Flare – 2.3

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It was dark as the boy and I stepped outside.  It was a flipping of perspectives, in a way, that the city lights were going out and the tent villages off in the distance were lighting up with lamps and fires.  The city had only a small fraction of the light it might have had in the old world when power rationing wasn’t in effect, only a tenth the normal number of apartments were lit up.  Only the major roads had light, and that meant far less people were driving, which meant less head and tail lights.

It was cool out, not as cold as it had been last night, thankfully.

It was five minutes before Tempera met us at the door.  She looked a little worn out, but then again, she’d gone to the hospital, gone home, come back to the hospital, and she was juggling something with the messy situation she’d talked to me about.

“Hi Victoria.  Hi Sam.”

“Hi,” Sam said.

“On a scale of one to ten, how serious is your friend’s situation?”

“Uh.  Six?  She’s depressed, she’s scared, she doesn’t know how to use her power, and I can’t get near her to help her.  She’s afraid people are going to take her away.”

“How immediate is the situation?  Does she need help in the next five minutes, next hour, today?  Is she or anyone else in danger?”

“She’s alive, but I’d like to get her help soon.  She’s freaking out and I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m only asking like this because it’s an emergency, and since our talk on the phone it’s escalating.  I’m going to take you to the Wardens headquarters, okay?  I’m going that way already, I can walk you through the security and introduce you to some people, and they’ll have ideas on what to do with your friend.  Sound good?”

“Sounds alright.”

“What’s the emergency?” I asked.

“Citizen labor is going nuts.  They’re massing, pulling in some outside help, a lot of other angry and frustrated citizens.  I don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s all hands on deck.  Wardens are coordinating Advance Guard, Foresight, Shepherds, the Attendant and others.  They’re even bringing in the PRTCJ capes, which haven’t exactly been advertised to the public.”

Crystal’s group.  The situation was bad enough to open the can of worms that was capes serving as a military-adjunct force?  In this climate, no less.

Tempera went on, “I and some of the other prospective Wardens are being asked to go with the Wardens proper, to handle things where they’re getting out of control offworld.”

“Offworld?”

“I recommended you, said you’d help, they’ve given a tentative a-ok on that.  Things are expected to blow up when the city wakes up tomorrow, so it’s up to you if you want to help tonight or first thing tomorrow.  I sent you the address?”

“I got it,” I said.

“I should go.  Sam, with me.”

“Good luck,” I said.  “Sorry to pass the ball like this.”

“It’s fine.  Good luck to you too, Victoria.”

I checked my phone, waiting painful minutes for sites to load.

She’d said I could help tonight or tomorrow.  That things would get bad starting tomorrow.

The news sites already had multiple headlines with the word ‘war’ followed by a question mark.  And things were expected to get worse tomorrow?

No, I’d go tonight.

I’d fly, even.  I messaged Crystal.

 

I let myself into Crystal’s apartment through the balcony, using the key Crystal had given me on the sliding glass door.

“I’m here,” I called out.

I was about to step from the living room to the hallway when a red-tinted forcefield appeared across the path, blocking my way.

“One moment!” Crystal called out.

I turned my back to the forcefield and leaned against it, my arms folded.  “Can I talk to you from here?”

“Yep!”

“The headlines are saying war,” I said.  “And you’re being brought in.”

“Could go that way,” Crystal said.  “It’s wonky.  Two sides are butting heads and we’ve got another world that’s pretty upset.”

“I’ve only heard bits and pieces from some others and the news.  Is it a strike?”

“Not a strike.  I’m dressed now, you can come through,” Crystal said.  The forcefield disappeared, and I used flight to keep from falling, turning myself around before walking down the hallway and around the bend to Crystal’s room.

Crystal had already been in costume and with her group when she’d been ordered to get ready and be at the location within half an hour.  She was using the opportunity to help get me organized.  She’d showered while waiting for me, she’d donned her costume, and she was combing wet hair now.

Her costume was white, with her usual symbol on it, the arrow pointing down and to the side, with a stream of lines flowing from the back of the arrow, over one shoulder.  She wore a jacket with it, a near-black gray, given a faint magenta-red tint.  ‘PRTCJ’ was printed on the back in big white letters.  A lone stylized chevron was on the sleeve.

There were things to be said about it, about the militaristic tilt of the group, the way the PRT and the Protectorate had broken in such a way that the Wardens had sprung up from one large chunk of the image, presentation and ideals.  Crystal’s parahuman miltary thing was crudely forged from another chunk of what the PRT had been: the PRT’s old laws, rules, and discipline.  A military-esque force without a government to serve or a hard and fast system of law to back it up.

But it was Crystal’s call.  Crystal’s thing.  I held my tongue.

“My closet,” she said.  “Black trash bags.  Never throwing things away pays off.  It’s one of the sample batches.”

The bags made the clothes easy to find, even in the jam-packed closet.  The contents were hidden within the trash bags, the hooks of the hangers poking up and through.  Crystal indicated the bed, and I laid them out, peeling the plastic back.  White costumes without icons or decoration, a variety of cuts and styles.

It was a familiar range.  Back in the day, companies had periodically reached out to New Wave, wanting to pitch their product and get us to use them for our costuming.  Mom had handled those talks and periodically singled out a family member to send a bunch of proto-costumes to.  Later she would nag us for feedback that she could send the companies.

I didn’t want to think about mom.

I focused on the costumes, with some attention paid to the situation at hand.  The leotard cut was a ‘never ever’.  The full-body suit was problematic because of how it resembled Scion’s, and I didn’t want to go there.  Those were two I could eliminate right away.  I pulled the black trash bags down over them and set them aside.

Crystal explained, “People have been noting how fast we got back on our feet, and how we have something reasonably stable in currency and economy.  We kind of got our answer.”

“Yeah,” I said, before guessing, “powers?”

“I guess powers, probably,” she said.

I turned to look at Crystal.  She was arranging her damp hair over her eye, a curved swoop that her hairband held in place.  “Only probably?”

“This isn’t about powers,” she said.  “But I wouldn’t rule them out.  They helped and they may be part of this.  The key thing is that a lot of the building materials and resources we used to get started came from other worlds.”

“As in our people working in other worlds or-” I paused as Crystal shook her head.  “Or other, alternate civilizations.  Shit.  You don’t get anything of that scale for free.  What did we have to give them in exchange?”

“I have no idea,” Crystal said.  “I don’t think many people do.  There are two major groups heading the reconstruction that might have an idea but they haven’t shared.  One of those groups was the one who put out the trading dollar a few months after Gold Morning, now our de-facto regular dollar.  Same group that’s now looking at moving up into the greater political arena.”

“And those two groups are the ones butting heads?” I asked.

“No, the two construction groups are banding together, kind of.  The workers who have been doing the actual construction work seem to think they were promised a significant discount and first opportunity to buy the houses they’ve been building.  They’ve been living in a tent village, working long weeks, miserable conditions.”

