Flare – 2.6

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“It’s not my intent to change your minds,” I said.  I could see some skeptical looks on some faces as I looked around the circle.  “I’m here to give another perspective, and maybe to equip you guys with knowledge.  If you change your minds because of that- and I think Mrs. Yamada might be hoping for that, then that’s fine.  If not, then I’d hope you were all going into this with your eyes more open about what you’re doing.”

“I’ve  addressed my feelings with the group,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “At the end of the session where the topic first came up, and for a portion of the last session.  We had other things demanding our attention, so we weren’t able to cover it in any depth.”

“That would be me,” Rain said, raising a hand.

Jessica continued, “To abbreviate what I said then, and to reinforce it in the here and now: if you each carried on as you have been until the final group sessions concluded, then moved on from there with the skills and perspective you’ve gained, I think most of you would do fine.  Most of you have reached the points in your journeys where you could continue on your own, without needing the one-on-one therapy or the group sessions.  You could pursue more conventional therapy, I think anyone could, and you would have my number in case of emergencies or backsliding, but most of you would do fine.”

“Ready to be let loose into the urban wilds,” Chris said.

“Not all of us though,” Kenzie said.  “You said most, a few times.”

“Most,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I also had private discussions with several members of the group.  I won’t say what was discussed, or with whom, but no, I don’t think everyone is ready.”

The group was silent. I assumed nobody wanted to speak up because they felt like doing so would out them as one of the people who’d had one of those private conversations.

Mrs. Yamada went on, “More to the point, beyond any and all of that, I don’t think the group would necessarily be healthy, taken outside of this setting and function.”

“You gathered us together so we could support each other,” Sveta said. “I feel like we do a good job of that. We bring out the good sides of one another.”

“In this setting, yes, I have seen that,” Jessica said. “I’m gratified it’s been so positive for most of you. But that’s in a controlled setting, with a mediator to keep things on course and help recognize the sensitive subjects and steer away from them.”

“May I?” I asked.

“Please,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Feel free.”

“To build on what you said, I think the things I’ve noticed on the those fronts are that, well, it’s a big leap from the controlled setting of a place like this to the wild, uncontrolled setting of superheroics. Things will get bad at some point, and when they do, there’s a tendency for the bad to snowball.”

“You lived in Brockton Bay,” Tristan said. “Is it possible your sense of normal is skewed?”

“That’s- that’s honestly hard to respond to,” I said.  I didn’t miss the flicker of a smile on Tristan’s face at hearing that.  “Because there’s an answer that springs to mind that I could give you, but I don’t know where people’s limits are, I don’t want to step on toes or upset anyone by giving an example.”

“I don’t know about the others, but I can’t think of what you’d say that would potentially upset us,” Tristan said.

“I can,” Rain said.

I raised an eyebrow.

Rain leaned forward, elbows on his knees.  “I’m making a pretty big leap here, but it’s the response that jumped to mind for me, too.  I’ve been here from the start, I think I know where everyone’s at.  I think it’s okay to say it, but do you mean Gold Morning?  I could see where it would be sensitive, considering just about everyone lost someone, but I don’t think that’s going to push anyone in particular over the edge, here.”

“Yeah.  That was it, thank you,” I said.  I looked past Sveta to Tristan.  “What happened in Brockton Bay wasn’t a break from the pattern.  It was just the pattern playing out at an accelerated rate.  What I’m talking about, the snowballing, the bad things happening and then compounding each other… they still happened.  A whole lot of individual factors played into the events of that day, and into the engagements and infighting that followed.”

“When they happen more slowly, there’s time to rest,” Sveta said.

“When they happen slowly, there’s time to get used to the bad, to normalize it.  You or people you thought you knew change in reaction to those external factors without anyone realizing it and… things still compound.  The bad days come, and the unresolved stuff from the last bad days catches up or demands resolution.”

“Like Gold Morning, again,” Rain said.  “A lot of things caught up with us around then.  Or a lot of things converged to bring it about, maybe.  I wasn’t there so I don’t know.”

“I was only there for the later parts,” I said.  “But I think you’re right.”

“Things are better this time,” Sveta said.  “We’ve learned from mistakes.  It’s a fresh start.  The Endbringers are dormant, we’re finally building things without them being torn down all the time.”

“I agree with Sveta,” Tristan said.  “I really think there is a lot of work to be done before we get to a good normal, but that’s where I want to be out there doing some of that work in the best way I know how, with people I’ve come to know, like, and respect.”

“I don’t like being on the opposite side of an argument from you, Victoria,” Sveta said.  “It doesn’t feel good.”

I reached out for her hand.  She met me halfway, putting the prosthetic hand in mine.  I squeezed it, realized she might not be able to feel the squeeze, and gave it a waggle.  She smiled.

“No hard feelings, okay?” I said.  “I get it.  You want this.  Believe me when I say I want to get out and do some heroic stuff too.”

“I have a boyfriend I feel like I don’t deserve, and please don’t use that as a launchpad to get into another topic, Mrs. Yamada.”

“I’m keeping my mouth shut for the time being,” Mrs. Yamada said.

Sveta nodded.  She looked back at me.  “I missed out on most of my teenage years, I don’t remember my childhood, and I feel so behind.”

“I know.  Believe me, I get it, not to the same degree, but I share some of those same feelings,” I said.

“I know you do,” she said.  She gave me a waggle back.

“I think more than a few of us get it,” Tristan said.  “Losing years or losing time because we have to deal with shit other people don’t, and falling behind because of it.”

Sveta nodded.  “My boyfriend is out and around and he’s doing great work.  He’s been doing it for a while.  He tried to build something with the Irregulars and it went bad.  But now he’s out there again and he’s with the team, the top team I know about, he’s doing amazing stuff.  I don’t know if I can ever catch up, but I don’t want to not try.  I don’t want to let the gap widen.”

“It can’t be just about him, you know,” I said.  “I think that would be more poison than help for a relationship.”

“It’s not.  Well, I mean, it is, but it’s not about him in a him-and-me romantic sense, it’s about me and him- sorry, I’m not making sense.”

“I’m following okay,” I said.

Mrs. Yamada said, “Just take your time, find the words.”

“Back long before I even knew him, he was my reference point for figuring out where we are.  We being the C-fifty-threes.  If he was popular then we all had a shot at getting more popularity.  That was something I could hope I could have one day.  And I didn’t have a lot of hope, so it was important.”

I reached over, and gave her arm a solid pat.  I was still holding her hand.

“And we spent part of the summer touring other worlds.  We were looking for our places of birth, but mostly we were looking for mine.  I’m one of the only ones who remembers mine.”

She moved one hand over to tap a finger against her forearm.  In dark green, almost invisible as a series of dark green images between dark blue sky and dark blue waves, framed by leaping fish in neon orange, were a series of huts.

“I was waiting for some updates on my body and so we just had me in my hamster ball, and Weld is so great, so patient… but I don’t like being that dependent.  I want to be self-sufficient and I want to do it by being a hero.”

“I think that’s kind of the opposite of the toxic path,” Tristan said.  “You’ve talked about it before, Sveta, how you’re worried about how your world revolves around him.”

Sveta nodded.  “When you’re disabled, and I see myself as disabled, then your world gets smaller.  Things get harder.  It’s easy to become dependent or let down your guard.  Everything’s hard and it’s really easy to stop trying altogether, to rely on people who want to help, to do what Victoria said and normalize that behavior and let the toxicity seep into things, only to have it come to a head during an already bad day.”

“I’m just going to cut in here,” I said.  “I one hundred percent think what you’re saying is cool and good.  It’s a good mindset.  I did catch one thing you said and it made me think.  You said ‘self-sufficient’ and one of the things I was thinking about mentioning was, you know, heroing is hard, and it’s kind of hard in part because it doesn’t pay.  That can lead to self-insufficiency instead.”

“It can pay,” Tristan said.

“It can,” I said.  “But it paid in part because people wanted to put money toward it.  Because the governments backed it and put money into the PRT, which paid the heroes a decent wage with opportunities for more.  I spent my entire life seeing my mom stressing out in front of the computer or in front of the paperwork, from the time I could walk to the time I went to the hospital.”

“It can absolutely pay, though,” Tristan said.  He glanced at Mrs. Yamada and then said, “I was a member of a corporate team, I saw and participated in the fundraising and merchandising, and we did well.  We made a good bit of money.”

“Which team?” I asked.

