Flare – 2.4

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“Evacuate!”

One word from the parahuman in charge was all we needed.  The clock was too short for anything more.

Capes fanned out, most of them on foot.  I could leave the parts of the crowd closest to us to them.  I flew, avoiding the sky directly over the group of affected people, circling around the periphery instead.  The wind was cold against my face and legs.

The massed crowd of citizen workers was to my right, the people with powers to my left.  Half of the light sources in and around the clearing had broken, and the only other illumination came from the effects of powers.  A common thread ran through all of it.  Energy spilled out and created matter where it splattered on the road, materials sprouted from nothing, streaked with thin streams of liquid that glowed like fire, and more abstract growths formed suspended in air, their images sticking to the backs of my eyes like the persistent afterimages of sparklers waved in the dark.

People were shouting.  Some were screaming.  I couldn’t make much of it out.

I flew to the far side of the clearing, which also happened to have some of the thickest gatherings of people.  They had been citizen laborers, gathering to make their displeasure known to the construction groups.  They’d been facing the building until the incident, they’d backed up, and there were places where the presence of buildings and parked vehicles made it so they had no place to retreat, leaving them now packed together, shoulder to shoulder, front to back, jostling.

I’d helped to evacuate before.  I had attended the Leviathan attack on my hometown.  I had been around for the majority of the Slaughterhouse Nine crisis.  I’d participated in other, minor incidents, helping with fires and storms, though those had mostly involved helping the elderly and standing around.

The truism was that in a disaster, people were their own worst enemies.

Never this bad.

I’d never seen or imagined a situation where people would do the opposite of evacuating, throwing themselves headlong into the hazard.  They thought the people in the center of the clearing were getting powers, and people were breaking away from the crowd at the clearing’s edge to run toward the affected individuals.

Crystal created a wall to block off a street as she passed it.  She wouldn’t be able to keep it up as she got further away, but it bought time for others to get there.

She raked a laser across the road, a bright and noticeable  distraction, to give people pause.

I dropped to the street, using a pulse of my aura to get people’s attention.  Some stopped to look, while others ducked low, as if instinct drove them to shy away from the perceived threat.

“Run!” I shouted, using my aura to play up my words.  “Other way!”

I saw eyes widen, and turned to look.  A man had opened his mouth, and had something that looked almost as tall and thick as a telephone pole spearing skyward from his mouth.  Blood streamed from the sides of his mouth, his jaw clearly dislocated, and more fluids painted the length of the pole as it continued to rise.  It reached its maximum height, and then forked, the upper half splitting out into two equally thick portions, a giant ‘Y’ shape.  Each branch then forked into two, and forked into two again.

“Go,” I said, sparing only a momentary glance for the people I’d been stopping.  I saw them start to run away.

The man reached up, his fingers dragging along the blood-slick shaft of the trunk of the fractal tree he had vomited up.  Each movement of his hands was slower and weaker than the last.

I flew toward him, to do what I could to help, even though I wasn’t sure what that could possibly be.

The ‘tree’ toppled, and it was only because I was already on my way toward him that I was able to intervene.  I reached out for the falling tree, and my power was quicker to touch it.  Phantom fingers bit into the surface, fracturing the chalky material.  With flight, my bare hands, my power, and my aura pushed out to give people a little more incentive to get out of the way, I controlled the tree’s fall.  It broke into chunks on contact with the ground.  One of the people with new powers was pinned beneath branches, but it didn’t look like he was hurt by the contact.

I flew to the man who’d grown the tree.  Even before I reached his side, I could see the damage that had been done.  Jaw, throat, chest, and stomach had been torn away.  Traces of the same material that had formed the tree had collected in his insides and pelvis, breaking into jagged pieces at some point before or during the tree’s fall.

He had no throat to feel for a pulse.  I wasn’t about to rule anything out, even as I saw the remains of his heart in his splayed-out chest cavity.  I pried one of his eyes open, and I saw no response.

I went from a crouch to airborne in a second.

That particular disaster had been dramatic and visible for a significant portion of the people nearby.  Most were thinking twice about running toward the epicenter.

When was the next wave coming?  The number of people to trigger all at once had seemed to double the last time.  They didn’t look like multi-triggers either.  One power each, some self-destructive.  I could hear the screams and shouts of a lot of unhappy people and I couldn’t see one person who looked particularly happy about their new ability.

I flew to a new location, looking to see where I could get the most people away.  The tree had done my work for me in one spot, Laserdream was standing at the intersection of two streets and walling them off with red-tinted, translucent fields.

I saw another group- people were pulling away from the crowd, which was actively trying to grab them and hold them back.  Young people – older teenagers and twenty-somethings, that might have been a group of friends.  Seven of them.

I shouted, but my voice was drowned out by the dentist-drill scream of a power somewhere nearby, by the hollers, the warnings, a dull explosion.

I used my aura again.  Several people in the group stumbled, so caught up in reacting to my aura that they lost track of where they were going or how to put one foot in front of the other.  Several others paused, helping their friends that had tripped, stopped, or fallen.  The people at the edge of the crowd reacted too, pulling back away from me.

I’d hoped more of them would stop shouting and screaming.  The affected people and the people at the edge of the clearing were making so much noise that it nearly drowned me out as I shouted, “Get back!”

A number of people listened.  The crowd in particular was inclined to take my order, getting away from the scene.  Two of the seven who’d lagged behind the others turned to go too.

Five, however, looked at me and then continued to run toward the scene.

I clenched my fist.

Rationally, I knew that they likely saw this as the simplest thing in the world.  The people over there had powers; all they had to do to get powers was to head over there.  Some might well have no idea what triggers were, or they might have bought into one of the various other theories out there, some intentionally obscuring the truth.  They didn’t know better.

Well, the screaming should have given them pause, but that might have been balanced out by the fact that they felt especially powerless at this time in particular.  Because we were only two years after the most catastrophic and traumatic loss of human life in history.  Because as much as we were recovering, we were far from being where we’d been.  We weren’t okay.  The dispute between the citizen workers and the construction administrations only brought that home.

Rationally, I knew that.

Less rationally, I had a weak point that extended well before the Gold Morning, well before the hospital stay, well before the Slaughterhouse Nine, before the bad days against Empire Eighty-Eight, before my trigger, even.  I’d spent a fair portion of my time post-trigger and especially in the hospital, thinking about it.

I couldn’t fucking stand being ignored.

I flew to intercept.

I hadn’t practiced with this power enough.  Even using it was a hard reminder, with a mental and emotional cost.  I knew I needed to come to terms with it, and my time at the hospital had been an early foray into that.

That had been flight, and my flight was more or less untouched.

I flew low, approaching a car.  As with the tree, all of my powers were up and active as I reached out in the car’s direction.  Phantom hands dug into the metal of the car’s body, invisible fingers stabbing through.  A mass of something pressed down on the hood, caving it in.

If I had any control over those limbs, it wasn’t something that lent itself to fine touches.  It didn’t work well with the careful, methodical, warrior monk approach.  In this, in the instinct and the moment of frustration, I could only hope that what I wanted and what my power wanted were mostly in agreement.

I glanced up to make sure Laserdream wasn’t watching.  I was close enough for my fingertips to brush the car’s paint as I swept my arm to one side, the holes and dents in the car twisting or opening wider as the phantom grip adjusted.  The- the other Victoria, the phantom Victoria that had never left the hospital, the wretch, threw the car.