“And if they think they have dibs on the houses, the work must have been a labor of love.  They’ll have a strong community too.  If they didn’t kill each other working that hard in conditions that bad, they must be close.”

“Yes,” Crystal said.  “One second, be right back.”

I glanced over the remaining outfits.  Three more options.  V-neck, long-sleeved, short skirt.  Not bad, but very reminiscent of ‘Glory Girl’.

Round neck, low enough to have a touch of cleavage, short sleeves, and shorts that cut straight across the upper thigh.  If any length were taken from them at all, they wouldn’t qualify as shorts anymore.  Hard to pull off.  I’d need to accessorize it and I wasn’t sure I could afford the time to dig for boots, belt, or other stuff I’d need, and still get filled in.

The last one had a high collar, a kind of truncated turtleneck, it was sleeveless, with leggings that ended in the mid-low calf.  Not bad but not great, and again, I’d need accessories.

Urg.

“The two construction groups are collaborating, banding together, the areas rezoned, contracts reworked.  They say workers signed and agreed, and there are no longer ‘dibs’, as you put it.”

“For something that matters as much as home and shelter, with that many employees, you’d think someone would have read the contract thoroughly enough to figure that out.”

“I have no idea,” Crystal said.

“Sounds like someone’s not being honest.”

“Again, Victoria, I don’t know,” Crystal said, sounding a little exasperated.  “I’m- we’re, if you’re coming, we’re not going there or being invited there to arbitrate or negotiate.  We’re not solving that particular problem.  We’re there to stand between the two sides, keep the peace.”

I glanced at her jacket.  “Just following orders.”

“Following orders, keeping things simple, letting others handle things,” Crystal said.  “Yeah.”

I nodded.  “Okay.”

I picked up the second costume, with the low neck, short sleeves, and short leggings, and held it up against my front.

“Go for it,” she said.  “You definitely need to dress that up.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’m going to go get changed and see if I can find footwear.  If you have a minute, could you find any belts?”

“Utility or regular?”

“Either or.  I like the idea of utility more, I think, for how I think I’ll be dressing up.”

I stepped out of Crystal’s room, pulled the curtain closed by the balcony door and quickly stripped out of my top and the skirt.  I picked both up and put them with my other clothes.

I experienced a brief moment of displaced emotion, as if my head and body were in Crystal’s apartment, and my heart was somewhere in the past.  In an exposed, open area that wasn’t mine, wasn’t comfortable, where someone could happen to step in and see me exposed at any moment.

The latent feeling of the hospital room.  Of being in the care home.

Pulling the costume on helped.  Deep breaths, the pull of the zipper as it closed at my back and pulled material tight against my chest and stomach.  I fixed the legs, checked for bunching and wrinkles, and deemed it satisfactory.  Not perfect in the way a costume made explicitly for me would be, but satisfactory.

I dug in boxes.  I’d packed my things with shoes and boots at the bottom, clothes on top.

“Belts,” Crystal said.  I heard the clatter as the things were tossed onto the couch.  “Masks.  Armband.”

The bag rustled as it bounced off the couch and landed on the floor.  the armband landed on the couch near the belts.  A black band with the Gold Morning symbol on it.

“Good throws,” I said.  Crystal was standing with her back to me.  She’d tossed them over her shoulder.  “You can turn around.”

“Thank you,” she said.  “Don’t spend too much time.  It’s late, it’s dark, people won’t care too much.”

“I won’t.  Where does the other Earth and the war fit into this?” I asked.  I pulled out a pair of white boots.  Shoes meant for a costume might have worked better, but I tended to prefer boots for the fact that they stayed on better with hard landings, kicks, and rough falls.  Fourteen year old Glory Girl had learned that lesson: it was terminally embarrassing to have a petty criminal watch as you flew over to your lost shoe and put it back on.

“The workers called a stop to all work.  They’re holding the houses, equipment, and building materials hostage, with some suggestion they’ll destroy it all before they give up what they’re owed,” Crystal said.  “The last big convoy of materials and trucks were from another Earth, and they’re part of what’s being held hostage.  The delivery folk from Earth-K aren’t budging because they aren’t abandoning their delivery, even though they’ve been told they can go.  The government from United States of K is getting upset because their people aren’t home, That’s where the murmurings of war are coming from.  Workers aren’t conceding anything else, and construction groups aren’t either.”

“And our job is to make sure the stalemate stays stale and mate until people find a resolution,” I said, pulling on the boots.

“Or mitigate the damage if it gets ugly,” Crystal said.

I did up the straps, reached for the belts, all arranged around a metal ring, and found one I was satisfied with almost right away.  Utility-belt style with small pouches.  I tore open the bag of masks.

The masks were ones that were meant to be stuck to the face.  Remove protective tape, stick to face like cosmetic band-aids.  Not my favorite, but I got why they did it when they sent out sample packs.  The glue would wear out quickly, and the real custom masks for long-term wear would then be ordered.  Quality was fine, though.  All in white, again, some with lenses.

I found one that fit around my eyes and covered my eyebrows, with white lenses, and held it up to make sure the white lenses didn’t obscure vision any.  A faint halo when I looked at sources of illumination, but nothing too bad.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I think you look more like you than I’ve seen you in a long time,” she said.

“Maybe I’m meant to wear a costume,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said.  “But what I meant, cuz, is that from the moment you stepped into my bedroom, well before you put anything on, you looked more focused and grounded in reality than you have in a while.”

I drew in a deep breath, and glanced at the curtains.  Being told I looked better reminded me that I hadn’t looked well before, which reminded me of why I hadn’t looked well, which in turn made me feel less better.

It was easier if I didn’t focus on it.  “Thanks, I guess.”

“Whatever you were doing, I think you should do more of it.”

“I plan to.  But for now, in the interest of time, since your formation is expecting you to hurry back, I just need to know if the mask makes me look like a dork.”

“It’s good,” Crystal said.  She picked up one article of clothing that I’d put aside while digging for my boots.  A plain white sweatshirt.  “To cover up the road rash?”

I looked at my arms.  I still had the raised red marks where I’d tumbled to the road.

“Or maybe not.  It wouldn’t work with your forcefield,” she said.

It would, but I wasn’t about to explain that whole situation.

“No, actually, it could work,” I said.  “Dress up the upper body some.”

She smiled, enthusiastic that I was playing along.  “Exactly!  I was thinking we could stick a quick heat-transfer design on this.”

The sweatshirt as part of my costume?  It would be playing into that trend of working normal clothes into costumes.  Fume Hood’s group had been big on that.  A few of the villains in Lord of Loss’ group had, too, but some of that might have been them trying to fly under the radar before launching their plan.

The most significant trends in fashion and style were often a symptom of external factors.  It was hard to get good costumes with where things were at.  There was a desire, too, to appear more down to earth, to connect to the people, when sentiment was where it was at.

“Sure,” I said.  I smiled.  “That could work.”

“Question is, do you trust me to do it?” she asked, raising one hand and producing a fan of lasers from her fingertips, shooting at a forcefield she’d created.  “Or do you want to wait for the iron to get hot?”

