was hilariously uncomfortable because of how the site formats comments.

      2. I don’t Secretly hate you, Gecko. It’s that hate that allows me to keep swimming! I’ll reach that portal eventually. I mean, the lift from a temporally and dimensionally displaced Sontaran on a jet bike helped…

    1. I am seriously waiting for wildbow to appear in the comment section, declaring one of your stories canon. Just to screw with you. xD
      Really nice, Gecko, although highly unlikely. NOBODY can have a trigger event while listening to Bob Ross! I’d actually wager that prolonged exposure to his voice has the power to un-trigger capes, just like therapy with Jessica Yamada.

  18. Man, I’m really conflicted with this chapter tbh.The first part with Tempera, it was all too similar. It was such an idealistic scenario, even having Tempera look at Victoria for cues. ‘ Yup, totally agree with this hands down you’re so right Victoria’ was the vibe I was getting. But mainly this part with the Fallen:

    “I’d call it a draw, but I’m pretty sure they’re still out there recruiting and I’m not out there counteracting that.”

    That, to me, is literally Taylor. It’s totally difficult to differentiate characters, but I mean come on. You can be a good person and want to do good without going ‘overboard’ with it. Taylor’s character was always like that. That,’ I’m going to go that extra mile’, that sentence, and much of that first part, was way too much like Taylor, and not Victoria.It really threw me off tbh.

  19. As a native spanish speaker, reading Tempera always brings up the cheap paints we used at school. I wonder if Tempera took her name from the egg paint or the crappy school one. It seems she’ll be a protagonist of sorts, so I hope WB tells us this at some point.

  20. Victoria is reading people Academy propaganda now? What’s next, giving them a “Bonesaw Approved Science Kit”? Or a book about how when you’re getting bullied just say “Ornias” seven times? Does she call Ms. Lewis when her friends need a lawyer? I bet I know who she recommends as a barber, too.

    I thought she was going to bump into Amy at the hospital.

    1. I think if Amy was at the hospital there wouldn’t be sick people there. Also it would be a HUGE deal. Victoria would have warning from the thronging crowds desperate to touch the hem of her sister’s garment.

  21. I’m glad that Victoria didn’t end up rolling straight into Tempera’s group, but that she’s also not cutting off ties. In addition to being the bent I personally wanted to see in this story, it’s gratifying to have my instincts/guesses borne out.

    This chapter raised for me the idea that being a “community service cape” could and should definitely include being of service to the community of capes as a whole. Even if it’s as simple as a little “[r]eaching out, making and maintaining contact”, that’s something that could have a huge impact. Think of how fragmented capes were in Worm, even with the (moderately) monolithic PRT around to offer a support structure. By the end, even the ones at the top were talking about how all the effort they put in to trying to keep groups aligned/supplied/communicating was falling apart, despite the amount of time/talent/money invested in it.

    Some of this was because of passenger shenanigans, I’m sure. But the passengers just (well, not just, but colloquialism is a thing) selected a playing field that was likeliest to break this way. I see that the failure of the community of capes to the point where Khepri was the most viable solution was due to the fact that people were trying to build a community of capes and to keep capes tied to the rest of humanity by employing bureaucratic measures. Bureaucracy is a marvelous tool of human societies, but community-building is not what it’s best suited for.

    Social contact, rather than bureaucratic contract is what’s called for, and in this chapter we get to see Victoria being an exemplar of how social contact can build cape communities and connect those communities to the rest of us humans. Granted, the end of the chapter also shows the power of and need for bureaucracies to support societies, but I think my point stands.

  22. Also, the beginning of this chapter gave me a sense of just how fluid and freeform society is at this stage. This fluidity has a lot of negative consequences, and I expect to see many terrible ones through the course of the story. But fluidity isn’t intrinsically negative. It’s just fluid. And we’re seeing a bit of that here.

    Can you imagine, in our particular world, walking into a hospital where a patient has been secured after a visible and controversial crime, just getting permission to walk in? It took the say-so of a known friend of the patient and a nurse’s judgment call. I’ve never had anything work so simply, and my hospital visits had nothing to do with a high-profile crime.