I canceled my power momentarily, to force it to release its hold, so it wouldn’t fling the car into the people I was trying to stop.  I let it reactivate a half-second later, flying forward in the car’s direction.  My defenses were up and sufficient to let me adjust the car’s trajectory with a sharp kick to the side.  Just to be safe.

It crashed into a parked car, upside down, its roof and windows shearing into the top of the other.  A loud impact, metal scraping metal, a dozen windows on the two vehicles breaking.  It was raucous, chaotic, sudden and surprising, in a stark contrast to the massive, enduring weight that seemed to settle in me.

Harder than flying.  I could tell myself I was helping people, keeping them clear of danger, and it helped much as it had with the flying, but it was still hard.

The fact that a car had flown into another car twenty feet in front of them was enough to stop them in their tracks.  I had their full attention now.

“Get away!  It’s dangerous!”

Some backed away, then ran.  Two backed off but didn’t run.  The last of them was a man about my age, who stepped closer to the cars, intent on climbing over them.

“Get away!”

I was prepared to grab him as he climbed onto the underside of the car I’d thrown.  He continued to ignore me, finding his balance, stepping forward-

The fragment of a trigger vision hit me.  The latest wave.

I saw only a flash of faces, and in seeing those faces, I saw the phantom self that clung to me.  The impression lingered for only a moment before I realized the faces didn’t resemble mine.

The man had been springing forward from the car to the ground when the event had hit.  I saw his legs swing forward, while his head remained in place.  He dangled, suspended in the air.

I picked myself up off the ground, flying to him.

Gone already.  No pulse, no light behind the eyes.  He made a faint gurgling sound, but it was some biological process or symptom of what had happened, not a sign of life.  He was pissing himself and shitting himself in death.

He dropped out of the air, and I caught him.  It hardly mattered, he was gone, but it didn’t feel right to just let him fall.  I eased him to the ground.

“Please help!” I heard a guy shout, amid renewed and nearby whimpers and sobs.

I flew.  The two who had drawn back but hadn’t run- a boy and a girl.  The boy was holding the girl, while she strove to stay on her tiptoes.  Her face was turned skyward.

I flew to them, and I caught her, helping to hold her.

“Hold her steady!” the guy shouted.

I held her as steady as I could.

Another suspension?

“My neck!” the victim shrieked the words.  A single glowing vein stood out on each arm, and glows on her legs suggested more of the same, but she barely seemed to care about it.  Clear fluid was streaming from her nose, thinner than snot, with needle-thin streams of blood joining it.

“We got you,” I said.  “We’re here, we’ll support you.  Stay calm.”

“I can’t move my head!” she cried out.  “Every time- my neck!”

“Don’t try,” I said.  The guy was looking to me for help, and I wasn’t sure what to say or do.

“My head hurts,” she said, sounding very far away.  Her words dissolved into a stream of whimpers and cries of ‘ow’.

I was supporting her weight, but it wasn’t easy to do it from a strength perspective with my feet on the ground, and it wasn’t easy to stay steady while flying.

“Laserdream!” I shouted the words, top of my lungs.

“Headache,” the victim said, her eyes wide.  “My brain.”

The guy looked at me again.  This time I didn’t try to hide my expression.  I knew I looked grim.

Her brain.  The Corona Pollentia, the means by which powers were operated by the parahuman.  Hers had been established, but not as a fluid, functional thing.  It was a nail, taking her brain and fixing it to a specific position in reality.

Laserdream appeared beside me.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Give her something to stand on,” I said.  “She’s stuck.”

The forcefield appeared below.  The girl no longer had to stand on her tiptoes.

“People are evacuating more now,” Laserdream said.  “We need to handle the people toward the center.  The waves are random.”

I turned, looking at the guy.  “Do you know her?”

“Not really.”

“Can you run?  Go tell people to get away, as fast as they can.  This is bad.”

“You don’t want to get caught in it,” Laserdream said.

The guy nodded.

“Bye Anne,” he said.  He let go of the girl, transitioning the grip entirely to me, then turned to run.

Anne.

She was making small sounds, guttural.  One hand came up to touch the side of my face and my hair, clumsy, as if she didn’t have full use of her fingers.

One pat.

“I’m sorry Anne,” I said.

She made another of the gurgling sounds.  She was vomiting, I realized, and with her face fixed in a skyward position, there wasn’t anything I could do.  Anything I did to move her would add to the damage to her brain.

I hugged her, hard.  After a moment, I felt her hug me back, clumsy but fierce.

It was only a moment later that she started to convulse, whole-body.  I moved to try to seize her head and keep it from moving- a second too late.  One wrenching, forced movement of her head and upper body, and the nail ripped through a good share of the material in its vicinity.

I caught her as she fell, and laid her out on the ground, placing her on her side.

“We need to help others, Victoria.”

“Yeah.”

Spooky, to take to the air again.  I’d seen the numbers of people affected double, roughly, and this was another doubling, to look at it.  More artificial sources of light had broken, as space folded in areas, as things grew to obscure them, or as tendrils of energy lashed out like living things, distorting geography with each impact.

Matter creation, matter manipulation, matter distortion.

Over fifty people, if I had to guess.  It could well have been sixty-four.  They were too spread out for me to effectively ballpark.  Many might well have died from their power expression or the ‘nailing down’ of the brain.

There was no being polite, now.  One person hesitating at what could have been the edge of the affected area.  I didn’t even pause as I grabbed him by the wrist, picking him up off the ground, dragging him with me, me barely six feet above the ground, him with toes and shoes scraping the road’s surface.  I didn’t want the fall to be too rough if I was knocked out of the air again.

I half-deposited, half-threw him toward the crowd that still lingered.  I pointed at the largest guy present.  “You.  Make sure these people get away!  Keep an eye on this one!”

He looked spooked, and I wasn’t even using my aura.  He gave me a singular nod.

Another two, two men together.  One of them fought me as I held him, trying to pry my hand free.

“Assholes!” he screamed, twisting my fingers, trying to get leverage to bend one backward.  “Keeping powers to yourselves!”

I didn’t reply.  I tightened my grip to keep him from getting any one of my fingers, and I saved my breath and my focus.

If this was turning out as badly as it looked like it was, the aftermath would be answer enough.

The guy who’d fought me was deposited beside the first vehicle with flashing lights that was waiting at the edges.  A fire truck.

“Don’t let him go back!  And try to get further away, in case it expands!”

I was already leaving before they could answer me.  I heard the shouts, though.  The answers.

Crystal wasn’t using lasers or forcefields much anymore.  Only flight, only manhandling.

I delivered two more armfuls of cargo, getting people clear of the danger.  On my return trip, I saw the geography transforming.  A culmination of everything up to this point.  From matter generation, matter distortion, and matter transformation to… something that made the entire area look as though it was being smudged and smeared around, streets widening, buildings pulling back from the street.

Except- no.  No, this was a familiar smudging and smearing.  One that worked with us.

You made it, little V, I thought.  I felt emotionally numb from the series of events, the deaths I’d seen, my momentary use of my power and how the feelings I’d tapped in that moment weren’t easy to bring back into order.

There was only what needed to be done, the mission that stood front and center.  It was difficult to execute effectively, but simple in how Glory Girl, Victoria, the phantom wretch and the capes I was working with could all agree it should be done.

Get people clear.  Get them safe.