The battle lines were drawn, so to speak.  At least it was quiet here, the forces gathering in anticipation of the coming day.  At the center of this particular battlefield was a single tall building, lit from bottom floor to top, even in the evening, with the power rationing being what it was.

The masses of construction workers had clustered in groups, the largest mass of them arranged around three sides of the building, kept on the far side of the street by the emergency services and the capes.  Surrounding one of the construction company’s headquarters.

Lights on poles, the lighting of the news crews talking to some key individuals, and the lights the workers were carrying served to illuminate that crowd.

From the bird’s eye view, we could see some of the construction sites around the area, each roughly illuminated by the lights within, that light contained by the fencing that surrounded each building in progress.  Construction vehicles, people, and collections of things cast long shadows with the lights set where they were.  Most had lookouts posted, keeping an eye out for trouble.  A couple of those lookouts turned lights our way as we flew.

Laserdream and I touched ground.

“I’ve missed flying with you,” she said.

I smiled.  My emotions were complicated enough in the moment that I didn’t want to say anything.  I didn’t trust my tone of voice or the words I might choose.

Easier to stick to the shallow, surface response.  It was nice to be around my cousin, nice that she was happy.

We walked down the length of the street, the building on one side, the crowd of workers on the other.  Walking helped to get my blood pumping and my body warmed up, where flying felt like it had frozen my blood and chilled me.  My hands were cold, and I kept them jammed in the pockets of my sweatshirt.

“Laserdream.  You’re cutting it close in getting back in a timely manner.  Who’s this?” a cape in a jacket asked.  He was a heavy guy with a very clean face, a gently curved visor covering his eyes and nose.

“Family,” Laserdream said.  “There was a call for more help, she was invited by someone named, uh…”

“Tempera,” I said.

“Tempera.  Right.  We’re paying for the extra hands on deck?”

“We are,” the man said.  “It’s not a lot.”

“That’s fine,” I said.

He looked skeptical.

“I can second the recommendation if it matters,” Laserdream said.

“It helps,” the guy said.  “If she causes trouble, you know it’s your ass in the fire.”

“Understood, sir,” she said.  “I’ve been doing patrols with her since before I could drive.  I’d trust her with my life.  I’m optimistic my ass will remain room temperature.”

“Don’t get smart.  I don’t want her with the formation.  If she wants in, she needs to apply and train.”

“She doesn’t-” Laserdream said, at the same time I said, “I don’t-”

Laserdream ceded to me.

“No disrespect intended,” I said.  “That isn’t for me.  But I get the gist of the situation, I’ll help keep the peace, I’ll follow any orders.”

“You going to be alright if I send you out to help fill in the gaps at the flanks?”

“It’s why I’m here,” I said.

“South side of the building,” he said, pointing.  “Stand on the dotted line, try not to stare down the crowd or antagonize them.  Be gentle if they get rowdy.”

“Can do,” I said.

“Should be quiet tonight,” he said.  He turned to Laserdream as he said it, but glanced at me.  Including us both in the statement.  “This is one of three locations.  The big demonstrations are supposed to start tomorrow, at another location.  Tonight they’re mainly interested in holding their ground and organizing themselves.  Holding a vigil, giving cameras something to record.  Would be nice if they got over it or got bored before things get started tomorrow, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

That would be why Tempera had said I could call in the morning.  The workers wanted time and media attention to give their side some weight before they really took action.

“Get yourself in position.  I’ll send someone your way with some cups of coffee in a short while.”

“Alright,” I said.

The parahumans along the road to the south of the building were spaced out along the painted divider in the center of the street.  One parahuman every fifteen or so feet.  There were no barricades, only the lights on tripods, connected to battery packs, helping to illuminate most of the road.  The ambient light from nearby buildings contributed.

The crowd was noisy, but it was a low, constant noise.  Talk, conversation, the occasional raised voice.  There wasn’t a car to be seen on the street.

I could remember what had happened to Fume Hood.  I closed my eyes for a moment, and I put my forcefield up, leaving it up.  It made me uncomfortable, but a bullet would be even worse on that score.

The capes down the street to my left were all wearing Advance Guard icons on their sleeves and costumes.  The stylized man bearing the ‘greater-than’ shaped shield, charging forward.  The color of the icon changed, depending on the costume’s color scheme, but it was always such that it stood out, yellow on a red and orange costume, or purple on a blue-green one.  The thick bold lines of the icon’s design tended to flow into the cape’s individual icon or the rest of the costume, the shield’s lines or the diamond-shaped frame of the icon joining the line running down the seam of the sleeve or the lines running across the chest.

“Who are you with?” the guy standing to my left asked.  He had a face plate, with the thick bold lines and angular edges that Advance Guard tended to have, and the ‘ears’ of the plate swept back to cover his ears, giving them a pointed, elfin cast.  His bodysuit was designed to accent his slim frame, a two -piece jacket and legging combo, with a very pronounced zig-zag at the waist where the upper body met the lower body.  There was a slight curl at the toes.

“I’m independent,” I said.  “For now.”

“We’re Advance Guard,” he said.  “I’m Spright.”

“I’m between names,” I said.  “And between costumes.  Don’t judge me too harshly.”

“Can I see the emblem?”

“Just a design, not an emblem,” I said, turning my back to him to show him the rush job we’d managed with the heat-transferred image, my sweatshirt lightly singed in places.  It was a circle with lines intersecting it, almost like a sun, but with the lines running into the circle.  The image was offset, so the lines were shorter to the left and top of the image.  Crystal’s idea and design, and I’d had no objection.

“Between teams, between names, between costumes?”

“More or less sums it up,” I said.  “If you need to call me anything, you can call me Victoria.”

“I’m honored, Victoria,” Spright said, bowing slightly.  “I’m glad for the company.  We might be here for a while.”

“We probably will,” I said.

“I see you’ve got the armband.  You’ve been around for at least a few years. Do you have any war stories you can share?”

“Yes, a good few,” I said.  And a lot I wouldn’t share.

“You’re experienced, huh?”

“A few years under my belt.  A few years of semi-retirement.”

“I can tell you I’m very experienced,” he said, with a bit of humor in his voice.

I looked at him, one eyebrow arched.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he said.

“Is that how we’re doing this?”

“Could be,” he said.  “What I’m offering is long and thoroughly satisfying.  Are you game?”

“Wow,” I said.  I smiled despite myself, looking over the crowd instead of at Spright.  “When they said Advance Guard rushes into things, they weren’t lying.”

“Once you get me going, I go all night.  I might as well get started early.”

“With an audience, though?”

“I’ve got nothing to hide.  I’d say they could join in, but I think that would get a little hectic.”

“It might just,” I said.  “Would be nice to steer clear of hectic for a while.”

“I very much agree, Victoria Between-things,” Spright said.  “You have to find a good fit, strike the right rhythm, the right pace.  Once you’re comfortable, you might be able to vary it up some.”