    Even Victoria’s not really expecting to get in once she see’s Fume Hood’s under guard:

    “I knew it wouldn’t matter, that they would assume I’d been lying, but I hoped it would temper the reaction.

    ‘She’s not accepting visitors,’ the secretary said.”

    Sure, it takes the weakness of courts, and the economy, and police forces to give a nurse enough capacity to common-sense their way through a hospital’s operating policy. But I’m willing to consider this particular incident a positive consequence of that fluidity/instability that’s going to cause so many of this story’s problems.

  23. Uh oh something messy going on from Tempura. But I’m thinking that what Mrs. Yamada wants to talk about is going to be suggesting Vicky and the former asylum inhabitents form a group.

    And when the kids were talking to Victoria in the hospital I thought “Boy it’d be funny if someone asked her “what happened to Weaver? You know Taylor Hebert? She used to be my favorite cape.”

  24. God DAMMIT Wildbow! I can’t take the suspense!
    I think Victoria is going to be called off to one of these hush hush off-world S class threats that the heroes disappear off to deal with occasionally and this will be her chance to prove herself.

  25. Pretty certain Victoria could find work in lots of places. She’s young, healthy and strong.
    This is not our Earth. It’s Gimmel.

    A hundred million square kilometers of untamed land.
    Mining, farming, road building, tree cutting, and hundreds of jobs we forgot.

    She just wants to whine and complain that her life is boring. Yes, the shard wants xp.

    But she doesn’t have the excuse not to know how her power influences her.
    Nonetheless, she continues trying to get into a team, and into public’s eye and deadly danger.

    Why? Why not.
    But the Amy avoidance seems strange. She wanted to meet her so much. And now that she can, she doesn’t. I get she’s sick, but still, some consistency should remain.

    1. When she was institutionalized, Amy hadn’t fixed her brain after going elbow deep with the mindscrewing. Amy kinda freaked out and left everything the way it was. She only fixed it after gold morning, and Victoria decided that she wanted to remember the bad times, leading to Amy scarimg the shit out of her

  26. So there’s an unspecified messy incident that requires all the help they can get and Dr. Yamada wants to talk to Victoria about something important.

    I get the feeling they’ll be wanting air raid sirens.

  27. I’m really enjoying how things are building up here. There are a lot of possibilities for Victoria’s future, I could easily her ending up creating a team, or becoming a counselor of some sort, more than likely, a combination of both.

    I’m recalling Weld and his team of Irregulars, how he tried to bring all of the Case 53’s together. Most of the 53’s were pretty damaged people, both physically and mentally. In his case, unfortunately most of the 53’s were more interested in revenge than moving on and things fell apart in a big way. Maybe Victoria will end up on a similar path, bringing together a team of capes who are also damaged, or in need of companionship, but instead of things falling apart, she’ll end up finding a sort of family, like Taylor did with the Undersiders.

    I’m pretty excited to also see Jessica’s involvement in Victories growth into a counselor of some sort, she’s got a good sense for it, and there couldn’t be any one better than Jessica to help her develop in that way. Jessica might not be able to take Victoria as a patient, but maybe she could use an apprentice of some kind.

  28. This was such a beautiful chapter to read. Victoria making the girl’s day gave me the feels. And then it all ends with our inciting incident (the flare?) being foreshadowed — while I’m tempted to go with the theory that the two incidents referred to are the same, I’m thinking maybe it’s more like two different, but related incidents.

    Maybe Victoria’s first dilemma might even involve going from no teams to having to make a choice between teams (or two options) with equally strong arguments.

  29. I’m thoroughly enjoying the theme of rebuilding both in a place of infinite potential left behind by the major collective trauma of the old worlds destruction and in the self coming to terms with more personal trauma with a dash of dysmorphia. Also very much love to see the kid reading Good Simon <3

  30. I thought this chapter dragged a little bit during the interaction between Victoria and Tempera, but overall, it still ended up being very good. Maybe it was because of her volunteer work with the kids, but I have to say that Victoria is starting to grow on me a bit more as the protagonist. Like other commenters already said, this is the kind of stuff that Taylor would have never done, specially from her own initiative. The little hooks dropped near the end of the chapter are very intriguing, and I am very curious to find what they are all about.