A woman screamed words that barely strung together, the heel of one hand pressed to her forehead.  The other was pointed forward.  She shot something that was only visible by the way light refracted at its edges.  The projectile hit the ground, carrying forward like a cartoon mole and the elongated, humped trail of dirt it left in its wake.  Unlike the mole, the hump was jagged, folded earth.  Road folded up like complex origami.  She was pinning people down, keeping them from exiting a building.

In the words I could make out, she wanted them to come help her, and in her actions she drove them away.

“Stop!” I shouted to her.

She shot one projectile at me.  Barely visible, it cut through the air, wind shrieking.

I didn’t want to kill her, and if her hand at her head was any clue that she was in similar straits to Anne and the other man, a light push could do horrendous damage.

I drew closer to the ground, defenses up.

Work with me, I told my power.  My agent.  My flight wobbled as I experienced the lopsided drag of a hand reaching down at one side, clawing at the ground as I passed it.

It didn’t create nearly enough debris.

I changed angles.  I flew for the hump of origami road, two feet across, two feet tall, jagged and menacing.

I passed within a few feet of it, and let my forcefield hit it.

The hump of ground shattered explosively, blades of road cutting at my legs.  But it did create a cloud of dust and debris.

She shot at me, and I reversed direction, passing the hump again, striking it.

The two passes created enough of a mess to block the view.  I flew to the people the origami road woman had pinned down.  “Go, go, go!”

I stood by with my defenses up, positioned to intercept any incoming projectiles.  They took the chance to run for it.

This whole thing was a clusterfuck.  How many people were caught?  How many were acting irrational?  What options did we have?  What the hell was I supposed to do?

The origami woman didn’t send any attacks through the cloud of shattered road that I’d created.  The moment the group was out of sight and away, I was moving again.

A complete and total clusterfuck.  I flew high, and I looked down, wishing we had more light on the scene.

I could see where the distortions were being utilized.  The space between the people at the edges and the center of the effect was being extended, making the clearing larger.  It made it harder for people to approach, carried fleeing people away.  It meant the effect had to reach further if it wanted to catch anyone.

In the tension and the emotions that gripped me, I felt an isolated point of peace and calm I could grab onto.

Vista was here, Vista had made it through Gold Morning.  She was one of the people I liked.  A reason I was doing what I did.  She was one of the good ones, she was doing good work here, and I wanted to help her on multiple levels.

In that line of thinking, I found both the focus to think beyond mere instinct, and to realize what I could do.  I knew how Vista worked.

“It’s Vista,” Laserdream said.  She’d appeared beside me again.  She had a flying cape with her.

“Come on,” I said.  I flew for where the expansion of space seemed weakest, even pinched.

They weren’t on the streets.  It was people in buildings.

I tore through a door, flew through a house.  Nothing.  I bumped into Laserdream and her PRTCJ friend on the way out.  “Search the buildings.  Vista’s power is weakest when it has people in its area.  There are people near here.”

We spread out.  One building each, searching neighboring houses.  I was midway through my search when I heard a whistle.

I flew to the sound.  Vagrants, or just refugees from Gimel who had decided they’d be more comfortable squatting in unoccupied, recently built houses than they were in the tent cities.

The three of us carried them clear.  We were delivering them to safety when the next pulse hit.  We weren’t hit, but I could see a glowing figure in the sky flicker and drop briefly before they caught themselves.

We took to the sky again, looking for pinched areas where things hadn’t distorted enough.  There were two spots, and both were already being addressed.

The area was clear.  We found our way to where the Warden-affiliated capes had collected.  They had gathered at the edge of the effect.

“I think we’re clear, Rocketround, sir,” Laserdream reported.

“We should be shortly,” the leader said, glancing at a Foresight cape who stood nearby.

“Yes sir,” the cape said.  A girl with a hood and blindfold.

“How many?” Rocketround asked.

“Ninety two, if you include the ones in houses,” she said.

Rocketround paused, staring down the length of the road toward the center of the vastly extended clearing.  He spat.  When he spoke, he managed a tone that pretty perfectly encapsulated what I and probably most of us were feeling, “Fuck me.”

Ninety two.  Ninety two, many like Anne.  Many wanting help.  I wanted to fly in, to do something.

“I want everyone clear of the area.  We wait, we see what happens,” he said.  “We see if it expands in reach with further pulses, but I don’t want to give it anything.  Not even any bounceback from reaching out and finding some of us.  Let me know when the next pulse happens.”

“Yes sir,” the blindfolded girl said.

Something in the distance crashed to ground.  Another fixture like the fractal tree?

Laserdream approached me, and she put an arm around me.  I did the same for her.

There was small talk, people remarking on what they’d seen.  Horrible things.  People buried alive by their own powers.  A few cases like what I’d observed.

“Is Vista around?” I asked.  “That was her, right?”

I hadn’t expected Rocketround to be the one to answer, but he was the one who spoke up, saying, “She is.  Upstairs, top floor.  She said she needed a view and no interruptions.”

No interruptions.  I was disappointed.

“Who’s she with?” I asked.

“Wardens,” he said.

“Good for her,” I said.

“Who are you and who are you with?” he asked.

“Victoria Dallon.  Nobody, yet.  I’ve been interviewing for teams.”

“She did pretty good work,” blindfold girl said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“When you three got the homeless out of the house, Vista said something under her breath.  I think it was ‘thank you’.  They were getting in her way somehow.”

I nodded.  “I’m from her town.  I was briefly her teammate.”

It was so mundane it was chilling and disconcerting, after the chaos we’d just weathered.  A few moments of horrible, of stupidity and damage and madness, and now we waited to see what happened next, waiting to see what the aftermath would be.  We talked about dumb things.

“What do you think?” Rocketround asked.  “Not just asking you, Victoria.  Anyone.”

It was in that question that I saw the first real hint that he was shaken.  He was doubting his own capacity in this.

“This is going to hurt,” another cape said.  “People were already feeling pretty beaten down, and… ninety people?  We lost ninety?”

“We don’t know if all of them are in trouble,” Laserdream said.

“I think they might be,” blindfold girl said.

Laserdream didn’t have a response for that.  She only hugged me tighter with the one arm.

“I think-” I started.  “Just speculation.”

Any clues or guesses about what’s going on would be good,” Rocketround said.  He was gripping his upper arm as he stood with arms folded.  He’d emphasized ‘any’, which only served to emphasize how little a clue he and we had.

“The broken triggers are pretty out there.  Not a lot of consistent points or facts… except that they’re big,” I said.

“Big?” a nearby cape asked.

“They tend to cover a lot of ground.  Shaker stuff.”

“Yeah,” Rocketround said.  “That’s come up in briefings.”

“Location, environment, and position matters a lot,” I said.  “The capes closest to the perimeter were least mobile.  I think the further they got from the center, the less flex there was.  Until their agents wouldn’t let them move at all.”

“Typhlosis pointed that out,” Rocketround said, indicating the girl with the blindfold.

“We might want to make them stay put,” I said.

“Yeah,” Rocketround said.  “We’ll do that.”

Someone else spoke up.  A remark about common thread through the powers they’d seen.  Others chimed in.

I only half-listened.  A lot of images stayed with me.  The faces I’d seen midway through the one fragmented trigger, the indents in the car as the phantom limbs had reached out for it, Anne.  The lingering sensation of Anne clinging to me, hard, the touch on my face.  I didn’t know what she had wanted to communicate.  A last kind gesture?

“There we go,” the blindfolded girl said.  “Pulse.  Nobody else affected.”

“I’m going to approach,” Rocketround said.  “Roadblock?  I’d appreciate it if you came.”