The woman standing to the left of Spright said something that sounded an awful lot like, “Oh my god, Spright.”

I checked, but it didn’t look like the people on the sidewalk heard us.  The buzz of conversation seemed to drown out our voices.

“Is he always like this?” I asked, raising my voice a bit.

“Yes,” Spright said.

“No,” she said.  “I dare say you’ve inspired him.  Unfortunately.”

Spright sounded almost energized by his teammate’s exasperation.  “I’m intrigued more than inspired.  I’d love to indulge in your, ahem, stories, Victoria with the stylish icon.”

“It’s not that great an icon,” I said.  “Nice try, though.  I appreciate it.”

“I wanted to work in the flattery somehow.  There’s no shortage of things I could say, by the way, and I’m not messing around when I say that.  I chose the icon because I do like it, and because when you say something nice about something like a girl’s hair or something else about their appearance, you tend to get that kneejerk resistance.”

“You do,” I said.  For me, it’s for reasons other than the usual.  It was a shame, but his moment of frankness had brought things home again.  My tone of voice was audibly different even to myself as I said, “I’m flattered, Spright, really.”

“Aw darn.  But?”

“But while I’d be happy to share a few stories, I’m not up for the other stuff you’re driving for.  It’s just not where I’m at.  Wouldn’t be fair to you.  I’ve gotta figure myself out some, first.”

“I can respect that,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I appreciate the wit.  You were pretty snappy with some of that.”

“Thanks for letting me try, I-” Spright stopped as the woman standing to his left made a sound effect with her mouth.  I didn’t hear the preceding sound, but I heard her make a sound like a small crash with her mouth.  Spright switched tacks to say, “I’ll throw things at you, Tandem.”

The woman laughed.

A moment later, another person joined us.  A ripple in the road, and he appeared almost instantly out of the gloom.  The cape I’d met early in the day the community center had been attacked, with the blades jutting from his costume.

He looked at me, sizing me up.

“Hi,” I said.

“Mmh,” he made a sound, not really a response.  “Hey, Spright, swap places with me for a bit.”

The ‘mmh’ bugged me.  “I’m enjoying his company.”

“She’s enjoying my company, Shortcut,” Spright said.  “It’s a good night.”

“It’s going to be a long night,” Shortcut said.  “I think I know her from the other day.”

He paused, glancing back at me.

“Yeah,” I said.

Shortcut turned back to talk to Spright, then paused, glancing back at me.  “What’s that sound?”

I listened, and I heard it.  Scratching.

Without trying to look too much like I was looking down, I looked down.  My forcefield, invisible to everyone present, was scratching at the road.

I took flight, lifting myself up enough that the arms couldn’t reach the ground.  About eight feet up.  From the angle, as I saw the light hit the road at a different angle, I could see the shallow gouges.

The good humor from earlier was spoiled a little at that.

“Everything okay?” Spright asked.

“Yeah, just restless, bit of power quirkery,” I said.  I realized the crowd had noticed me take flight, and the conversation had quieted a bit.

It was mildly surprising that, Spright’s flirting aside, nobody in a large collection of construction employees had called out to me.

I tested my luck, and used the opportunity to call out, “You guys doing okay!?”

“Bit cool out!” someone called back.

“Yeah!” I called back.  “Better than the alternative, isn’t it?”

That got me a fairly mixed response.

“Shoulder to shoulder in the heat, stinking of sweat?  You don’t want that!”

“We’re used to the smell of sweat, hon!” a woman called out.  There were murmurs of agreement.

“Take care of yourselves, okay?”

There were a few murmured and unintelligible responses, but a more emotional cry of, “Give us our homes and we’ll be just fucking fine!” stood out.  Some heads turned in that direction.

“It’s not up to us,” I said.  “Save that energy for tomorrow, alright?  We’re here to keep you safe and keep them safe.”

There were a few mumbled replies.

“Doesn’t help,” Shortcut said.

“I dunno,” I said.  “Letting them know we’re not against them, we care about their well being?  Reaching out and talking can’t hurt, can it?”

“I guess that’s why I’m here,” Shortcut said.

I looked his way.

“Reaching out and talking,” he said.  “I just wanted to make sure there’s no hard feelings.”

“About you not getting into Advance Guard.”

I’d emailed, they’d sent a reply a couple of hours later saying no.

“I didn’t devote a lot of thought to it,” I said.  “Sucks, but you guys have to do what you have to do.  And so does everyone else, apparently.  I’ll figure something out.”

“They didn’t tell you it was me?”

“No,” I said.  I frowned.

“I told them to tell you no and to tell you it was me, and why.”

“Alright,” I said.  “They just told me no.”

“Well fuck that.  I thought you needed to know, what you did back there, it was shitty.”

“Beg pardon?”

“I realized after your face came up on some of the events about the Norfair community center incident.  You went up against Lord of Loss?”

“I don’t see what the issue is,” I said.

“You happen to beat me to the scene, and then you use your secret identity, condescension and anti-parahuman shit to take me down a notch?  And then you want a place on Advance Guard?”

“I happened to be there.  I’m sorry, it was not my intention to come across that way.”  I tried to help you out some.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Right.  I can guess what your intentions were.”

I was pretty darn confident my handling of the situation had been alright.  I was inclined to chalk this one up to the guy having a screw loose or a few bundled up issues.  It still bothered me, and it bothered me more that a nice conversation had been interrupted, and now this guy was apparently intent on keeping me company for the night, telling me how I was responsible for his problems and issues.

I pursed my lips, doing my best to filter what he was saying, tuning out what I could and responding where necessary, so he wouldn’t add me ignoring him to his list of grievances.  He was talking about the community center now.

Voices were raised, a few shouts, both from capes at one of the other streets, and by people in the crowd.  Phones were out.

It was almost a welcome interruption, in that solitary moment between the initial commotion and when I realized that it meant people were hurt.

I rotated myself in the air, looking, trying to figure out what had happened.  I saw Crystal coming, and flew to meet her.

“Come!” she shouted, barely pausing as she flew.  I joined her, wavering as air ripped past my forcefield, lopsided in a way I couldn’t quite detect, moving.

I disabled the forcefield, and in the doing, I could fly straighter, but I flew against cold wind, unprotected.

Crystal didn’t explain.  It was left for me to see.

Our site had been quiet.  At least one of the other places workers were congregating wasn’t.  People were more spread out, and I suspected from their arrangement that some had crossed the street, approaching the building.  There were more emergency vehicles, more capes, and there was a large clearing in the center of the crowd.

Eight people were gathered toward the center of that clearing, with more scattered across the more open area.  Among them, several had eyes that glowed, or glows emanating from their mouths.  Shapes I couldn’t quite make out moved around them.  A power at work, like the outline of something that glowed slightly in the dark, too abstract to make out.

I watched as two people broke from the edge of the clearing and ran toward the center group.  A man and a woman, holding hands.

It hit me like a blow to the head.  An image in my mind’s eye, a feeling, a sense of something greater.  Forgotten in the same instant it occurred.  I dropped out of the air, and I caught myself a moment later.  Crystal did much the same.