“Reach.”

“Oh, kudos.  I know Reach,” I said.  “I’m not sure I could list off the roster as of Gold Morning but I’m more than passingly familiar.  Good team.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said.  “I mean, I’m not so worried about the money.  That’s the easy part.”

“I don’t think it’s easy at all,” I said.  “There’s a saying, um, seventy percent of couples break up because of financial issues.  The same number of cape teams break up because of the same.”

“What’s so hard about it?” Sveta asked.

“You’re providing a service, and the fruits of that service aren’t immediately tangible.  If you do everything right, get crime rates down, clean up the neighborhood, then people look at the clean streets and low crime rate and they wonder why they’re paying you.  If the crime rate stays high and things are a mess, then they wonder why they’re paying you.”

“How do you get around that?” Chris asked.

“You show your work,” I said.  “And you show it in a way that makes people believe you’re doing a good job.  Bringing in bad guys, getting on the front page, that’s a big one, but you have to factor in the work of maintaining a relationship with the media, marketing, on top of the work you’re already doing.  You can also get into fights the public is aware of, while not putting that public in danger, because putting people in danger means getting sued.”

“Which detracts from the finances,” Chris said.

“In a big way,” I said.

“Like prison rep,” Ashley said.  “Having to show you’re not to be messed with, without making such a mess that you add to your sentence.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Not an analogy I would have jumped to, but it’s a good one.”

“I wasn’t aware you went to prison,” Sveta said.

“I didn’t,” Ashley said, fixing Sveta with a level stare.  “I watch tv and read books.”

I was going to reply to that, but Tristan was already talking.  He said, “I’m not worried about the money side of things.  P.R., rep, image, media, I had advice and lessons from masters in the field, when it came to that.”

“From what I remember of Reach, I believe you,” I said.  “I do think that there’s a ton of difference between launching a new team and capitalizing on an established brand like Reach had, and between being the man in front of the cameras and the person in the background paying the bills.”

“I have to ask,” Ashley said.  She waited for me to look at her before speaking.  “What are your qualifications exactly?  You were on a struggling team?”

“I don’t want to bully Victoria, please,” Sveta said.

I was feeling the numbers disadvantage, with many things I was saying having two people responding, a number of changes in direction, and the periodic challenging questions.  Mrs. Yamada hadn’t spoken up recently.

“I’m a cape geek,” I said.

“We’re all cape geeks,” Tristan said.  “It comes with the territory of being a cape.”

“Then I’m a cape geek of a tier higher,” I said.  “Listen, my mom and dad were capes and they were talking shop around me since I was born.  My aunt, uncle, cousins- my entire immediate and pretty much my whole extended family, they were all capes.  I was giving interviews about what it was like to grow up with hero parents when I was ten.”

Tristan cut in, “Okay, but that doesn’t-”

“Hold on,” I said.  “I was asked, I’m answering.  I triggered at fourteen, I was patrolling within six months.  I had three years of time as Glory Girl, one Endbringer fight, and-”

I paused.

Sveta squeezed my hand.

“-And one run-in with the Slaughterhouse Nine, followed by almost two years in the hospital.”

I glanced at Ashley.  She hadn’t flinched at the mention of the Nine.

I went on, “I’ve seen some of the worst.  I had the best boyfriend in the world-”

“You had the second best,” Sveta said.  “I’ll fight you on this.”

“I’ll take you up on that another time,” I said.  I smiled.  “Some of my family members were some of the most amazing people, one of those family members is still with me, and I count myself lucky in that.  I was a local celebrity, and I got letters from kids saying they were inspired or I’d improved their lives by reaching out to them, spending a bit of time with them, or helping them off a bad path through nothing more than me existing.  With all of that, I think I can say I’ve experienced some of the best that being a hero has to offer, too.”

“What happened to the others?” Kenzie asked.  “The other family members?”

“Kenzie,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “It’s best to leave that be.”

“Okay,” Kenzie said.  “I didn’t mean to pry.  I’m really sorry, Victoria, for your losses.  I asked because I’ve lost people too.  I know it hurts, and I think you’re cool and you don’t deserve that hurt.”

“Thank you, Kenzie.  I’ll share, because I think it’s important for context.  We’ve all lost people and that’s a big part of our shared experience here on Earth Gimel.”

I saw people throughout the room nodding, or acknowledging that.  Interesting, to see the lone wolf villainess Ashley nod, too.  Chris, Tristan, Sveta.  Mrs. Yamada.

Rain was hard to read, but he looked introspective.

“My uncle, my cousin, and that awesome boyfriend, Leviathan, twenty-eleven.  My- another family member, you could say she got herself.  Or you could say the team dynamics, all that stuff I was talking about before, they played a role.  I wasn’t paying enough attention, I let things pass by without remark when I should have pressed, pressed when I should have held back.  And now she’s- she’s not family.  My mom, recently, just…”

I sighed.

“I’m not here to be a downer,” I said.  “I’m really not.  I do want to emphasize this isn’t a game.  There’s a chance at greatness and there’s a chance, maybe a higher chance, of disaster.  I experienced both.”

“Not to belittle that, but each and every one of us has gone through shit,” Tristan said.  “If it’s supposed to be one part of good stuff for every ten parts bad, then I think most of us are owed some good stuff.”

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way,” I said.  “Ashley asked who I am.  I’m a cape, born, raised, and learned.  I’m a student of capes, I obsessed over them well before I had powers and I stepped up my game in a professional capacity after I got powers.  I had date nights with my cape boyfriend where I studied and read his Wards handbook, because that’s how into it I was.  I’ve followed the trajectories of two hundred cape careers and I’ve been part of a team trying to get off the ground.  I looked seriously into what it would take to start a team back when my boyfriend was getting close to leaving the Wards, because I was worried he’d get moved to another city.”

I looked Ashley in the eyes.  “This is me.  I know cape stuff.  I know what goes into it and I know what comes from it.”

I looked at Tristan.  “The last thing it is, is fair.  You’re not owed anything.  If you roll the dice nine times and get bad results every time, you don’t have a better shot on the tenth roll because of that.”

But,” Tristan said, and he said it with a bit of theatrical emphasis and a light in his eyes that made me really believe he had that experience in being in front of cameras and showing off for crowds.  He was more into things as he continued, “You have a better shot at getting an optimal result if you roll the dice a lot, than you would if you rolled it a couple of times, get bad results, and quit.  You have to get back up after you get knocked down.  You have to.”

“Or stand up in the first place,” Sveta said.

“Or stand up in the first place, yeah,” Tristan said. He glanced at Mrs. Yamada, then back to me.  “What you were talking about earlier, with Sveta and it being toxic to not stretch yourself out enough, it applies here.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Tristan, can I ask why you keep looking to me?  It’s not a usual habit.”

“Oh,” Tristan said.  “I barely noticed.  I think I’m pretty used to you jumping in to tell me to back down or not get so into an argument.”

“I see,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“I guess the fact that I’m checking means I’m already aware I’m doing it again, and I should self-moderate.  Back down on my own instead of being told to.”

“Look at that, Pavlov’s dog can ring his own bell now,” Chris said.

“I’m all about the goats, thank you very much,” Tristan said.  He touched a more pronounced lock of his magenta hair.  “See, like the curling horns of a ram, right?”

Chris rolled his eyes.

Team Reach and goats?  “You’re Capricorn?” I asked.

“I am,” Tristan said.  “Bonus point for you.”

Kenzie, though, piped up with,”I like the hair-horns thing, Tristan.  I never got it before now but I think it’s neat.”

“Thank you, Kenzie,” Tristan said.  “This is part of why you’re awesome.”

Kenzie’s expression didn’t change much, but she had one leg crossed over the other, and the free-dangling foot bounced.  Like a dog wagging its tail.

Chris said, “Getting an ‘I like it’ from Kenzie is like getting a participation medal from a school event.  Everyone gets one.”

“That doesn’t make it worthless,” Kenzie said.  She flashed a smile at Chris.  “I never lie, I’m always honest when I say I like something.  What makes me different is that I say it instead of keeping it to myself, because I think the world needs more positivity.”

“I like it,” Rain said.  “I could never do it, because it takes a weird sort of social courage, but I like it.”

“Thank you,” Kenzie said.

“I think you lose this round, Chris,” Tristan said.

“How do I lose?  I wasn’t playing.”