“Of course,” a cape by the side said.  A guy in heavy armor.

“Protect me if we run into any trouble.”

“Only four left,” Typhlosis said.

“Four?” Rocketround sounded surprised.

Laserdream’s head snapped around.  Looking at me, looking at Typhlosis.

Typhlosis continued, “Only four alive, still.  The rest went down.  Eaten by their powers, or they tried to move when they couldn’t, and their brains caved in.”

I squeezed Laserdream’s hand.

I might have been less surprised than her because I’d read up more on how these things tended to go.

“Let’s go,” Rocketround said.  “Anyone comfortable joining me, come.”

They speed-marched toward the center of the effect.  One hand on another cape’s arm for support and guidance, Typhlosis directed us toward the nearest surviving cape.

“Three,” she said, as we got close enough to see him.

He was a man, mid-twenties.  His legs and stomach were buried in a writhing mass of something very similar to the origami road I’d seen earlier, materials made thin, folded many times over, until they didn’t quite seem to be three dimensions anymore.  Some of those materials were the pieces of the twenty or so people in his immediate vicinity.

A lone figure, standing on a hill of the fallen citizen workers, caught up in the broken trigger’s effect.

“Don’t move!” Rocketround shouted.  “Alright!?”

“Not moving,” was the response, quiet.

“No using powers.  Stay put, stay calm.  We’re going to find out a way to help you.”

“I don’t think I can be helped,” the man said.  His head was bowed, and he couldn’t seem to move it.  His hair was long, tied back into a low ponytail, and it covered much of his face.

“We can figure something out,” Rocketround said.

“Two,” Typhlosis said, quiet.

Two parahumans left.

The effect had caught over ninety over what couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes.  Now there were two.

“I’m worried,” the man in the clearing’s center said.  “I can feel all the others.”

He moved his hand.

Every body in the vicinity moved.  A matching movement of hands, limp arms rolling off of sides or fingers digging into powdered sidewalk.

“Don’t move!” Rocketround called out.

“I’m on a brink, and I can’t see it, but I can feel it,” the man said.

“Try not to think about it,” Rocketround said.  “Okay?”

“I can feel it,” the man said.  He wasn’t paying much attention to Rocketround.  “All the way down to this vast well, partially filled with potential energy.  Like I’m on the lip of a volcano and it’s an impossibly long fall with only magma at the bottom.  I don’t know if I’m better off throwing myself down into that or leaving it alone.”

“Leave it alone,” I said, my voice joining more than one other person’s.

“What if my thoughts and brain get made into a part of that?  One piece in that thing’s construction.  What if it makes me immortal, forever a part of this thing?  A recording of me in there, how I think, how I do things.”

“We’ve studied parahumans, powers and power sources a lot,” Roadblock said.  “We’re pretty sure that’s not a thing.”

“Yeah,” the guy in the clearing’s center said.  “But…”

He trailed off.

“It’s not a thing,” Rocketround’s voice joined Roadblock’s.

“But I’m standing closer to it than you are,” the man said.  “And from where I stand, I feel like it might be.”

Nobody had a ready response to that.

“One,” Typhlosis murmured.

“I’m the last one standing on the brink now,” the man said.  “I don’t think I can do this much longer.  Do I embrace it or turn away?  I wish I could see you, to-”

He reached up, to move his hair out of his eyes.

“Don’t!” I called out.  My voice wasn’t the only voice of protest, but it might have been the first.  Perhaps because I was most mindful of arms that weren’t mine, in my immediate vicinity.

The arms of people all around him operated as extensions of him.  A matching, reaching movement, up and out.  Some disintegrated as they moved, but one lying next to him reached up, out, and into the finely spun construction of road that cocooned the man’s legs.

As I’d done to the altered road, the reaching arm broke the construction like it was sugar crystal or a snow globe.  There was a spray of blood, and the man dropped, jerking as his Corona Pollentia remained in place, briefly suspending him.  He was dead in that instant, well before he sprawled to the ground, shattered from the waist down.

My hand held Laserdream’s tight.

I was thankful that Typhlosis didn’t give us an updated count.

Crystal had backed me up for a good while.  She’d been a friend, a support.

She had performed during the event.  She’d been focused, she’d done what she needed to do.  It had been after that she faltered.  Hearing that the people who’d been touched by the broken trigger weren’t doing well, then hearing that only four remained.  Hearing and seeing those four drop away.

It had been that way for Leviathan, too.

It had probably been that way after I went to the hospital.

Fine during, not so fine after.

It had been ten days, now.  Ten days after the broken trigger with the citizen workers.  One of the worst we’d seen for citizen casualties and damage.

I landed on the balcony, letting myself in.  I took the carton out of the plastic bag and popped it into the microwave, lid ajar.  Eighteen seconds.

“Vic?” Crystal called out.

“I’m here.  One second.”

“That had better not be what I think it is.”

“It is.”

Crystal groaned audibly.

I pulled the carton free, grabbed some spoons, and walked over to the living room.  Crystal was sitting in the armchair, watching TV, a blanket on her lap.

She glared at me, but it was a mock glare, and it softened considerably as she saw the carton.

“Slightly melted brownie caramel ice cream,” I said.  I collapsed onto the couch, reaching high overhead to hold the carton and a spoon out to her.  “I’ll share it with you.”

“Well, if you’re sharing it…”

“I’ll exercise with you too, to work it off.  For now, though, it’s comfort food, staying cozy, and keeping each other company.”

“Okay.  You’re mostly forgiven.”

“And a stupid-in-a-good-way movie to watch,” I said, pulling the movie case out of the pocket I’d wedged it into.  “Because it turns out TV sucks after the world ends, and I can’t watch you subject yourself to it.”

“Okay,” she said.  “You’re forgiven.”

I popped the movie in, then settled on the couch, pulling a blanket over my legs, arranging a cushion to sit up against.  I fetched my phone and checked my messages.  A second cancellation from Jessica.

After a disaster like that, too many people needed looking after.

I twisted my head around to look at Crystal, as she ate a spoonful of icecream from the carton.  She passed it to me and I took a bite for myself, from the side she hadn’t dug into.  I passed it back, watching as the movie started.

My turn to look after Crystal.

The lights were off in the coffee shop, though it wasn’t dark with the light coming in through the windows.  The majority of the customers were sitting on the outside patio, and the interior was quiet, empty, and cool.

It was eerie, to go from the disaster to the more or less quiet period after.  To be back on this street, where the car had hit the pillar, and where I’d seen so much grief from one person, and to try and reconcile that with the broken trigger, the ninety dead, the fact that so many were dealing by ignoring it.  Moving on a matter of two weeks after the fact.

“Victoria?” the barista asked me.

My first thought was that she’d recognized me.  “Yes?”

“Your friend stepped into the back.  She said she’d be right out, but she asked us to keep an eye out for you so you didn’t think she was late.”

“Got it.  Thank you.”

“Can I get you anything?”

I looked outside.  Sunny, warm.  The summer and its heat lingered in the daytime.  “I can’t bring myself to drink anything hot when the weather’s like this.  Do you have any suggestions?”

“Ice coffee?  Iced tea?  Pop?”

“Iced tea, please,” I said, noting the use of ‘pop’.  A lot of people from a lot of regions had gathered in the megalopolis.

I didn’t have to sit down and wait for her to bring it to me.  It was in my hands within a matter of seconds, and I took it to the seat furthest from the door, where Jessica and I would have some privacy.