“Get back!” someone hollered.

A megaphone blared, “Get away from the center!”

The eight people were sixteen now, including the two that had run toward the center and some of the people that hadn’t retreated to the clearing’s edge.  Eyes glowed, powers wreathed a few hands.  A spike of power-generated material was stabbing skyward in front of a woman.  A man had fallen to his knees, arms spread, and the ground was rippling around them.

People didn’t get away from the center.  Realizing what was happening, or thinking they knew what was happening, others dashed toward the group, joining it.

“Get back,” Crystal said.  “If we get knocked out-”

I retreated, looking for where the defending capes were.  Lit by flashing, noiseless sirens, the capes were clustered not far from the building.  They were getting organized.

“It’s a broken trigger,” I said.

“Is it?” Crystal asked.

I flew straight for the heroes on scene.  I didn’t get the chance to hear two words out of the leader’s mouth before we were hit again.  Every one of us winced and reacted as it hit us.  Too brief to be a trigger vision, incomplete, fractured, it still made itself felt.

The sixteen had become thirty-two.

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120 thoughts on “Flare – 2.3”

    1. Speaking of which, it’s pretty interesting that the Teacher/Satyr/Ingenue/Contessa/Cauldron group hasn’t visibly poked its nose in. I suspect they might be behind the construction companies?

  1. If anyone here likes to edit TVtropes, the character page for Ward is under construction, but needs lots more work. If anyone hasn’t edited TVtropes before, but is willing to help out, the site has a pretty good, straightforward help function and some editing tips that should make it easy to learn.

    Now to actually read this chapter…

  2. “As in our people working in other worlds or-” I paused as Crystal shook her head. “Or other, alternate civilizations. Shit. You don’t get anything of that scale for free. What did we have to give them in exchange?”

    Tinker-tech or Parahumans. Those are the only resources that Earth Bet refugees have that would be worth anything to other worlds, which only have leaking Shards from Earth Bet but were largely unaffected by Golden Morning except for the largest Empty Quiver incident in history.

    1. Hang on, largely unaffected? I thought that Scion was hopping from world to world and wrecking pretty much everywhere equally?

      1. I got the impression he was mostly strafing Bet and places its refugees ran to, and Caldron made a deliberate effort to draw him into battle on empty worlds. Bet appears to be the only heavily populated world he comprehensively trashed, and when Khepri assembled her legion the Woman In Blue’s world didn’t seem to be on the sort of alert you’d expect out of an authoritarian world government of capes that just got major cities vaporized.

        1. Earth Aleph (If that’s the one that Taylor ended up on) mentions that they got off fairly lightly, only losing half a billion people. I think that means there was a fair number of worlds that got heavily devastated.

    1. “Things were messy enough that Crystal and her pseudo-military cape group was already on the scene.”

      Should be “were already on the scene”

    2. >which meant less head and tail lights.

      Fewer head and tail lights.

      Discrete quantities are “fewer”, continuous ones are “less”. E.g. fewer cows, less milk. Fewer lights, less light.

    3. “The stylized man bearing the ‘greater-than’ shaped shield, charging forward.”

      Feels like ‘chevron’ sounds less clunky than ‘greater-than’ to me.

  3. Okay Wildbow, when are we getting a post-GM economics lesson interlude?

    Crystal really is great. I’m so happy Vicky has someone like that to help watch over her.

    So is the broken trigger some sort of duplication power? The group is doubling every time, with a little daze effect in between. Coining the name Exponent because powers of 2.

    1. Looks like it, although I’m not sure whether it’s duplication or just spreading. In any case, seems like an instant class-S threat, not even mentioning all those other powers that they seem to be manifesting …

    2. It’s not people duplicating; it’s the power. Two then four then eight then sixteen then thirty-two people hooking up to one shard or fragments thereof. Probably with the Manton Effect shot to hell.

    3. This broken trigger really reminds me of the Pastor (from the quarantine zone WOG). Speaking of which, I hope he gets some screen time at some point, given how interesting his power seems to be …

  4. Okay, so we have a runaway matter manipulation mass trigger, might be the version of the Kaiser/Golem shard Scion kept back for personal use, there’s an enormous crowd of restless people, and most of the people here for riot control have mini-seizures each time a new wave hits. Also this might result in an interdimensional war or at least an embargo from a major trade partner.

    It’s good to remember that you don’t need a big monster to have a total clusterfuck happen. Victoria needs to tune her aura to respect and trust and release it at max power, I’m thinking.

    1. It could also be a space-distortion power like Vista’s. Her power was able to make the ground ripple and create spikes of rock out of the ground as well.

    2. It could be even worse. If the country in question is an alternate version of India, they really have to worry about Gandhi backing up his words with nuclear power. They’ll definitely have to fix this communication problem though. The workers don’t want to leave, but the home country think’s something’s up because the workers aren’t leaving. That’s an entire layer of the problem that could be eliminated by a cell phone with some good roaming. Without that, it’s just an internal trade dispute without big consequences. Ya know, like that Naboo thing from Phantom Menace. No need to get outsiders involve and blow the whole thing out of proportion.

  5. Well.

    I’m going to have to reread the incident with the cape from earlier.

    I can’t imagine the conclusion to this chapter will help defusing matters at all.

    I am excited to continue this story.

    1. From 1.1:

      “Nice response time,” I said.

      He turned my way and raised an eyebrow.

      “You showed up quick. It was impressive.”

      He nodded, studying me as if trying to find the catch. “It’s what I do.”

      I wanted to say something more, but I didn’t want to push my luck. It would have been nice if he’d been less dismissive when I was throwing him a bone.

      “Take care,” he said. “Cops are on their way. I’ll go let them know what’s up.”

      “Thanks,” I said. “You take care too.”

      It looks like this is the interaction axe cape didn’t like.

      It certainly feels like they’re taking an attempted positive and treating it as condescension. I’m kind of wondering if that’s more because Victoria came off more condescending for real or because he’s predisposed to see that.

      1. Seems predisposed; between the looking for a “catch” in that excerpt, and his rant about her agenda in this chapter, Shortcut comes across pretty paranoid, and a bit socially inept.

        1. Yeah if we are to believe his account, Victoria didn’t get on the team but he lost a lot of points with sensible superiors too. “Tell her I’m the one who screwed her over!” is not a good look, ever. If Victoria impresses in the current situation, he’ll lose more points.

  6. So, to me it seems like the broken trigger is causing anyone within a certain range to gain access to the powers that are being granted, and that’s why people were running into the effect, they wanted powers for themselves. Not super sure what Shortcuts problem with Victoria was. Was he angry that she stole the spotlight from him by fighting Lord of Loss before he got there? Is he aware that she was present at the event before the villains even showed up? Because if so, she obviously wasn’t trying to one-up him, and it’s ridiculous that he would sabotage a possible job for her based on that.