“And,” Tristan said.  Again, that one word, almost a pronouncement, volume and emphasis shifted just a bit to get attention.  “On the topic of rounds and games, I feel like Mrs. Yamada is up to something, so I’m going to play this on a meta level and I’m going to shut myself up.  I recognize I’ve been trying to win this conversation with Victoria and I’ve been monopolizing things by jumping in every time there’s an opportunity.  I’m supposed to be listening more and trying to ‘win’ social interactions less, so I’m going to shut myself up.  The others should chime in, I trust them to say what needs to be said.”

“I’m proud of you, Tristan,” Mrs. Yamada said.

Tristan nodded.

Rain said, “I’m less proud and more amazed by the fact that your thought process went from ‘I need to try to win social interactions less’ to ‘this is a meta-scenario I can win’ in, what, twenty words?”

“What, did I?”

“And the fact he used so many words to say he was going to shut up,” Chris said.

Tristan frowned at Chris.  “You guys are harsh.”

“It’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?” Sveta asked.  “We moderate each other.  Hopefully while not being too harsh on each other.”

“It’s part of it,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I think the ‘participation award’ comment was a little much, Chris.  You have a tendency, which has been remarked on by others in the past, to think a clever put-down is a good thing because it’s clever, when most people will take away the fact it was a put-down.”

“Alright,” Chris said.  “I didn’t think it was a good or bad thing.  Sorry Kenzie.”

He didn’t sound very sorry, but Kenzie’s dangling foot wiggled, and she nodded, wiggling slightly in her seat a bit between the motions.

Mrs. Yamada said, “The reason I’ve been somewhat quiet, despite my referee role, is more or less what Tristan intuited.  I’ve done this in the past – taking more of a backseat, giving you all more of an opportunity to respond to one another and push back against one another rather than relying on me to keep things under control.  In the early stages, I had to step in rather quickly.  I’m glad that with minimal prompting, Tristan stopped himself before reaching the point where I had to tell him to stop.”

“We’re being toyed with,” Ashley said.

“Not that,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “The end goal is to get you all ready for the real world.  Early on, the rudder needed a firm hand; as time goes on, I’m periodically hands off, seeing how you interact, until I see that you’re faring reasonably well on your own.  It’s a gradual process that requires I give you more and more trust.  Okay?”

Ashley nodded.

“It might be worth pausing to take stock in this moment.  Snapshot the feelings and thoughts you’re experiencing.  Some of you haven’t spoken up much at all.  Depending on how you view the conversation, your participation or nonparticipation, some of you might be feeling frustrated, offended, worried, or even guilty.”

“Is that last one aimed at me?” Tristan asked.  “Oh, wait, sorry, I’m supposed to have shut up.”

“It’s not aimed at you, Tristan,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I want each of you to think about where you stand right now.  What are your feelings and where is your focus?  Have you felt like you’ve had a voice or that you’ve taken things in a positive direction?  Outside of the classroom, in a stressful situation with high stakes, these feelings could be magnified manifold.  As Victoria suggested when she was talking about the slow progression of background negativity, the bad feelings aren’t always resolved or solved, and it would be very easy for a sliver of frustration to carry forward, nettling at you or being joined by other, similar feelings, until you felt compelled to do or say something you regret.”

“Handing that irritation off to someone else,” I said.

“Yes,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “And, as a final comment on the topic from me, I brought Victoria here for several reasons.  One of them is that I do believe she knows what she’s talking about.  Another is that, from my position as a person with a measure of trust and power, with a strong feeling about what you’re committed to doing, it’s very difficult for me to both argue the points and also manage the discussion at the same time.  If I tell Tristan to give others a chance to speak, it could be seen as me trying to shut down his side of the argument.”

“I’m here as a bit of a surrogate,” I said.  “I’m here saying what you can’t.”

“In part.  I think we do disagree on some things.”

“Like the value and importance we place in cape names, to quote a recent example,” I said.  “I like them, you don’t.”

“Yes.  I did, for the record, let Victoria know I would be sitting back more than usual.”

“You did.  I didn’t expect to be ganged up on, though.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“It was mild,” I said.

“I don’t want to gang up on Victoria.  I’ve done a lot of talking too,” Sveta said.  “But I think that’s because I know Victoria, even if this is our first time really talking properly.  There’s a bit of trust.”

I nodded.  “Yep.”

“For what it’s worth,” Sveta said, “that trust means that much like Mrs. Yamada I do believe Victoria when she says she’s worried or she thinks this could go badly.  I know she knows stuff.  But I do want this.  I want to stand on my own two feet.  Sorry.  I think the ones who’ve been quiet up until now should say stuff.  Ashley, Chris, Kenzie, Rain.  Or, you know, maybe Victoria has more to say.”

“Thank you for coming, by the way, Victoria,” Kenzie said.

“You’re welcome,” I said.  “I do want this to be a chance to share what I know and for you guys to gain, if that’s possible.  Maybe there are places where you might realize there are gaps in your knowledge that you could then take time to brush up on.  There isn’t a rush.”

“There is, kind of,” Rain said.

Heads turned.

“I talked about this last session.  There’s currently some people after me.  I want to be part of a team because it’s backup.  Having a squad of people with me when I’m out and about would throw a wrench into their plans.  It could give me a fighting chance when I wouldn’t have one otherwise.”

“People are after you?” I asked.

Rain held up his fingers in a way that made a rectangle.  “It’s complicated.”

The rectangle was supposed to represent the card.

I smiled despite myself.  “And these guys are okay with taking the risk involved there?”

“I’m not scared,” Ashley said.

“I’m breaking my vow of silence again,” Tristan said, “But I think I’m doing it for the right reasons here.  I like, respect, and/or trust each of these guys who would be my teammates.  But in particular, I consider Rain a friend.  I’m already willing to throw my helmet into the ring and do what it takes to help save his life.  We’ve got some similar garbage going on with… people we can’t get away from, and he’s had my back in the past when it came to my issue.”

“Yes,” Rain said.  He gestured vaguely toward his head.

“People?” I asked.

“Speaking for myself, I’m part of a multitrigger cluster,” Rain said.

“Oh,” I said.  I paused, taking stock of that.  “I can see where that warrants playing the ‘complicated’ card.”

Kenzie spoke up, “Before you got in, Ashley, Victoria was saying we should all get a card saying ‘it’s complicated’ on the one side, and ‘handle with care’ on the other.  I wanted to make sure you got what they were talking about.”

“I like that,” Ashley said.  “It could use rewording.  ‘Do not fuck with’, instead of handling with care.”

“Reminds me of the old wiki entries,” Capricorn said, “The red warning boxes for the scary capes.”

“Did I have one?” Ashley asked.

“You did,” I said.

Ashley nodded.  “Good.”

Was it?  I decided to leave it alone.

“You were motioning toward your head before,” I said, to Rain.  “Are you referring to bleed-over, kiss and kill?  That sort of thing?”

“Huh,” Rain said.  “You weren’t lying when you were saying you’d studied up.”

I’d pulled my hand away from Sveta’s at one point, and I only realized it because she reached out and took my hand again, placing her hand over mine and giving it a congratulatory squeeze.

“Is it part of it?” I asked.

“I don’t know, honest to God,” Rain said.  “When I’m vague and I’m saying it’s complicated, it’s really because I can’t give a one hundred percent clear answer.  I’m still figuring out the rules this works by.  I’ve wondered about the bleeding through.  My personality changed after, but I don’t know how much of that is them and how much is how a trigger event is a wake-up call.”

“We like to give things hard labels, but sometimes they’re blurry around the edges,” I said.

Rain nodded.

“If your own cluster is coming after you, I’d say you could chalk it up to kiss and kill.  Again, blurry, might as well throw it in that bucket.”

“I won’t object,” Rain said.

“And while I’m on that subject, I’d feel compelled to stress that the term uses the word ‘kill’ for a reason.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“People die.  Friends of people die.  I’m still figuring out what you guys are doing, but… you want to bring kids into that?” I asked.  I looked over to my right, at Kenzie and Chris.

“Definitely not,” Rain said.  “Tristan is saying he’d help, Ashley is offering a hand, and Sveta might do what she can?  That’s a hell of a lot better, compared to the same circumstance with me alone.”

“There’s more peace of mind in talking to legitimate authorities,” I said.

“There is,” Rain said.  “If things get bad, I’ll go to them.  I’ve tested the waters and asked questions.  It doesn’t seem like they’ll offer help against a nebulous threat with an unclear window of time where it might occur, and villains  I don’t know the names, locations or details of.  It’s more like they want me to call them when I’ve got a claw at my throat.”