She was out of the washroom before I’d fully settled in.  Her blouse had buttons at the front and a collar, but was sleeveless, tucked into shorts.  I wondered if she looked less at ease in casual clothing because she was a professional at heart, or if it was personal bias and years of knowing her as the therapist in the office that colored my perceptions.  Her hair was damp, and she had what might’ve been a folded paper towel, soaked with water, resting on the back of her neck.  She collected a drink she must have ordered and paid for earlier.

“Doing alright?” I asked.

Jessica smiled.  “I was cooling down.  I’ll be glad when the weather is more comfortably cool.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s not that I mind the heat.  It’s that I worry about how it affects people.  I get antsy when the weather is like this.”

Jessica nodded.  She glanced out the window.  “It doesn’t help.”

“Brockton Bay was always nice, weather-wise.  It didn’t have a lot going for it, but it did have mild weather.  Once upon a time.”

Jessica smiled.  “It’s good to remember the good things.  At the risk of slipping into habit, I’ll ask: how are you doing?  You’re okay, after the broken trigger incident?”

“I’m okay.  My cousin wasn’t, but she’s bounced back.  I think it was a wake-up call.”

“How so?”

“She might be reconsidering if she wants to be with the PRTCJ.  She might aim for something lower-key.  Her mom did, after things went bad in Brockton Bay.”

“I hope she’s happy and comfortable, wherever she ends up.  I did like her, when she and I crossed paths.”

At the hospital.  That fragment went unspoken.

“How’s the girl I found?” I asked.

“She’s managing.  We’re getting her stabilized and figuring out her power.  She wants to meet you at some point, to thank you.”

“She’s good, though?”

“Far better than she was.”

I nodded.

“The broken trigger aside, how have you managed since we last talked?  You talked about joining a team.”

I gave her a one-shoulder shrug.  “Pitched myself to a few.  It didn’t take.  I lost my job, the volunteer stuff feels empty.  I’ll survive in the meantime.”

“I find it very interesting that you asked about Hunter, and you wanted to clarify that she wasn’t just managing, she was good.  Then I ask you, and your response is that you’re surviving.  You’re managing.”

“You’re going therapist mode on me,” I remarked, smiling.

She smiled back.

“How are you?” I asked, before she could ask me the same.

“I’m settling into my new role, trying to wrap things up and make sure there are no loose ends as I transition.  Are you-”

“You said-” I said, inadvertently interrupting her.

“Go ahead.”

“You said you were busy.  Is busy a good thing, in Jessica-Yamada-land?”

It took her a second to answer.  Not our usual one-sided dialogue, this, her talking, me waiting for a chance to communicate, already plotting how I could say what I wanted to say as efficiently as possible.  I smiled at the observation, and I was left pretty sure she caught it, because she smiled again.

She replied, “I’m looking forward to when I have more time.  Right now, it’s balancing out.  Any exhaustion on my part is easier to deal with because the things I’m doing are new, exciting, a little terrifying, but positive overall.”

“Terrifying?  Because of the people you’re dealing with, or…?”

“When working with patients, the first and last meetings are the hardest, with the stakes greatest, and I’m having an awful lot of first and last meetings these days.  Maintaining course after the initial connections have been made is easier.  I know who I’m talking to and what I’m doing, there will be peaks, plateaus and valleys, but I can generally feel like there’s progress being made.  The first meetings and the goodbyes?  They’re critically important.”

“You want to make sure you’re laying good groundwork.”

“It’s not just that.  The wrong kind of connection or break can do a lot of damage.  Failing to realize you’re hurting a patient when you say something or take an approach, failing to be strong enough from the outset with patients who need a hard line, being too hard on patients who need a soft touch…”

I nodded.  I started to think about which I’d been, back then, but thinking back was hard and unpleasant.

“I…”  She’d started to say something, and then stopped.

“You?”

She sighed, leaning back in her seat.

“I’ve put myself in an awkward position here,” she said.  “Actually a few, including you and me sitting here having this conversation.  I want to get right to it so you’re not talking to me under the wrong pretenses, but I’m not sure how to navigate this, either.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“That’s just it,” she said.  She frowned.  “I wanted to have a conversation with you for another reason.”

That stung, in a way.  That we weren’t meeting up for the sake of meeting up.

“Okay,” I said.

“I might have made a mistake,” she said.  “And I was thinking you might be able to help.”

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128 thoughts on “Flare – 2.4”

    1. It has quadruple the votes of the second place over the last week, so I think it’s gonna stay there just fine.

      (Also place 2 is Worm anyway)

      1. WorldBoat has 4 of the top 10. Well, 4 of the top 8, as it happens, and 3 of the top 4. I was surprised to see that currently, Very Moody doesn’t have anything in the top 10 at all, though still 3 in the top 20. A little disappointed that UNSONG is no longer in the top 20, as well, but I guess that being finished for half a year will do that.

    2. I mean, its all nice and fine, but isn’t that self-serving vote manipulation if the 1st comment is always “follow that link to vote”?

      Do you really want to provote a climate where all fics spam that way to “compete”?

      1. On the contrary, I think it gives us the best representation of what is good if each story encourages you to vote. That way, you aren’t just seeing votes from people who visit topwebfiction.com but instead you get votes from the readers of all the different stories who wouldn’t otherwise vote.

      2. I wouldn’t have even known about top web fiction if not for that initially.
        People first arrive here via many different routes. Three years ago a friend just sent me a link to 1.1. I’d never read a web fic before.

    1. I don’t think we should rush on the TV tropes page. We’re still early in the story, and it’s hard to tell right now which characters will be relevant enough to merit being on there.

      1. Well, yes, but looking over the characters that have proven relevant, I feel like they displayed more tropes than have been listed, especially, say, Gilpatrick, or Jasper.

  1. Wow, that broken trigger was so uniquely twisted. Fantastic stuff. And is our favorite therapist exploiting a patient’s affection?

    1. I don’t think she’s overtly exploiting Victoria’s affection. It’s just that, with a bond like what forms between well-matched therapists and patients, there’s always going to be some imbalance in any relationship which might come after. It’s why therapists typically avoid such relationships.

      But in this case, where their relationship really does seem to be for the best, it means there will be awkward situations like this. Situations where Victoria is uniquely suited to help Jessica out with something, which is a request that would be perfectly natural in an ordinary friendship, get colored by their past bond even if Jessica isn’t intentionally doing so.

      So I don’t think Jessica is ‘exploiting’ Victoria’s affection for her. It’s just … a thing which is going to always color their interactions. And at the very least I think Jessica is aware of this and doesn’t *want* to abuse it. Which is good.

      1. Well, she’s not recruiting Victoria to *fight* Valkyrie, that’s for sure (cool though that would be.)

        And the only other option would I can think of be for them to hang out together to stabilize Ciara; having the most powerful cape on Earth on speed dial (or as a sidekick!) seems unlikely from a Doylist point of view, although again, it would certainly be cool.

        1. I dunno, don’t think that fight would be cool so much as pitifully one sided. Victoria’s powers are decent but she can’t even hold a candle to Valkyrie, someone who could have gone to to toe withe eidolon in his prime.

    1. She only made a mistake because helping to correct the mistake is going to be a critical part of Victoria’s healing process.