    1. Nevermind, I didn’t even realize he was talking about the thing with the statue in chapter one. Wow, that’s honestly even worse, that’s such a small event that it’s ridiculous for him to even be mad about it. What a dick.

    2. I don’t think that people were running towards the broken trigger to gain powers. They were running towards it because of “what they thought was happening”, in other words, because they thought the disturbance was the start of the riot starting early, and they wanted to help their friends.

  7. Shortcut sabotaged her chance at the team because he interpretted a compliment as an attack on his character, and Victoria’s the one who has too many issues to get accepted by a team.

        1. Yeah, fuck him right in his purty mouth! Hey, Ed, go get my shotgun, the one with the squirt gun full o’ homemade napalm under the barrels!

          Anyway, whoever we’re talking about here, I saw we take ’em out back for a big of hog-tyin’ and hog-squealin’ if you catch my drift.

  8. A tense situation and now a broken trigger.
    This is going to hell.
    And I agree, the only thing that Earth Beth had to offer was power related help. Perhaps even mercenary work.

    1. Surprisingly the broken trigger events somehow seem worse than Scion…I mean, Scion you could at least fight. But this? How do you fight a piece of reality that’s just *broken*

    2. It also depends on how far back the realities split. That one has a USA, and it has concrete and vehicles. But does it have computers and an internet? How about flight, or nuclear power? If they’re only just working on that, some Earth Bet nuclear physicists would be a great help, and bypass potential disasters like Chernobyl. If they didn’t have a World War Two (perhaps because a certain Austrian soldier was killed, or because the Central Powers weren’t treated so harshly after the first one), then they could be behind with regards to nuclear power, submarines, radar, and other technologies we don’t realise we take for granted.

      Parahumans are the obvious choice, but by no means the only one.

      1. I don’t think Earth Bet has enough technical knowledge (discounting Tinkers and derived technology) to pay for as much as they’re getting from people who can give it. Though I guess if they shopped it around to a whole bunch of realities it would add up. But with Endbringer attacks and parahuman fighting in areas outside Protectorate control I doubt Bet is on the leading edge.

        1. That’s valid. But they don’t necessarily need cutting edge technology, discounting Tinker tech; just superior tech. They do have most portals, though- I think, anyway. Maybe they serve as middlemen, trading HTML codes for solar panels (for example), and getting resources and rebuilding as a thank-you for letting the portals be used for the deal. And potentially scoring a solar panel that ‘fell off in transit’.

          1. Technically that falls under parahumans, too. If they use Earth Gimel as a hub it doesn’t require a lengthy time commitment, but it’s still using their relative oversupply of parahuman powers as their main trade asset.

  9. While I enjoyed the chapter (I’ve disliked very few of WB’s chapters in any of the four stories) I have to admit to a bit of transition whiplash. We went from the hospital to prepping for a riot with very the way of a bridge. The first handful of paragraphs I was trying to mentally connect the kid whos friend had a bad trigger/power with Victoria’s emergency situation. I filled in the gaps myself after, maybe I’m just tired and staying up late to read wasn’t the best idea.

    1. Fair. I’m a little discombobulated while prepping for holidays, juggling writing, and some other stuff, so a bit of a dip in quality may occur. Will try to make things more intuitive for future chapters.

      1. I saw this earlier, before you rewrote the start. I was just coming back to comment that, yes, the chapter start does feel a bit “in media res” and perhaps abrupt from the end of the prior chapter, but that’s a legitimate narrative device, and I don’t see anything wrong with it…

        But now I’ve read your rewritten intro segment and it does feel much better. So, like… how do I compliment the improvement without undermining my point that you shouldn’t (have) feel (felt) obligated to do a rewrite on something like this…

        Having read some of your comments about holidays being stressful and affecting your writing of the original Worm, I hope certain of your relatives have settled into a less antagonistic pattern with you. May your holidays be a time of joy, as they were intended.

        1. Things are good these days. Barring trying to get Christmas shopping and end-of-year taxes done with everything else going on, no major stress. Thanks for the words, Upthorn. Happy holidays.

      1. Eh, not really. People sometimes go so far as to say I have an ego problem, but I know that can’t be true. After all, I’m the most humble son of a bitch of all time. Hell, probably the only thing I have more of than humility is cock. That’s right, nobody cooks a plate of fried chicken like yours truly. That’s why I’m announcing here and now that soon, the multiverse’s best supervillain will soon open the multiverse’s best fried chicken restaurant: Gecko’s House of Cock.

        We got it all: big cock, little cock, European cock, Asian cock, black cock, white cock. We got fun for the whole family, too. Just bring them over and let them see our badass mascot, Richard the One-Eyed Wonder Rooster. Nothing puts a smile on those kids faces quite like a visit from Dick-

        Ok, folks, turns out the lawyer demons have scuttled plans for the House of Cock. Guess I’ll just have to go back to the reliable old Gecko’s Candyland Panel Van.

          1. Ok, so they shut down the dance class. A bit unexpected, but I know just the thing to bounce back: tupperware. That’s right, containers with a coating on the inside that keeps the food fresh and enhances the flavor. The unique rubber exterior packs enough protection to stop some calibers of bullets, even.

            That’s why I will now be going around peddling Gecko’s Tasty, Impenetrable Rubbers. They come in all sizes.

  10. Did Victoria just become part of a cluster trigger!?

    … Calling it now, that if Shortcut is there too it’s gonna become one of those kiss/kill things.

    1. No its one of those broken trigger from worm Tenrel chapters. You can tell because Victoria only gets fragments of trigger visions and her powers aren’t changing in any noticeable way. The only people gaining powers are the rapidly growing mass of people in the centre of the protest.

      1. The reason I wonder if Victoria was becoming part of a cluster was because of the cliffhanger line about it becoming 32 people, so I thought she might be caught up in it.

        I’m not 100% clear about the difference between clusters and broken triggers. Need to re-read Glow -worm.

        1. A cluster is when two or more people trigger with different shards in close proximity; the shards network and everyone gets their primary shard’s power and weak variants of the others. A broken trigger comes from a damaged shard from Scion lashing out randomly in search of a host, and since they weren’t prepped for release they don’t have safety coding, plus at least some of them will immediately attempt to rebond on losing the host.

          In this case, I think we’re looking at one shard that’s lost cohesion and is forming botched bonds with multiple people. Rather than a cluster trigger giving a ton of people mixes of powers, I think this’ll more resemble Echidna’s clones, with variations on a theme.

  11. Ah, Shortcut, you’re the kind of coworker everyone hates. Obtuse about why you were fucking it up AND offended that someone stepped in to help fix it.

    Loved the bit about Crystal’s hoarding coming in handy, but very afraid for what this broken trigger will produce.

  12. This one felt short, and perhaps a bit too much in media res with figuring out what the situation was. Also, white’s a terrible color for a costume. It’s horrible to keep clean and if the material’s thin enough, you can see colored underclothes or an absence of such through it. Unless you’re in lots of snow, it tends to make you very visible, and it’s generally agitating on the eyes.