“Everyone’s busy,” Tristan said.

“Claw?” I asked.  “Tinker claw?”

That got the room’s attention.

“You’re thinking of the man with the tinker arms you ran into at the community center, Victoria?” Mrs. Yamada asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

She explained, “Victoria mentioned that she took him for a multi-trigger, given the powers he displayed and the common links to a woman with claws she’d read about.  I was going to bring it up at the end of the session, to avoid the lengthy digression like we had last session, and I hoped to extend it to a discussion in another venue, possibly with less people.”

“I derailed us early, it seems,” I said.

“You ran into a member of my cluster?” Rain asked.

“Big guy, beard, heavy coat.”

“Long hair, hood, rough voice,” Rain said, “And a glare, like if looks could kill.”

“No hood, glare… I don’t know.  He wore a mask with a built in glare, but he seemed like the scowly type.  Definitely on the voice.”

“Of course,” Rain said.  “When did you fight him?”

“When?” I asked.  “Um.  Thirteen days ago.  First Monday of September.  High school had just started.”

Rain held up one hand, counting on his fingers, his lips moving.

“Why?” I asked.

“Timing matters.”  It was Tristan who had replied, while Rain was busy counting.

“He was strong then,” Rain said, finishing his counting and dropping his hands.

“He was a bit of a bastard, if I’m being honest,” I said.  “Not fun to go up against.  He’s one of the ones who was after you?”

Rain nodded.

“Why the counting?”

“It’s complicated,” Rain said.  He must have seen the look on my face, because he added, “The powers wax, wane, and shuffle around.  I try to keep track.  He was loaded to bear on that day, if I’m remembering right.  The only power he didn’t have a lot of was mine, and maybe a little bit less of his own.”

“Right,” I said.  “Which is yours?”

“Uh.  Mine is a blaster power,” Rain said.  “It’s pretty mediocre.  I shoot things or people and they’re vulnerable to being broken for a short while after.  To put it simply.”

“Mediocre is sort of the name of the game when it comes to clusters,” I said.

“I’ve got a tinker power, I make extra arms and hands.  They’re not very good.  Barely above what I’d be able to make on my own, fragile enough that if you grab something wrong they can break, no strength, ugly.  The prosthetic focus is part of why I was introduced to the group, I think.”

“It was,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “We thought there was a chance of insights across designs.”

Sveta would be one, obviously.  Ashley raised a hand, slender, with black-painted nails.

I couldn’t tell that her hand was prosthetic.

“I wasn’t much help, because I’m a really bad tinker,”  Rain said.  “I can also catch my balance or secure my footing more easily, that’s my version of the big guy’s mover power.  It’s handy in a way, lets me turn on a dime or keep from falling over.”

“Wait, his power was the mover power?  The arms and emotion power were his secondaries?” I asked.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Rain said.  “I think he had a bit less of his own power that day, with the way it was sorted.  My last power is an emotion power.  Guilt and doubt, over an area.  It’s pretty tepid.”

“He hit me with it a few times,” Tristan said.  “Tepid is a good word for it.  You can actually not notice you’re being hit by it.”

“And it waxes and wanes, you said?” I asked.

“My blaster power can get a bump some days.  My others, no.  They stay at about that power level.  The others change it up more, they’ll act on days they’re strong.”

“We may be getting distracted,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I might suggest you carry on this discussion later.  Victoria can fill you in on…”

“Snag,” I said.  “Sorry.  This is actually really interesting though.  I’d be happy to talk it over another time.”

“It’s good to have a name for him,” Rain said.  “Uh, okay.  Getting back on topic, I know I’m a little selfish in why I’m doing this.  Wanting people to have my back.”

“We all need people to have our backs,” Kenzie said.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “It’s still selfish.  It’s messy and I’m not sure I can pull my own weight with all of this.  I do want to help people though.  I’ve been selfish for a long time.  I’m trying to be better.  I know I’m contradicting myself in what I’m doing here, but it makes sense to me, and so few things do.”

“You said-” Kenzie started.  “Oh, are you done, Rain?”

“I’m done.  Pretty much where I’m at.  I’ll buy you a coffee or whatever you drink, Victoria, if you’ll tell me about Snag.”

“Sure.”

“You said you had info about hero teams, Victoria,” Kenzie said.  “And I’m interested in that because I do want to try to be a hero first.”

“First?” I asked.

“I’m saying I’ll try, maybe a few times, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll try other things but if it doesn’t work out then I might try being a mercenary, or a villain.”

“You would be terrifying as shit if you were a villain,” Chris said.

“Would I?  Is that a compliment?” Kenzie asked.

“Yes,” Ashley said.

“No,” Chris said.  “It’s a neutral fact, and I don’t use the word terrifying lightly.”

“Be fair, Chris,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“I’m being fair.  This is an objective fact,” Chris said.

“And be gentle, too.  If you must levy a criticism-”

“Fact.”

“-there are nicer ways to say it.”

“Got it,” Chris said.

Kenzie stuck out her tongue at him.

“Terrifying is good,” Ashley said.  “Terrifying slows the other guy down.  It makes them make mistakes.”

“You’re not wrong,” I said.  “I’ve used that to my advantage-”

“And it’s fun,” Ashley said.

“Ah… I used to think that,” I said.  “I’ve come to reconsider that sentiment.  I regret how I employed it, a little, and I regret enjoying it a lot.”

Ashley sighed a little.

“We’ve talked about this at some length,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Here in the group.  The approaches that work.  Fear comes at a cost.”

“It does,” I said.  “Not necessarily in the ways you’d expect, pushing people away or any of that.  It makes a mess.  It makes people unpredictable.  I have an awe-fear aura so I’ve seen this at work.”

“I almost envy you,” Ashley said.  “To have something you can so casually employ.”

“It’s not casual,” I said.  “Because like I said, it’s complicated in terms of the mess it makes of things.  I’ve been trying to be more deliberate about how I use it.”

“See, this excites me,” Kenzie said.  “I want to learn from Ashley because I saw the camcorder footage from the Boston Games- I showed you that one right, Ashley?”

“You did,” Ashley said.

“I’ll get you a copy because you liked it so much.  There’s also a video I don’t think I’ve shown you but it’s mostly you walking through a club with someone and everyone gets out of your way.  That was interesting.”

“Do you want people to get out of your way, Kenzie?” Sveta asked.  “I don’t think it’s good or fun.”

“Definitely no.  It’s still interesting.  But, um, I also want to learn from Victoria because I do want to be on a team, I want to be on this team of course, but whatever happens I want to be on some team.  Then I want to be useful so I stay there.  The more I know the more useful I can be.”

“I am interested in hearing it too,” Sveta said.  “About teams, making heroics work.”

“I looked over my schoolwork and some old projects before I came today,” I said.  “I typed up some bullet points and thought hard about what I wanted to say, and… being here, I’m not sure it’s valid.”

“It’s valid.  I want to hear it,” Kenzie said.

“I would too,” Ashley said.  “It’s why I’m here.”

I was caught a little off guard by that.

I could remember Ashley’s comments when the topic of the cards had come up.  She’d liked the ‘handle with care’ aspect of it, which was illuminating in its own way.  More specifically, she’d liked it while interpreting it as a ‘do not fuck with’ license.

The way it had been framed and what I knew of Ashley and Damsel of Distress made me imagine it as a ‘warning: volatile’ label on her breast, worn much like a nametag.

She’d reacted to me belittling her even in a small way, earlier, when I’d reduced her to a pin on a map.

“It might be worth saying why you think it isn’t valid,” Mrs. Yamada suggested.

I tried to find the words to articulate what I wanted to say without getting on anyone’s bad side, my fingers twirling a lock of hair while I looked down at the floor.  I looked up and looked her in the eyes, then looked at everyone else as I said, “I can come here and I can say, alright, finances.  Being a hero team is tough financially.  I touched on this before.  How do you get funding, one source, many, or is it institutional?  What’s your budget, what can you expect to pay, where are the hidden costs, like medical or needing a headquarters, and what are the potential costs or risks if you decide to save money by trimming the budget somewhere?  And maybe that angle works for some of you.”

“It feels abstract,” Sveta said.  “I have a stipend, I pay rent, I have to budget, but when you talk about things in the big picture like that, I find it hard to imagine.”