      1. Looking forward to hearing more about it. Thank you for a fascinating, albeit very unsettling, chapter.

        This is my first time bothering to chime in after following Worm since 9.1, so, uh. Hi Wildbow! You’re awesome! 🙂

  2. When Jessica Yamada makes mistakes, cities crumble?

    I’m starting to wonder, is it somehow related to Victoria’s problems with finding a new job? Something Jessica misinformed others on? A Wardens file that has a TLDR note that says “ehrmagehrd, this girl is basically a human-shaped Case 53!” or something else misconstruable?

    1. I’m thinking Jessica Yamada’s mistake is related to *solving* Victoria’s problems with finding a new job. Like, maybe she accidentally caused a team of deeply troubled parahumans to form and now she wants Victoria to go in and straighten them out, and Victoria’s going to wind up joining them.

  3. A bit surprised that Victoria didn’t talk to Vista after the fact. Seemed like a really big deal to her.

    I’m guessing Crystal wanted to go immediately instead of sticking around for clean up and hashing things out with the other teams?

    1. Wildbow teased us there, with Vista. Probably wont’ be the last time someone from the first story get’s teased. Kinda wondering what the Undersiders and D&D have been up to.

  4. I could have sworn I replied to a typo thread comment, but that comment seems to have disappeared…

    Anyway, holy shit, the idea of the Corona Pollentia being fixed in space is horrifying. The utter helplessness Anne and people like her must have felt in their last moments…jesus christ. But I love the idea of Victoria *helping* Jessica with something…it’s a completely new dynamic, and that’s definitely intentional on Jessica’s part.

      1. Oh, was that the typo thread? I deleted the post only because I’d already fixed the typo in question (remember to ctrl-R or F5, please!) – thanks for attempting, either way.

        1. No, wait, you deleted the thread without fixing the remarks in the comments to the first post – one of Yamada’s lines at the very end is missing an opening quote.

    1. I actually have a minor neatpick about that. If the corona polentia were fixed in space, that would mean it wouldn’t follow the rotation of the earth, so the victims would simply die instantly from getting their heads ripped out from their bodies.

      1. That’s a good point. Although, since Victoria is in a fairly high-stress situation when she said that and was more concerned with getting a general grasp on the situation than rigorously defining her terms and such, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say that the character simply didn’t think of that, and they are actually fixed relative to the earth. (Thinking outside one’s own physical reference frame is not a natural instinct, after all.)

      2. The shards are all (well, probably) rooted on Earth(s), so they are by default working relative to the rotation of the planet.

      3. Unless you choose the non-inertial rotating frame of the Earth as the coordinate system with respect to which it is fixed in space.

        aka The Clockblocker Frame

  5. That broken trigger event reminded me of the Leviathan reveal in Worm. Not really a fight so much as a disaster that people work to survive. If these things are regular occurrences it may just be a matter of time before the world gets unlucky and something terrible like a replicating threat gets unleashed. Here’s hoping they’re self-destructive/limiting by nature and taper off after a set amount of time.

    Also, I liked how the final broken trigger guy described the “volcano” thing, which I guess was an analogy for the greater shard/agent organism. Uploading an emulation of your mind when you’re dead anyway would definitely have a perverse kind of appeal. (And now I’m trying really hard not to think about the possibility that all capes get killed then emulated upon triggering. Ugh.)

    1. >And now I’m trying really hard not to think about the possibility that all capes get killed then emulated upon triggering. Ugh.

      Not upon triggering, because it wouldn’t make sense then. Shards are supposed to learn from their hosts. They can’t do that by killing the host and emulating them.

      1. On the other hand, an “immortal” cape whose shard replicates their body and mind each time they die, but each is a copy of a copy and thus increasingly “off” is an interesting idea.

          1. IIRC Jack was speaking poetically when he commented on this, and Oni Lee’s mind wasn’t actually affected.

            On the other hand, one of the PRT Quest capes (I think it was some Russian guy?) has almost exactly this power …

  6. Well that was a horrifically bad broken trigger. I mean, I guess it’s not as bad as powered rampages without any geographical limitation, but damn.

    Also, good to see Vista is doing all right for herself.

  7. That was fucked up. In a good way. I think we all need the good Mz. Yamada, after that. It’s…you made me care about Anne without even knowing much about her. Holy hell.

    Yknow, whoever figures out how to ‘fix’ broken triggers or at least mitigate them is going to rule the world, whether as a warlord or as a god. I’d betcha Riley is already on it. And I wonder about Valkyrie’s insight on this..? So much potential that I’m vibrating in my seat.

    1. I’m wondering … do the broken triggers interact weirdly with Valkyrie’s power? It’s hinted that her power is the one that pulls the Entities back together at the end of the cycle, and these broken triggers seem like pieces of Zion blindly reaching out to claw their way back into existence – what happens if they connect to each other? What happens if Valkyrie gives them a conduit to connect to each other?

      I could see them doing very strange things if Valkyrie ever picks one of them up. Of course, given her power vision she’s probably well aware of what’s really going on here.

      Relatedly, that guy’s comment about the volcano is very ominous in light of this. The broken shards seem to be doing something behind the scenes here, at least. Reforming Zion, perhaps? Or, even worse, waking up?

      Maybe this is why the monsters the Wardens face seem to be classified to the highest level. The Wardens see them and know what’s going on – know that whatever they do, soon everything’s going to end for real. The world consumed by the shards as, damaged and without central guidance, they confusedly awaken and attempt to complete their life cycle … not a single burst of annihilation 300 years from now, but a thousand smaller fizzles, blasting away pieces of reality until there’s nothing left.

    2. I would like to see what the Warden shard experts think of the broken triggers. Or what Tattletale thinks. It’s high time Victoria joins a proper team with a proper exposition Thinker.

  8. I’m glad Vista seems to be doing okay. She was one of my favorite Wards.

    Ooh, I wonder if Victoria could get a job as a therapist! She lacks the education for it, but I’ll bet that they’ll take what they can get, and a therapist with a force field would probably be useful for cases like Sveta.

    1. Oooh, I know precisely one fic where she becomes a therapist, and it’s such a multilayered piece of weird that I’m hoping that’s not where this story is headed.

    1. “Keeping powers to yourselves!

      -yourselves!”

      A remark about common thread through the powers they’d seen.
      -a common thread, common threads

    2. I’m french and I can tell you that the plural of “plateau” is “plateaux”.
      I don’t know if English speakers usually use the correct spelling or not, so this comment may be useless.
      Anyways, hi from France, love this series and Worm too !

      1. The proper spelling of plateau in French is plateaux. But in English, once we’ve stolen a word and made it part of normal English discourse, it’s not considered improper to use standard English pluralization. Though people can have fun arguing over it—octopus is a good one as far as that goes, as many English speakers give it a Latin pluralization, a minority recognize it as being a Greek word and give it a greek pluralization, and others give it an English pluralization.

        1. Yeah I’ve noticed the whole debate about cactuses/cacti, octopuses/octopi and stuff like that.
          Thanks for claryfying it for me.

    3. “Clear fluid was streaming from her nose, thinner than snot”

      That isn’t supposed to be “thinner than not”, is it?

      1. Snot is the stuff that usually runs out of your nose when you have some form of cold/flu/bronchitis and co. Phlegm, mucus… boogers ? You know those.
        The implication I got from that line is that she had a cranial fracture and CSF was seeping out her nose, which is never a good sign.

    4. Look, I think it’s best not to use the typo thread for any other reason, like making jokes, because we actually want to use a typo thread so that Wildbow can FIX TYPOS.

      Using it for jokes or for any other purpose that pointing out typos is noise that hides the signal.