    I gotta say I liked Spright, even if the interaction with him just wasn’t long enough. Didn’t quite leave me satisfied, ya know. Still, I feel confident that whatever’s wrong with this tense situation, he can lick it. He seems ready, willing, and able to dive into a dirty situation and keep at it until the job’s finished. I’m confident he’ll ride it out and won’t go down at the first sign of trouble. This whole dispute may make things hard on him, but he has the tools it takes to score a V. I’m certain he can take on anything they throw at him, in the end.

  13. I really like the interaction between Victoria and Crystal 🙂 Makes me happy that Victoria has something positive in her life.

  14. You know I never considered that the broken triggers issues with the manton limit and adapting to their new hosts would be bad enough that they can’t distinguish multiple people from their ‘intended’ host. Are their host identifiers messed up so they can’t track who’s who or do they lack an innate ability to identify singular entities like humans at all.

    Also I wonder how Commune’s power will behave as it spread further and further or if its members separate from it.

    1. I think it’s splitting, like shards usually do when the host spends some time caring for a child. I guess the ones that were released intentionally were keyed to human society in some way, to recognize relationships so they don’t do this. And they only split after obtaining more information after how they’re used. This one just seems to be disintegrating.

  15. Crystal is being pretty great these last few chapters. It was kinda nice her talking about how she’d missed doing things with Victoria. I know Vicky felt like it made her think about things, but like I’ve said before, Crystal lost a lot of her family. Her trauma might not have been as outwardly horrific as Victoria’s but it’s still there. I can understand why she’s happy to have her cousin back.

    Also a guy flirting with Victoria. She handled herself well, but her unease when she was changing clothes shows she’s got some understandable body issues. I’m pretty sure she’s no where near ready for sex.

    And Shortcut has some insecurities if I’m reading that right.

    Oh and broken trigger. Yeah folks run towards that. Well some shit will hit some fan now.

      1. Yep. Manpower and Shielder died fighting Leviathan. Photon Mom got killed fighting Scion. Like I’ve said I can see that heavily affecting Crystal. She’s lost her immediate family. Factor in what happened with Amy and Vicky, and in some ways it’s like a family member came back from the dead.

  16. I’m surprised Victoria took Stripes sexual harassment comments as flirtatious. It was crude and unwanted, so I wonder what her reasoning was.

    1. I’d disagree-The big issue with sexual harassment, to my mind, at least, has less to do with content of any given conversation, and more to do with how each party reciprocates to the material therein. Had Victoria been bothered by Sprite’s come ons from the start, expressed her disapproval, and he had then continued to flirt in spite of it-yeah, I’d join you on the “sprite’s an asshole” train.

      However, that’s not what happened. Vic was pretty clearly fine with the flirting at first, and when she indicated he needed to stop, he did, and that’s important.

      Maybe Sprite wasn’t being the world’s most gentlemanly of men, I’ll give you that, but he respected the boundaries of the other party, which makes the claim of sexual harassment seem like a really harsh accusation, perhaps unwarrantedly so.

      1. I was struck by how the Spright -> Shortcut transition echoes what a lot of women I know have described from interacting with just one man: aggressively complimentary affect until they get a clear turn-down, followed immediately by being called condescending, a bitch, etc., and social or professional backstabbing.

        Spright seems to be decently chill, but the tonal content aligns. Excellent writing there.

    2. The Earth Bet of the Worm universe before GM might have been trending towards a society that was a lot less patriarchal (at least in the US/developed countries?) for the past few decades, due to the 50/50 male/female cape split.

      For capes specifically I’d certainly expect the gender roles to be on a much more level playing field, since a lot of the inherent threat tied up in unwanted flirting would get obviated if the vulnerable party has the ability to force the whole “no means no” response to stick.

      So maybe someone like Spright acting the fool in this kind of context is seen as more harmless doofus rather than skeevy creeper, since everyone involved expects he’ll drop the issue as soon as he’s told to. Or maybe Victoria in particular just gives no fucks, since she’s had her power long enough that being perpetually wary of these kinds of interactions has never been an issue. Temporary annoyances rather than potential dangers. Lucky girl.

      That said, I thought the guy’s lines were a bit funny. Got some definite Twig vibes, and I’m hoping more Aisha-Regent/Sy-Lambs style banter shows up in Ward, since those interactions were a spot of sunlight in the otherwise harrowing atmosphere that Worm/Twig cultivated.

        1. As skeevy as some people say they perceived Sprite, Assault’s a lot worse. The guy who you hate, who did some screwed up stuff to you, and who used to beat you up, but he was persistent so you ended up dating him. That relationship was never ending well.

      1. I seem to recall, from one of the in-universe discussions of triggers in Worm, that it’s not a 50/50 split, but rather women trigger significantly more often than men. Because patriarchy, basically. They’re more likely to suffer the kinds of trauma that attract the attention of shards.

    3. Little things adding up, I imagine. A lot of her social development with regard to flirtation would’ve been in high school, when she had her powers, and her aura was making the guys showing interest in her unsubtle idiots even compared to the sterling standard set by amorous teenage boys. She was a hero around the same time as Assault and Clockblocker, who would’ve acclimatized her to banal forms of humor. Body dysmorphia has a silver lining here, in that she wouldn’t feel the advances are entirely directed at her, but at someone else’s body that she happens to be observing the world through. She was aware enough of the crowd to consider their perspective, and likely as inclined not to make a scene in front of them. Finally, the power quirkery indicates that she was opposed to the advances on a subconscious level. Any single one isn’t enough to explain it, but taken together…

      1. I think her power quirkery indicates the opposite, actually; they didn’t start up until the flirting got interrupted by Shortcut showing up and acting like a jackass.

  17. Cool cape interactions, Shortcut is a gay, and also it looks like we’re finally getting more on those cluster triggers. Plus the misfires from the Worm epilogue chapter. 32 capes, each with supporting powers, I’m seeing spacetime distortion among others . . . wow.

    Also, I think Psycho Gecko was created in an alternate universe where human Spright got caught in the mass trigger and joined the S9. Or the 69, who can say . . .

    (good chapter by the way)

    1. He definitely was as subtle as a sledgehammer.

      Personally, if a guy was hitting on me in that way, I would immediately write him off as a jerk. I would hate such sleazy attention.

  18. Is it just me, or does Victoria seem to get hit on by male superheroes a lot? I’m not sure if it is her being more attractive (and older) than Taylor, or maybe a mild side effect of her aura? She doesn’t seem to think it’s unusual, so maybe. It’s also notable that Spright’s teammates say he isn’t always like this. I’m not saying it acts as a love aura or anything, but maybe it gives just a little extra push? On the flip side, she seems to be pretty aware of when she uses it now, so I tend to doubt it, but something to think about. I kinda like Spright, though he is probably not behaving very appropriately for the situation.

  19. So first quick thing; Shortcut was the guy in the very beginning when the girl knocked over the old mans monument to his son, right?