“Budgets and money make more sense when you root them in tangible things that are relevant to you.  If you had questions about one area, I might have more to say about it, or I could expand on the idea, if that was a thing that worked for you guys, as a way to wrap your head around what you’re trying to do.  I could do the same for objectives and goals, information gathering, costumes and presentation, allegiances and direction, liaisons, territories, methodology… one or two others I’m not remembering off the top of my head.  But as far as I can tell, you’re approaching this from several different directions, with very different priorities.”

“We definitely are,” Rain said.

“I don’t get the impression Ashley is prioritizing developing herself as a person, becoming independent, or catching up in life, like Sveta is.  I don’t get the impression its about becoming less selfish or wanting or needing backup, like Rain.  I’m not sure what someone of your pedigree would be doing here, Ashley.”

“Pedigree?” Ashley asked.

“It means aristocratic background when used to describe humans,” Chris said.  “She’s not calling you a bred animal.  I’m pretty sure.”

“I’m not bothered.  I like the word choice,” Ashley said.  She had half of a smile on her face.

“It was picked to be liked,” I said.

“I’m here to learn, Victoria,” Ashley said.  Her gaze with the narrow pupils and lack of irises was intense.

“That’s positive,” I said.

“No it’s not,” Chris said.

“I’m here to learn how heroes operate, so I can be more effective against them when I return to being a villain,” Ashley said.

I looked at Sveta and Tristan, then at Mrs. Yamada.

“She’s not lying,” Tristan said.

“It’s positive, really,” Sveta said.  “She’s agreed to stick with us until we crash and burn.”

“Until you fail,” Ashley said.

Until we crash and burn,” Sveta said.  “We went over this.  If you leave at the first sign of failure then you’ll be gone in the first week and you won’t have learned anything, and everyone loses.”

“Irritating,” Ashley said.

“Reality is irritating,” Rain said.

“We’re low-key confident we can get her to stick around on the side of the good guys, with sufficient friendship, ass-kicking of our opponents, and time to convince her of the upsides,” Tristan said, to me.

“You vastly underestimate how much I enjoy being a villain, Tristan.”

“You enjoy being a villain but you don’t like the life that comes with it,” Rain said.

“It had its merits,” Ashley said.

“Sure,” Rain said.  “And a lot of other misery besides that.”

Ashley sighed.  “I’ve already agreed.  I’ll join you.  I’ll defend you from your cluster.  In exchange I learn about heroes, I get information about the cape scene, and I may get training.  If it fails, I’ll go back to what I know and enjoy.  You’ll have your chance to convince me that being a hero is great.  I doubt you’ll succeed.  Most heroes I’ve met have been imbeciles and nuisances.”

“Okay,” I said.  I put a hand to my forehead, closing my eyes.  Capes were so damn weird sometimes.

“You said it was better than the alternative, before everyone arrived,” Kenzie said.  “Being a hero.”

“I did,” I said.  I might be regretting saying that now.  The fact that Kenzie paid attention to what I’d said and was quick enough to bring out the salient points was good, objectively, but it was kind of a pain here.  I could see where some of Mrs. Yamada’s worries were rooted, here.  “You have a strong drive to learn, then, Ashley?”

“What I want hasn’t changed.  I want to be on top.  I want to destroy my enemies and give potential enemies a reason to fear me.  I’m going to do it right this time.”

This time.  There were four different things I wanted to reply to there, and I settled on the easy one.  “Reports were that you died.”

“I did,” she said.  “Now I’m back.  My power isn’t holding me back anymore.”

“You get sparky sometimes,” Kenzie said.

“So long as my hands are maintained, I’m fine.  I have contacts.  I’m eating well, I’m sleeping, I’m studying and I’m training.  I’ll do it right this time.  I won’t die this time.”

“Alright,” I said.  “That pretty much sums up what I’m trying to say here.  You guys have your reasons.  I can’t show you a spreadsheet or make a list that meets your needs because your needs are diverse.  It’s not about hard stats like dollars and viewership.”

“It’s about dollars for me,” Tristan said.

“Right.  I’ll note you do have a very different idea than I do about how much money there may be,” I said.

“Kind of,” Tristan said.  “I don’t know if it’s that different.”

The thing I wanted to say that I couldn’t without offending people was that a lot of them were coming at things from an irrational or emotional perspective, from their self, and not from logic.  To challenge Sveta’s approach on this was to challenge the woman she wanted to be.  Challenging Rain meant putting his mortality at risk.  Damsel was too volatile to push too hard, she had her motivations, and I couldn’t imagine scaring her off would do any good to anyone.  The team would go forward without her, dejected and possibly upset with me or with Mrs. Yamada for inviting me.

My impression was that Tristan was looking at the money from an abstract, emotional perspective as well.

“I barely have a high school education, it’s not like there’s a lot out there for me, and money is tight everywhere,” Tristan said.  “I like the hero stuff.  I like the notoriety, and I like being out there.  We need a fix, and the two ways I see of us getting one would be if we get the money together to pay the right cape, or we chance into meeting the right cape.”

“Fix?” I asked.  “Sorry, I missed something.”

“With how quick you were about cape terms and names, and how you knew Reach, I thought you might have realized.”

“I figured out you’re Capricorn.”

“More to it than that.  You know how two brothers can get in a pissy fight over who gets to have the remote and decide what to watch on TV?  We’re stuck doing that, except it’s way more fucking intense.”

Two brothers and one power?  Or-

Oh, I was an idiot.

“That we are,” Tristan said.

We.  “You’re a case seventy?”

“I can’t tell you how bummed I am that it isn’t case sixty-nine instead, but no, that number went to a bigfoot sighting or something stupid.  A stupid bit of immature humor would’ve been the one good thing in this mess of a thing.”

“Case seventies in North America included Knot, Tandem, Zigzag was one, I think, there was House of Three in Quebec.  And… you, it seems.”

“One or two of them might not be seventies, but they get called seventies because they’re close enough.  Blurred lines, like you said.  When twins trigger, the powers are identical or nearly identical.  When twins trigger and they’re touching one another, like you said to Rain, things get blurry, the agent is too stupid or careless to tell where one starts and the other ends, or it wants to fuck with us, and it jams everything in together.  Two minds, two similar powers, and one body to be shared.”

“Is he asleep?” I asked.

“No.  He’s in here, he’s watching and listening.  He sleeps when I sleep, or I sleep when he sleeps, if he’s in the driver’s seat.  We trade out for two hour shifts.”

“Can he communicate?” I asked.  “Talk to you while it’s your turn?”

“That would be too easy,” Tristan said.  His good humor was gone now.  He just looked sad.  “No.”

No.

Two brothers, and only one of them could be interacting with the world at a time.  For the other, it was- picturing it made me think of being in the hospital again.  Being stuck, immobile, locked in while the world went on around them.

Oppressive, that kind of thinking.  Just as oppressive to be living it.

“I like Byron,” Kenzie said.  “I really wish he would stay for the therapy sessions.”

“I like him too,” Rain said.  He leaned back in his chair, hands at his hair, pushing it away from his face as he stretched.  “I don’t like talking about you like you’re not here, Byron.  We’ll hang out later, okay?  Unwind.”

“It’s been a long and rocky road,” Tristan said, to me.  “He’s not interested in the hero thing either.  He’s on Mrs. Yamada’s side here.  On yours, kind of, Victoria.”

On my side?  I was trying to frame my argument, but it was an uphill battle for logic to win against the heart, and it did seem like their hearts were in this, to varying degrees.

I decided to say as much.

“I might not be winning any points with Mrs. Yamada in this,” I said.  “And I don’t know enough about your individual situations, but you have personal, thought out reasons for wanting to do this.  At this stage, I’m not telling you guys you shouldn’t do this.  I’m definitely, definitely not saying you should.  I think there are a few things to work out.  I’m honestly really concerned about Ashley.”

“As anyone should be,” Ashley said.

“That would be why I’m concerned.  I don’t know if you guys want to sit down as a group at a cafe or something, hammer out some basic plans.  You’d probably want something like an outline or playbook that you can take with you when you’re talking to the Wardens or whoever’s managing the territory closest to you.  I think the hero teams are covering different sections of the city, and you wouldn’t want to step on jurisdictional toes.  If you want to do this.”

“That could be great,” Sveta said.

Kenzie nodded, very enthusiastically, as in most things.