    1. To make it easier to eat. Frozen solid ice cream is tough to get out of the container with a spoon. A small amount of time in the microwave means it’s still cold, but much softer and more convenient.

  9. In Worm, it was surprising when a well-loved character died. In Ward, it’s surprising when a well-loved character is confirmed alive.

      1. I dunno, it doesn’t feel like the same thing here. This is reconstruction after one of the most devastating events in history, with a significant timeskip. It’s not so grimdark if you ask me. It’s a surprise to meet up with familiar characters because it’s been a long time and everyone’s gone their own way (if they survived at all).

  10. Glad to hear about Vista, even if it is stuff we knew from the end of Worm. This must be pretty tough for her, she’d already lost a good deal of her friends from the Leviathan attack, and even more post-Golden Morning. Essentially, all of her nearest and dearest childhood friends are dead.

    Interesting cliffhanger. The only thing I can think of is maybe Sventa? We know she is joining what seems to be a rogue faction (a mix of heroes and villains). Maybe Yamada gave her advice about reaching out to others and doesn’t like the crowd she has fallen in with? Honestly, probably not, it is a big stretch, and there is no reason Victoria in particular would be well suited to handle that situation. Still, looking forward to finding out what the mistake actually is, and Victoria having a new quest/side-quest to tackle.

    1. Ooooooor… Yamada went in and followed up on Amy, and didn’t take the right angle, and wants to bring in Victoria in order to “salvage” the situation.

      Maybe it will be two mistakes?

  11. Man. Never did a Saturday feel so far. (Or could it pretty please be a Thursday?)

    I know some people have complained about the pace of this story, but it feels as much of a slow buildup to me as Worm did. I’m wondering if the seeming pacing issues aren’t due to a) binging Worm and the others and not fully appreciating what it means to wait for each chapter (an experience I’m loving), or b) the ending (and much of the middle) of Worm colouring people’s memories of it so that the remember it as more intense at the beginning than it really was.

    Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    I do know I’m loving every single chapter, though, and all the mysteries that have already been established and plots being hinted at. Love all of it?

      1. The thing that makes me laugh is that with all this horrible new stuff they have to deal with and the loss of much of the internet, I doubt very many people can be bothered to remember Jack Slash at all.

  12. I’m new to these comments so maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’ve missed this coming up in prior Ward chapters and being discussed.

    Did I just read that Victoria has a phantom self that is still her horrifically deformed body and that her forcefield (at least) is now conforming its shape to her larger self? She seems to be saying that this is why her FF has expanded and messes with her aerodynamics. She also seemed to be describing using her phantom limbs to actually manipulate the car she lifted. Maybe through using the FF that’s conforming to her mental body to act as additional limbs? Did I totally misread that because it was late and I was going to bed?

    1. You did not. After she lost her job, she stood in a room and activated her forcefield and stood still, watching a window. The forcefield scribbled in the condensation, with at least three hands and a boob (that I recall, anyway). And she lobbed a chunk of tarmac at Panacea from the road without bending over.

      It’s not a phantom, though! The forcefield sticks to how Victoria sees herself. Its fleshblobbiness is because, subconsciously, she’s having difficulty remembering that’s not her anymore. That also means it’s not actually listening to what Vicky wants to do, instead doing what it thinks she wants to do.

      1. Thanks, Earl of P,

        By I had figured that a “phantom self” was most likely her force field comforming to her mental self image, but I wasn’t sure. I remember the window stuff and I was confused as heck by it when it happened. Looking back in retrospect, it makes sense.

        This is going to give her problems if her FF acts like a second self that she can’t control. OTOH, it might prove useful if it will expand far enough away from her to cover someone she wants to protect.

        Final thought: if spending huge amounts of time being trapped in the hospital, feeling ignored and abandoned didn’t cause Victoria to go through a second trigger, I don’t know what would.

        1. Second triggers have to conform to the original trigger fairly closely. That’s why we don’t we a ton of second triggers during Endbringer fights, or any time a capes life is in serious danger. An example from Worm (spoilers if you haven’t read it) is when Grue has his second trigger. He had already been brutally tortured by Bonesaw, and it was definitely enough trauma for his Trigger. However, since his original trigger was his tormentor moving on to hurt someone he cared about, he didn’t get his second trigger until Bonesaw moved on to someone he cared about.

          Also, as I understand it (and this could be foggy) second triggers often tweak how a power works, so it is possible Victoria had hers already and never noticed. It’s kinda hinted (as I recall) that Taylor had a second trigger immediately after her original that helped her get enough thinker powers to cope with her master power.

          All of that being said though, her hospital stay could be a good situation for a second trigger. As I understand it right now, her original trigger event was the basketball game acting as a catalyst for all of the feelings of inadequacy and her parents not caring that were going on in her day to day life. My only guess for this bit is that there wasn’t a catalyst like in her original trigger event, she had a second trigger and didn’t know it, or the reasons for her abandonment were different enough it didn’t lead to a second trigger.

          1. Yeah, the situation in the hospital seemed to be very like what she described her trigger event as, although as a prolonged experience rather than an acute situation. Also, she had Dr. Yamada helping her deal with it…

    2. Yep. She is superblob.

      I also learned my lesson about reading Ward too quickly in Glow Worm.

      One morning the boyfriend had to explain to me that no, Gimel does NOT have a new, commemorative plate-based economy. Never read while sleepy.

      1. Pst, hey buddy. I got some hot counterfeit plates here. Sell them to you for twenty teaplates on the platter. Got all the good ones, too, including that rare one of the last supper with Chevalier, Scion, and Batman all crowding around Elvis. Hail to the king, baby.

    3. Correctamundo. Her forcefield was real tight to her body before, to the extent of messing with some clothing. Then, shortly after Amy confessed her love to her, Victoria put on a little extra weight. Real women with twelve faces have curves, ya know. As a result, the forcefield expanded to fit her new form. Her body would go on to be fixed, but the field is staying put where it expanded to.

      Unfortunately, Victoria suffers from some limited self control, as many of us do. I suppose someone could make the case for all her emotional control problems and body issues keep her from being able to truly accept herself for what she is and use it. In Jungian terms, the forcefield body is like her Shadow made manifest.

      The truth though, is that it’s all the fault of… post-modern Cultural Marxist invisible reptilians. It’s all one big plot by the USSR and its dedicated Soviet Realism authors to corrupt the post-apocalyptic society by indoctrinating people with fluoride in the chemtrails. THINK ABOUT IT. That’s why there’s only one real city. One world order.

      And that’s why nobody’s ever triggered while wearing a tinfoil hat. 100% canon.

      You’ll learn a lot of secrets like that if you stick around. In the meantime, welcome to the comments.

      1. The only thing a tinfoil hat will do is make pretty lights if someone decides to stick you in the microwave. Haven’t you ever wondered where the idea that tin offered protection came from? *They* spread it. Originally it was just to make it easier to identify the people who were onto them, but after they bought out the all the major tin mining concerns, tin foil sales actually *financed* most of the major mind control experiments.

        Aluminum foil still works, though.

  13. I kind of want some REALLY good artist to render Anne’s last moment(s). That sense of helplessness… Too bad I can’t draw/pain for shit.

  14. I’m not thrilled by the way the story seems to suddenly skip two weeks or more forward. It felt. . . forced or clunky or something. Shouldn’t it have at least been the start of a new chapter?