    Next, I’m 100% certain Lady Photon, Brandish, and Lightstar(Uncle Mike) were one of the first cluster triggers.
    It only makes sense given their multiple powers, plus they’re siblings. The chances of all three of them triggering are slim unless together. They all have multiple powers, and so do their kids. Laserdream:flight,beam projection, force fields. Shielder(Eric): flight, force fields, beam projection. Victoria: flight, personal force field, super strength

    1. Carol’s interlude, includes her trigger along with Sarah’s:
      https://parahumans.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/interlude-15-donation-bonus/

      They were triggers in close proximity, but discrete, not simultaneous. Possible cluster, but details are unclear in the chapter itself.

      Given the fact that it’s just the two of them there, and Carol’s thirteen at time of trigger, it’s more likely that the rest of the New Wave family are buds of Brandish and Lady Photon’s shards.

      (Side note: longtime lurker on Weeblebro’s work, wondering if this first post will be dangerously noticed…)

    2. Lady Photon and Brandish were kidnapped together, right? There was an intermission about them, and I’m pretty sure it showed them triggering.

      It was just the two of them, though, so I don’t know where Lightstar came from.

        1. Buds tend to hit siblings and children. It’s why Brian told Aisha that he got powers. By happenstance, she wound up getting her own shard instead of a bud of his, but it was clearly common enough for him to be aware of and concerned about it, which implies that there’s usually budding between siblings rather than just coincidence.

          It might just be that buds tend to target younger humans, so if you spend a lot of time around a younger human either because you are taking care of them or because you are both being taken care of by the same person/people, they are more likely to become a budding target for your shard.

  20. > Crystal’s parahuman miltary thing was crudely forged from another chunk of what the PRT had been: the PRT’s old laws, rules, and discipline. A military-esque force without a government to serve or a hard and fast system of law to back it up.

    …well, that’s going to go really, really wrong.

  21. Victoria would have Flight, Memetic forcefield and Aura projection. The strength is a derivate of the forcefield. Memetic as in driven by self-identity, extending to costume, weapon or other items she perceives as part of self.
    We saw this with Siberian as well. The invulnerability could be extended to touch range objects or non self persons that the host considered worthy of defending.
    Maybe Victoria’s field will evolve towards the same ability one day, considering the shard’s parental units are no longer around to limit the shard.

  22. So rewritten intro segment.

    Wardens are coordinating Advance Guard, Foresight, Shepherds, the Attendant and others. They’re even bringing in the PRTCJ capes, which haven’t exactly been advertised to the public.

    Um. That is a lot of capes. Like, enough for Endbringer trouble. It seems kinda overkill for riot suppression. That would seem to call for maybe a couple teams supporting the riot police shieldwall, and certainly not a blanket open call for aid.

    Unless they basically don’t have unpowered riot police, the Wardens are probably expecting rather more serious trouble than a simple riot. It could be that there’s a lot of parahumans mixed in with the strikers, or a precog might have forseen the broken trigger.

    Also, the Wardens themselves are apparently deploying in force offworld. It seems unlikely that’s for riot control; sending them to Earth-K would not improve the situation and it’s unlikely there are other related riots. So there’s a different serious crisis ongoing.

    1. I think that they’re preparing for the worst, given the possibility of an inter-dimensional war starting up; I think the Wardens themselves are going to the other world to act as negotiators in the hopes of forestalling that war, with a lot of the rest being on-hand in case someone decides to start shooting.

  23. I love Spright! Hope he turns up more.
    Earth Bet’s government-in-exile’s military being composed entirely of parahumans seems like a no-brainer.
    Oh, Leviathan, why did you have to kill the chick who can grow cities? Would have saved so much trouble right now.

  24. I really like the detail of Victoria’s forcefield scratching at the pavement, scoring it with claw-marks. I like to think this is the expression of her shard itself, seething with frustration after four years of inactivity. Hey, no wonder she’s feeling more focused: she’s finally been in a real fight.

    Makes me wonder if that might go somewhere. The forcefield started out just a little bit malleable, but now it’s expanded beyond all normally-conceivable bounds. It’s almost a kind of power-jailbreaking. Could it keep growing, perhaps with the right interaction with a broken trigger’s power or something else? What might it resemble in the end?

    After all, we know shards want creativity through conflict. Why would her forcefield go back to plain old body-size, when this new form is so much more interesting in both ways? It’s cool, and a little creepy, which has always seemed the case with Victoria’s power (even when it was only the aura which felt creepy).

    I hope Spright dies soon and messily.

  25. I have to confess I had my expectations completely betrayed by this chapter. I was looking forward to learn what the hell was happening with the girl that receantly triggered. Oh well, lets see what comes off of the broken trigger that we got instead.

  26. Is it wrong that I am hoping for a scene where Victoria is facing a self styled monster or someone hunting down those they view as monsters and just goes into a rant/monologue about what being a monster really is?

    Possibly with showing off how her powers have changed since she was Glory Girl. Or a settling of dust on her force feild that shows the writhing monster sees herself as.

    1. According to Chevalier it’s a symbol that “we’ve all fought in at least one bitch of a battle, and we came out ahead.” – i.e. the wearer was in on at least one Scion/Zion fight. It isn’t always an armband. Usually it’s a badge. The icon is a golden circle with a dot in the middle.

  27. Trigger, trigger, trigger… The effects of the power, or more and more people connecting to one shard? This could go very wrong, very fast. Or, well, already did.

    Spright is a precious treasure, and has to be preserved for future chapters.

    It’s… Refreshing, to see just people. Not someone enraged, or prejudiced, or stupid. Just workers, who feel cheated out of what they are owed, and who don’t scream insults at Victoria. Pity it didn’t last.

    Thank you for writing.

  28. It seems like we might be looking at one of Scion’s core shards attempting to establish itself.

    In the epilogues of Worm, we saw, based on verbalizations of the hosts, that broken triggers were sometimes accompanied by thoughts belonging to Scion. Those unregulated shard connections to humans led to the humans dying.

    This might be a different attempt. Shards do learn and adapt. Scion’s core shard may be trying to split it’s power distribution into many hosts, so they don’t just die.

    The question here is, which shard is it? The shard that was controlling the Scion avatar was apparently destroyed on Gold Morning. But was that actually the core of Scion, or just a peripheral shard used to interact with other humans?

    Is there still a fully functional Scion core out there with very limited access to humans? Is it making a real conscious effort to establish a foothold amongst humans again, or is attempting to make connections some sort of automatic process like breathing?

    I would be very interested to get an account of what Valkyrie or Chevalier see, if, somehow, one of them shows up here.

  29. Spright’s flirting made me blush… But it was well done, forward without being pushy. Interesting, however, that your characters like to explain why and how they said things…

    The costuming was fun to witness, it’s such a classical step of becoming a cape and it felt like Victoria was trying to sort through who she wants to be as much as how she wants to dress.
    (And that image for the 8 feet long alive phantom-arms was shudder-inducing… It’s not an easy ex-body she is carrying around…)

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