“Chris and Kenzie,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “You’ve been quiet.”

“I’ve talked about wanting to pick Victoria’s brain and she listed some topics,” Kenzie said.  “I like this whole conversation as a recap, seeing where everyone’s at, instead of trying to think back to previous sessions and think about what people’s reasons are.  I’m glad we’re talking like this and I want to have that meeting and figure things out.”

“Chris?”  Mrs. Yamada prodded.

“Can I just say I don’t want to share with the guest here?”

“You can,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Is it the truth?”

Chris looked annoyed as he looked at her.  “I don’t like talking about stuff.  Digging into my thoughts for answers stresses me out and throws me more out of whack than it helps.”

“You can’t exist purely on the surface level,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“I can.  It might or might not be good for me, but something that could be good or could be bad is a lot better than no-win after no-win.”

“No win?” I asked.

“I could say it’s none of your business,” Chris said.

“You could,” I said.  “It’s your right.”

“I don’t see why you’re as defensive as you are,” Sveta said.

“I’m playing defense because paranoia is the only way to survive,” Chris said.  He reached up to adjust his headphones, wincing mid-adjustment.  “How many sessions did it take before I gave you all the basics?”

“Four or five,” Kenzie said.

“Well, this is session one with the new person,” Chris said.  “If you want to drop me from the team because I’m not okay with that, fine.  I’ll figure something else out.”

“Nobody is saying that,” Sveta said.  “You’ve come this far with us, don’t get shy now.”

“I’m not shy, I’m suspicious.  That won’t change,” Chris said.  He sounded irritated, in a way his expression didn’t convey effectively.

“Okay,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I don’t think pressuring Chris will help anything.  Again, however, I would really urge everyone present to periodically take stock.  Pay attention to what you’re feeling, imagine this dialogue extrapolated out to a greater, higher-stakes situation.  How will you handle your feelings, and will you feel have both a voice and the ability to affect the changes you need?”

“You’re worried we’ll get railroaded,” Rain said.

“I’m worried about a number of things, Rain.  I wish you would be willing to put things off for six months or a year, maintain contact, see how you get along as simple friends and acquaintances, let the ties solidify or break as they will, and then move forward if it is what you still want.”

“There are a lot of issues to hammer out,” I said.  “You’re coming at this from so many different directions… how do you even get started in terms of the kind of team you end up being?  In other things?  I’d join my voice to Mrs. Yamada’s and urge you to take your time.”

“Like I said, I’m feeling the pressure,” Rain said.  “My cluster is homing in on me.”

“I can talk to people, if you want.  If you need another cape to back you up, I might be able to help.”

“I mean, that sounds nice,” Rain said.  “But I can’t help but lie in bed some mornings, wondering if this is the day.  If, in the next twenty-four hours, the other three members of my cluster come after me in an organized way, with a lot of money and a lot of resources poured into things.  When I see it playing out in my head, I know they’re organized, and I worry we’re not.  If we’re part of a team, if we’re training, coordinating, then maybe we can work together in an organized way too.”

“There’s a lot that goes into making a team.  You can stay together and watch Rain’s back, meet, talk, and plan.”

“Without getting the practice in?” Tristan asked.  “Sorry to butt in again, but it takes time to learn how to work with teammates.  Some more than  others.”

“What you’re wanting to do on the heroism front is hard enough without added complications.  It’s a bad, bad climate for heroes to try to get started.  That could end up being more distraction than the training is a boon.”

“Imagine how bad the climate would be if nobody new got started,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I won’t deny that.  I just- I have serious reservations, but I also recognize I probably won’t be changing any minds.  Instead of trying to get you to reverse course or stop, I’m saying maybe change trajectories a bit.  Go slow, focus on what needs to be focused on, instead of getting distracted with the many, many side things that go into getting a proper team started.”

“Focusing on keeping Rain safe, as the priority thing?” Sveta asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I can meet you guys at a coffee shop or somewhere, we can make it a regular thing.  I can back you up, I might be able to introduce you to people, and we do what Mrs. Yamada suggested, and take months or a year to get a really good game plan put together.”

“You’re committing to a lot, Victoria,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “It won’t conflict with your other plans?”

“I like doing this sort of thing.  I’ll find a way to work it in.  It gives me an opportunity to stay in touch with Sveta, too.”

I was elbowed, hard, from my left.

“If you think I’m letting you drift away or lose touch now then you need a reality check,” Sveta said.

“Wasn’t planning on it, don’t worry,” I said.

“I don’t like it,” Kenzie said.

It was an abrupt statement, cutting into the dialogue, the serious tone different from the easy back-and-forth.

“We wouldn’t be leaving you out,” Sveta said.  “You said you were interested in what Victoria knew about heroes, and you’d be part of the team when we got started.”

“No I wouldn’t,” Kenzie said.  “Because you all would be doing what you have to do to help Rain, and I’d be on the sidelines.  You said you don’t want to have a kid there in a dangerous situation, so I wouldn’t actually be there when things went down.  And if you thought there would be an attack soon you wouldn’t want me hanging around in case I got caught up in it, so you’d all meet and I’d stay home then, too.”

“It could be over in a couple of weeks,” Rain said.

“It could not be over, too,” Kenzie said.  She smiled.  “Come on.  I’ve done this before.  Again and again.  I did it during the leadership camps and the exercises in San Diego.  I did it during the branding in LA and I kind of did it with the Baltimore Wards.”

“Did what?” I asked.

“Got left behind.  Or sidelined and ignored.  The reasons were good, or maybe I’m a stupid, gullible idiot and the reasons are bad, and I believed them anyway.”

“I liked your contributions to the group, I’d want you to stick around,” I said.

“I know you mean well, Victoria, but this is the way it always goes,” Kenzie said.  She shrugged.  “The compliments, the softening of the blow.  I think you’re nice and you’re trying to do the right thing.  But again and again, because I’m a kid, or because I’m small and weak, or because I’m a girl, or because I’m black, or because I have school, or because I’m vulnerable, or I’m annoying, or because they want to be careful around me because I have problems, or because I’ve said the wrong things because I’m an idiot a lot of the time, or because- because whatever the reason, good or bad, hateful or kind…”

She trailed off there.  She was staring down at the ground, head down where I couldn’t see it.  She huffed out out a small laugh.

Her hands were on either side of her hips, gripping the sides of the plastic chair.

“Articulate what you want, Kenzie,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Assertive.  Not passive, not passive-aggressive.”

“I don’t want to be left behind,” Kenzie said.  She was speaking more slowly, deliberately.  A dramatic change of pace from her usual output.  “I’m experienced in this, so when I say I think I see things going this way, it would be nice if people believed me.”

“More assertive, Kenzie,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“Trust me,” Kenzie said, with emphasis.  She looked up, flashed a smile at me, then shrugged.  “You say you’re experienced in cape stuff and I think it shows and that’s amazing.  I’m experienced in this and I’m really tired of this song and dance.”

“I understand,” I said.  “I’m sorry to have touched on something that sensitive.  I should have been more considerate.”

“It’s not you,” she said.  “It’s me.  It’s a regular thing.  I don’t blame you.  It’s the way I am, it makes people act this way around me.  And-”

She drew in a deep breath.

“-And I would like to be included from the beginning, in a way where I’m useful and participating and I’m not watching from the sidelines.  I would like to do the team thing from the beginning.  I don’t mind if it’s small or slow but I want to do something with progress.  Or if not that, then tell me upfront so I can have my feelings hurt now right away instead of over a long time.”

“This is really important to you,” I said.

“There have only ever been three times in my life where people acted like they wanted me around.  Not counting the adults who get paid to look after me, sorry Mrs. Yamada.  The first one, it led to my trigger, so you can imagine how well that went.  The second one was the couple of months I spent with the Baltimore Wards, and they don’t want anything to do with me anymore.  The third is here.  These guys.”

“Well gee whiz, Kenzie,” Tristan said.

She smiled, “Sorry.”

“I like to win my arguments, but you can’t bring that kind of weaponry to bear.  It’s just not fair on those guys.”

Kenzie smiled again.

“I’m glad you like us,” Sveta said.  “I do want to include you, and I hope this thing works out the way you want it to.”

“We’ll figure something out,” I said.

“We?” Ashley asked.

“I was going to say,” Chris said.

“I’m not trying to step on your toes or insinuate myself into things,” I said.  “But if you’ll have me, maybe I could take on a role as coach or something.  If you really want to do this-”

I could see the looks on their faces.  Yeah, they wanted to do this.