  31. I don’t like this one as much as i love worm or twig, the writing has improved and the perspectives shifts are written really well but i don’t ‘click’ with this protagonist and i don’t like the pace. Rather than a frantic pace with moments of relief, its a more subtle and continuous train of depression interspersed with moments of more violent and even more depressing acti0n.

    With Worm and Twig the novel clicked immediately and i really fell in love with it as it went on and more chapters were released, with Ward there isn’t any click and i haven’t found myself enjoying it more as chapters are released. i don’t wanna wait another 4 years for his next novel :(, i hope this one picks up and there’s some character development that makes me root for the protagonist.

    most web novels are like 3/10
    worm is a 10/10
    twig is a 9/10
    this might be a 7/10 so far

    1. I totally understand how you feel, even though Victoria is actually growing on me a little bit. But whereas you can’t get into Victoria, I actually couldn’t get into Sly and the rest of the lambs.

  32. I wonder how the cape community will change without a consistent, predictable, worldwide threat to worry about.

    On a related note I wonder what the ultimate threat of this story is going to be. The other books laid them out pretty early, even though we didn’t know it at the time. But this is a sequel instead of a self-contained story; it’s written with the assumption that we have the necessary background. So I’m theorizing that the ultimate Big Bad was a hanging thread from Worm. The most likely candidates, in no particular order, and with my reasons for thinking of them are as follows: Simurgh – The apparently only sentient Endbringer, The Sleeper – An S-Class threat with but the barest of mentions, Contessa – An incredibly dangerous woman who lost her purpose in life, Teacher – I don’t actually have much to say about him, he might be the Disc-One boss.

    1. I’m not sure this story’s ultimate focus will be so easy to define. So far this story has focused on the little guys, the B-listers, the uneasiness of civilians, the chaos of powers and rebuilding, and the importance (for good or ill) of family (found and birthright). None of which really lends itself to a Big Bad.

      Well. Except for Panacea.

      Actually, you know what, if this story has a Big Bad, it’s probably going to involve Panacea in a big way.

    2. Don’t forget Abaddon! I personally would like to see more of the Great Saga of the Massive Space Worms; what is Abaddon’s goal, and why did he sabotage Eden?

  33. Just commenting to subscribe for email alerts of new posts. But I am enjoying Ward so far and am excited to see where this all leads. Just read Worm earlier this year after it was recommended to me, so it’s very exciting to have the sequel start so soon after.

  34. Ah, VIctoria. So unlike Taylor, with that quiet moment of helping people that Taylor would never have had.

    Tempera dialogue is quite interesting, as is that Fume Hood discussion. Do I spy the beginnings of a brand new hero group?

    …Hm. I wonder. How will most of these new hero groups last, with no world-threatening monster to give them absolute purpose, or Cauldron/Protectorate to keep things orderly? Even now, we see the sentiment of “We don’t need you!”. As things go on, they will get uglier.

    Thank you for your writing.

  35. Without Scion, there will be millions of bad triggers out there, ranging from glowing eyes to things with too many mouths and then worse, things that eat minds or feed on human tears.

    Sure, the chance of such a calamity hitting Gimmel is one in trillions, but then again, Scion did have trillions of powers, now free floating in N-dimensional space, plugging into anything that even remotely resembles a host.

    Ever see a dog trying to screw a ball or a plush doll or even a leg? Now you know what’s going on out there. Only it’s not puppies, it’s eldritch multidimensional puppies.

    Maybe Panacea will upgrade someone to direct the trajectories. Maybe she will become the one.

    Valkyrie seems a probable new Entity as well, having the Eidolon shard to munchkin on.

  36. I love how kind Victoria is. She’s in a position where most people would only be thinking about themselves, and she still finds time to help others.

  37. Victoria is this chapter feels like such a down to earth, good hearted real heroine, not only with ideal about how things could be better if only people were to cooperate, but actually putting herself out there, taking the risk to be honest and vulnerable and full of empathy in order to build social ties and communities.

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