  15. Weird thought I had today: So, broken triggers are from a shard that was not correctly tailored to be bonded with a person, meaning they tend to have nasty effects once bonded. So, my question is… Aren’t these a lot like the original Cauldron capes? We know a lot of them either died horribly earlier on, and some turned into monsters. It is possible also that these broken trigger shards were NEVER meant to be bonded to humans, because they are just too powerful, or that they aren’t diluted, since we knew Cauldron didn’t give full doses as it were, except in rare cases (the Triumvirate). Still though, I can’t help but wonder if some of the early Cauldron experiments were as bad as this, even with high level thinkers helping out.

    1. I think they are. Also kind of like the triggers from Fortuna’s homeworld (=Monster World, from the prologue?).

      These triggers do seem quite a bit more aggressive, though- I don’t remember any of the things from Fortuna’s interlude (nor even the Cauldron extreme deviants) being as bad as this/Casey/black ooze man.

      Maybe it has to do with the nature of the crash – Zion died far more messily than Eden, so the shards are more broken, grasping at connections more viciously? The Cauldron vials seemed almost reluctant to bond with humans. Alternatively, maybe Eden’s shards were already partly configured?

      1. That last part was true for most of them. (An exception was Eidolon’s shard, which Smurfed everything up.) They were also damaged in a different way, planned by Contessa, which may have removed a certain degree of hostility.

        Mainly, I think Volunder has it right in that none of these core shards from Scion were ever intended to bond with humans. Neither was the Path to Victory, so maybe Contessa lucked out there – but if PTV worked for her at all she could have just seen the path to not bleeding from her brain.

  16. This arc kinda feels all over the place after just 4 chapters. Chapter 2.1 and 2.2 has Victoria “job hunting” and paying visits to hospitals. Then Chapter 2.2 ends with a cliffhanger that suggests Victoria is going to spend some time with a recently triggered kid, and by 2.4 we have that thread appearently brushed off (which to be fair, might be a setup for something that is going to pay off later in the story). Meanwhile, Chapter 2.3 leads us to think Victoria is going to spend some time working on containing and de-escalating a conflict, only to suddently make a left turn and present us with a broken trigger than ends in a hugh tragedy. I don’t understand if this is by design or if real life is once again interfering with Wilbow’s concentration, but in all honesty, this feels to me a little bit like the infamous Scarab arc.

    1. Maybe it’s because I’m reading this as the chapters come out, but I’m not feeling this as a problem, at least not yet.

      I enjoyed this segment, and am very much looking forward to finding out what help Jessica wants.

      1. Lets hope that we do get to spend a little bit of time focusing on that instead of getting a head-fake like the one with the triggered kid. That bait-and-switch felt very jarring to me, even if ultimately has a very good purpose for being that way.

    2. Just to add my voice to the convo, not contradict you, I didn’t have an issue with going from de-escalation to a big tragedy. For one, this was very much telegraphed, and I found it an enjoyable turn of events. Or, well, I didn’t enjoy that people were suffering, but I enjoyed the writing itself.

      I also am not bothered by the time-skip; it’s WB implying that the aftermath wasn’t of direct consequence to the story.

      But I did find it very disorienting when we were dropped into this conflict with the workers and the thread of the kid was seemingly ignored. It made me feel pretty lost.

  17. So, I’m going to vote Yamada, Fortuna, Valkyrie for new triumvirate (Sorry Chevalier).

    Also, because this is a Wollybug story and insane speculation is fun… So… how to escallate beyond scion level danger? … Scion reborn? Contessa? The third entity? Panacea fueled ultra organisms? No… truly there is only one being powerful enough to pose as the final boss of this story: Jessica Yamada – Therapist.

    (In all seriousness, escalation is fun, but just because past stories have escalated doesn’t mean this one has to…. but we will probably make jokes about it even if it doesn’t)

  18. The shards are growing on me. Sure, they catch some collateral damage, but they also get idiots who say stuff like “You’re hoarding powers to yourselves!” Let them run up and then have part of their brain stuck in space so it tears out of their body if they move. Average IQ goin’ up!

    But that’s not fair either. IQ is pretty much useless. A number determined by cultural test. But people paint it as a big deal. They strive for it. They rush around, losing precious time agonizing about it, trying to get a good one. What do they do? Blow their pretty little brains out. Metaphorically speaking. Some of them literally. A lot like powers in that way.

    It’s not about powers in the end. That’s the mistake everyone makes. There’s not a single super that can’t be destroyed with properly applied force and a little cognatious thunk. Hell, Jack Slash’s weakness was regular people. One well-trained squad of little leaguers with metal bats was all it would have taken if he’d been alone.

    Funny thing is, the fact that they think they’re powerless compared to supers makes them a threat to supers. And to themselves, but that’s a given. They’re only ugly little humans.

    1. The average IQ is 100. It doesn’t go up. Even if you killed the stupidest half of the population the average IQ would still be 100.

      Its a normalized value with mean 100 and standard deviation of 15.

  19. What happens when Jessica Yamada makes a mistake? We are about to find out.

    The little bit of an insight into the shards was… Interesting.

    Vista is back! If I remember right, the timeskip changed her something fierce way back in Worm. What did the aftermath of the Golden Morning do to her? As a parahuman from a very young age, she is indeed a very unique example. I am quite curious to explore her character.

    Hating to be ignored, and that continuing idea of being a warrior-monk. Isn’t it a pity, that people only ever seem to become better through hardship?

    Thank you for your writing.

    1. How did Vista change, again? I remember her thinking from early on that everyone she knew would probably die, making her perhaps the person least changed at the end.

  20. Wait, so if theory didn’t move their heads the broken trigger capeswoukd have lived? And how does the whole nail-in-the-corona thing even work?

    That volcano stuff sounded crazy. Seems like someone or something is . . . stealing shards. Or perhaps reforming them. Look to the Simurgh, and you shall receive guidance!

    Regarding Yamada, she either bought too much toothwash and left it at the supermarket. Or she screwed up in the Amy shenanigans. Who’s to predict? Not I . . .

    Yeah, that being said, this was a great chapter, typical WorldBalrog quality. Keep up the good work.

    (I know, I know, I’m two days late. I was binging ‘The Wandering Inn’ – give a guy a break, will ya?)

    1. Assuming nothing interferes, yes, their brains would have been nailed to that particular point in space (relative to Earth’s rotation, I notice) in perpetuity. However, the problem comes in when people want to do literally anything rather than stay still the rest of their lives, or their bodies or new powers betray them in some fashion, e.g. being unable to expel vomit because your Corona’s in an awkward position, or having the use of your power trigger a chain reaction that causes your body to undergo motion.

  21. How victims know their brain locked in space? Brain itself don’t have sensory nerve ending, don’t feel pain or and don’t have any have other sensory receptors inside (beside blood vessels). Pressure of locked area on blood vessels could cause migraine-like headaches, but in that case victim would be screaming something like “my head hurt” and wouldn’t guess that keeping static spatial position prevent it.
    The only headcanon I can think of is if the shard itself provide that information.

    1. They were screaming that. Intense headaches correlating in an serious way with movement & inability to move, neck pain that does much the same, hinging from a point above, leaky brainpan, a few of the affected were able to draw the correlation.

    1. Not unless you check the box that says notify me of new posts by email. (I’m assuming you did that.)

      Also, I hail o, fellow Nigerian! 😀

  22. Wow, the nailed brains were a terrifying way to die, clearly getting powers in Ward is no tea-party…

    Mrs Yamada made mistake, clearly this will make us love her even more afterwards 😉

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