“-Then maybe we avoid having you guys go from a mediated discussion in a controlled environment like this to… something more loosely supervised and managed, for the mediation part of things, and we look for a shallower pool to dive into instead, where you can get started in some capacity sooner, we ensure everyone has something to do, but we keep it manageable and small.”

“You’re volunteering?” Tristan asked.

“If Mrs. Yamada is okay with this idea.  I don’t see you guys changing your minds, so…”

“It would bring me some peace of mind,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“Mediated,” Rain said.  “You’d be babysitting us?”

“Coaching, giving direction if it’s lacking, give you someone to turn to if you need someone to help resolve a dispute.  I can’t promise you full time hours, it’d be a secondary or minor thing for me, but… I’m trying to think of a good way to tackle this and this is the best idea I’ve got.”

“Yes,” Kenzie said.  “I want to hear more about the heroing stuff.”

“I wouldn’t object,” Ashley said.

“And the shallow end?” Tristan asked.

“We’ll figure something out,” I said.  “I’m thinking of a couple of possible places, we could put feelers out in one that’s close enough for everyone here to get to.  A few of these places have small populations of B-listers, and I think it would be a good, easy place to learn the ropes.”

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130 thoughts on “Flare – 2.6”

  1. Bit of a struggle to get this one out with the holidays being what they are – hopefully it’s legible. Another long one.

    Happy holidays, guys.

    1. No it’s great. I really liked this chapter and was happy that we finally got to meet our mystery characters from glow-worm. Keep up the good work!

    2. Never replied on worm as I wasn’t sure if it was still active. Wildbow you are a genius. I while not being an identical twin am a twin and Byron/Tristan really scares me as it seems so lonely. I like the idea of Victoria coaching this new team and cannot wait to see how this goes.

    1. typo:
      How will you handle your feelings, and will you feel have both a voice and the ability to affect the changes you need?”

      (suggested corrections)
      will you feel you have both
      will you still have both

          1. Nah I think gg is right here. This is the exception to the noun rule. Effect is usually a verb when used with “change.”

    2. “Coaching, giving direction if it’s lacking, give you someone to turn to if you need someone to help resolve a dispute. I can’t promise you full time hours, it’d be a secondary or minor thing for me, but… I’m trying to think of a good way to tackle this and this is the best idea I’ve got.”

      “I’d be down,” I said.

      – is “I’d be down” supposed to be someone else? She’s already speaking the previous paragraph. Also:

      “I know you do,” she said. She wave me a waggle back.

      -wave = gave?

      Great chapter!

    3. “I almost envy you,” Ashley said. To have something you can so casually employ.”
      – I feel like there’s a missing quotation mark before “To”

    4. “I barely noticed. I think I’m pretty used to you jumping in to tell me to back down or get so into an argument.”
      Shouldn’t it be “NOT get so into an argument”?

    5. “Oh,” Tristan said. “I barely noticed. I think I’m pretty used to you jumping in to tell me to back down or get so into an argument.”

      -‘or get so into an argument’ ?
      Not sure what that is supposed to mean

    6. “To build on what you said, I think the things I’ve noticed on the those fronts are that, well, it’s a big leap from the controlled setting of a place like this to the wild, uncontrolled setting of superheroics.
      -on those fronts
      -the thing

      “I really think there is a lot of work to be done before we get to a good normal, but that’s where I want to be out there doing some of that work in the best way I know how, with people I’ve come to know, like, and respect.”
      -why I want to be out there

      I’m one of the only ones who remembers mine.”
      -theirs

  2. Seems like Kenzie has a lot of the same issues as Vista re: being looked down on due to her age, although the two are still recognizably different.

    The fact that we get to learn what was going on with Zigzag so soon after a liveblogger named Krixwell reached Extermination 8.8 and was wondering what Zigzag’s deal was is amusing.

    All in all, this chapter was excellent and helped me get more of a feel for our current cast. I do hope we get the chance to meet Byron in person at some point.

    1. I think Kenzie also has some of the same issues as Damsel of Distress in terms of not being taken seriously.

      We met Byron online in Glow-Worm 0.2.

      [A18 22:08:16] Cap has joined the chat.
      [A18 22:08:31] Cap: hey

      [A18 22:09:43] Tribute: Fuck me

      [A18 22:10:51] Moonsong: It’s fine. Don’t stress.

      [A18 22:11:22] Cap: hi moo – wish I knew how you did that

      [A18 22:12:45] Moonsong: Hi boo. How are you doing?

      [A18 22:13:18] Cap: doing okay. just had a very surreal experience talking to a certain kind of professional.

      1. And now the whole taking a hit out on someone just got even weirder.

        And really they wasted case 69 on a Bigfoot sighting? It totes should have been for enhanced sex drive or attractiveness or something.

        1. THANK YOU for typing what everybody was thinking. I get that 69 also looks like one of those astrological signs but the ratio of people who get sex joke to the people who get astrology jokes is skewed enough that I think we can justify it.

          Also, it seems that the major theme of this serial is going to be identity. Thoughts?

          1. Yes well I haven’t seen Psycho Gecko for a few chapters and somebody had to say something.

            I have to wonder though why they went with Capricorn instead of Gemini. Was Gemini taken, or is there something else going on here?

  3. This was an enjoyable rollercoaster of emotion. I love how everyone has their own hang-ups and motivations to do this thing and the crazy scattering of ages and backgrounds will actually work un favor of them, although it feels like we have the Full House – a Case 53, a Case 70, a multitrigger, an S9 clone, a wannabe villain and an open cape. Chris is the token normal?

    (Triple bonus points for Ashley’s interesting coping mechanism with being cloned – does Yamada know?)

        1. I think Chris is a broken trigger, albeit one that works better than the last one we saw, or Casey. But that’s only so they really do have one of everything, and the only evidence I have to support it is that he triggered after Gold Morning. Unless I’ve gotten him confused with somebody else.

      1. It’s not that they don’t see it. I think it’s more that, as Victoria astutely observes, they don’t want to see it because they’re too emotionally invested, each for their own personal reasons.

        The funny thing is, so is Victoria (and at this point, even Yamada, who can see it but is trying to hope she’s wrong). Ashley has her own reasons too, of course, but for now those align with reality.

  4. I get an ominous feeling when the chapter ends with Victoria saying that she knows of an area that is small-scale and easier to get started with. It’s like saying that “nothing can go wrong!”

    I’m very interested to learn more about all of these characters, though.

  5. “small populations of B-listers”
    Except those B-listers are now part of Prancer and Biter’s villain union and call for backup when our heroes start winning too much.

      1. That’s hilariously plausible. I wonder if they’ll get two Ashleys?
        (I just realized that I’ve read most of a series where the character named Ashley had regeneration-based selfduplication. Has Wildbow ever read Mindwarps?)

        1. Huh. I’d kinda thought they were the same Ashley. But I guess this one is public enough that she’s being watched, if she’s hanging around the Warden’s therapist.

  6. I’m still in mild disbelief about how close I was to the truth about where Wildbow was going with Victoria being on a team of misfits.

    1. Well, WB is great at telegraphing these things, and you’ve obviously good at picking up on that. Attentive reader, meet intentional writer. 🙂

    1. She might actually overload on info and get promptly stomped in the face trying to choose which quip would obtain the desired result.

      1. Or just get stomped. Downside of Tattletales break them by talking, sometimes they get pissed and are much, much more combat capable than she is. Remember Jack giving her a Glasgow Grin, or Cody crushing her throat? Lisa needs backup, and is best if her victim can’t retaliate while she’s talking

  7. I actually smiled and laughed with real human joy a multitude of times here?? uh. Ashleys probably all something’d up, Victoria is settling into a team kinda, and Capricorn has a wacky and fun shard verson of DID- almost? DID isn’t a good comparison but the closest thing to it? So far Ward is more or less everything I wanted out of a Parahumans sequel, and I’m nervously anticipating more body horror, obvs

    1. “I miss the comparatively well adjusted Undersiders, said Tattletale.”
      “Me too,” Said Victoria.
      “Ashley married her clone.” Said Tattletale.
      “Only woman worthy of her.”
      “Must be like marrying your own- oh, crap…”

      Rachael waited for her team mate, only to be disturbed by a whistling sound. She looked up and saw familiar blonde form flying through the air towards the nearby lake. She rolled her eyes, for Tattletale was still talking… “At least she punched me towards the lake this timeeeee!”

      She looked at her hight strung whippet and said, “Skitter, fetch!

  8. I’m really liking story developments here; the characters and their issues are quite engaging. One thing, though really kind of jumped out at me.

    In addition to her emotional baggage, Victoria suffers from lingering body dysmorphia and difficulty controlling her force field. Both problems apparently stem from her reflexively expecting to have extra limbs and other body parts that aren’t there, right?

    Meanwhile, Rain’s Tinker power is to make (wearable?) extra limbs. Limbs that are fragile and not very strong, but that might benefit from being worn by someone with a force-field that conformed to a multi-limbed body.

    Hmm. I say again, Hmmmmmm….

  9. Capricorn is an alter system, Kenzie’s probably on the autism-spectrum (and possibly has more going on?), Sveta and Ashley both have prosthetics, Chris has… Maybe paranoid personality disorder? Rain has a wonderfully interesting cape-specific issue going on, and Victoria has heavy duty PTSD and body dysmorphia- the entire team is differing varieties of disabled, and more representing via heroes with disabilities is always good in my book!

  10. I liked the chapter, but jeez was it hard to read. The dialogue felt way too therapy-ish, and while I can understand if Yamada speaks that way, and maybe Victoria a little too, everyone else’s speech seemed forced. There was too much interactive communication. Normal people don’t constantly say “to build on what C said…” or “like X mentioned”, etc. Kenzie, I can maybe give a pass on it if she’s trying to mimic the conversational style of someone she admires (Yamada), but for the rest it’s really off-putting.

    1. Well they ARE a group therapy group that’s been meeting for months. It felt therapy-ish because that’s exactly what it is

      1. To be fair, Wildbow’s characters don’t always speak “naturally.” Recent example is the boy whose friend triggered and was freaking out (I hope we hear more about them!). I can’t imagine a real boy speaking like that. I just read Wildbow’s writing as a cross between dialogue and narration, like a narrator took the raw dialogue and edited for clarity.

  11. “An unexpected person shows up who could usurp my perceived authority? Someone smarter and more well adjusted than me? And I have a well known inferiority complex mixed with an already volitale personality?”

    I don’t think DoD will be able to keep it together one way or another. However, I have reason to believe she’ll stick around after her inevitable meltdown. Ashley seems to be damn near a blank slate, as she has the barest knowledge of things like computers and even her own history. It sounds like she wants to be a villain because she thinks it’s her only option or her destiny or something. Her passenger wants her to be notorious, I don’t think it cares what side she’s on.

  12. Hey i wonder if victoria knows anybody who can just, oh i dont know, touch someone and then grow a whole new body with a brain connected to the original by a easily severed bit of skin…

    Nah nobody comes to mind, they’ll have to find some sort of panacea in a pill

  13. Basically all natural parahumans have the inferiority complex. It’s what made them trigger.
    They encountered a situation where their abilities were insufficient to resolve and thus the agent got the “go ahead” to insert itself and bring extra abilities into play.

    The Cauldron capes are the same, only it was the Path who picked them, either rescuing them from certain death or vetting them to buy a vial.

    The more complex events like clusters and broken triggers, not sure, guess we’ll find out in the following chapters.

  14. Just thinking, we never saw in Worm a tinker with a power besides being a tinker? Right, or did I forget something?

    And now we have Snag and Rain. I do wonder if it’s a coincidence or if tinker with other powers are just rare or if there simply was never relevant to the story before.

    1. IIRC Squealer also had a thinker power that enhanced her driving skills, though that may have been restricted to vehicles she’d made.

      1. that guy from Weaver/Taylor’s pro hero days had the ability to see geologic weakpoints and use his tinker tech to enact those weakpoints causing local earthquakes

    2. I already saw Tecton mentioned, so I won’t bring him up again, but I do agree, Tinker’s with multiple other powers are rarer. I think it might have to do with how they trigger? It’s possible their type of triggers don’t lend themselves to other trigger types too often. It’s also possible that when they do happen, the way the powers blend often leads to a Tinker/Brute, rather than a Tinker, Brute. In other words, that they are a Brute, but they end up having Brute powers via their Tinker tech/specialty.

    3. IIRC Tinker triggers are usually from something that builds up for a long time, so it makes sense that there wouldn’t be many who are part of a group trigger.

  15. “We’ll figure something out,” I said. “I’m thinking of a couple of possible places, we could put feelers out in one that’s close enough for everyone here to get to. A few of these places have small populations of B-listers, and I think it would be a good, easy place to learn the ropes.”
    There were a lot of parts in this chapter where I was thinking how things could go horribly wrong. But damn Victoria is really tempting fate here.

    Best case scenario they end up going up against Prancer’s villains union.

    1. “Things are better this time,” Sveta said. “We’ve learned from mistakes. It’s a fresh start. The Endbringers are dormant, we’re finally building things without them being torn down all the time.”

      I half-expected Herself to make a move at that very moment just to troll Sveta.

  16. Looks like Victoria is joining a group that, honestly, has more emotional baggage than the Undersiders did. Seeing her adjust to this will be interesting. I’m looking forward to it.

    1. Not to mention dating.
      “This has been really great, but now I’ve got to wrap it up because in five minutes it’s my twin brother’s turn to use our body.”
      It’s like that horrifying moment when you start wondering how the sex life works for Cojoined Twins.

  17. Anyone else think that Rain’s really underselling his power here? He seems like a pretty good support cape – his ruin beams would be quite useful on a team with this many Brutes, an undetectable guilt/doubt aura would be excellent for negotiations (or for making his opponents hold back in fights), and enhanced balance/agility is nothing to sneeze at either. As for the useless prosthetic hands, I’d also guess he just hasn’t discovered the intended use of them yet … for example, if Snag hadn’t thought about putting emotion stuff in those arms of his, he’d just have six-foot-long arms for no reason.

    (Also, the waxing/waning thing seems interesting – maybe there used to be a fifth person with some sort of Trump power? I can also see why they’d try to kill each other … perhaps if one person dies the rest of them get their share of the extra power.)

    1. Is he underselling his powers? 100%. Never show your full hand if you can avoid it. But I do think his powers are less than powerful.

      Ruin beam: This is insane. Like, lets-you-trump-most-Brutes insane. But’s it’s also hyperlethal, which limits it’s usefulness.

      Guilt Aura: He actually said that it was “noticeable,” and Master powers that are noticeable are far less useful than they otherwise would be.

      Balance/Agility: This is a force multiplier, not a force itself. Powerful? Yes. But we don’t know if it lets him dodge bullets.

      Prosthetics: I agree with you one this, in that it’s like Parian’s true power. Maybe he’s supposed to turn the limbs into one-use devices that channel his ruin beam? He goes into battle with 6-8 arms (let’s call him Anansi), uses his agility to close the distance and the guilt to keep people off balance, then slams people with the beam and the arms. Pretty lethal, and not a great powerset for a hero.

      I do like the whole waxing/waning thing as well. I would like to see the data and run it through a few programs to see if there’s a pattern, as well as compare the data before/after certain events (like a cluster member’s death, debilitation, or phases of the moon).

      1. Other possible power combinations: hitting people with his “ruin beam” to make their psyches more fragile, then hitting them with his guilt power.

        Building prosthetic arms and attaching them to a belt harness around his waist, and then using them as legs with his mobility/agility power to coordinate the movement.

        If he fires his his Blaster power from his hands, then he could use his Tinker power to give himself multiple hands to increase his rate of fire.

        If his Blaster power can be used to impart recoil to himself to propel himself the way Damsel of Distress can propel herself with her power, he might be able to use it in combination with his mobility power to increase his agility still further. If he can use multiple arms to increase his rate of fire while doing so…

        1. There’s also an a ton of synergy with Victoria’s power package- His doubt aura would stack really well with her fear aura, and the positive side of the awe-ra could minimize any friendly fire related problems with turning it on.

          Her shield doesn’t have an upper limit on how much damage it can tank, which means that his blaster power is also less of a friendly fire risk. And, of course, there’s a good chance that the tinker arms could synch up with the force field’s new shape, giving her a bit of control over some of what it does.

        2. Good points! I’m not sure how much I buy the recoil thing, simply becuase few (if any) other Blaster powers we’ve seen have recoil, but it’s 100% a possibility.

          I think that (depending on the flexibility of his arm thing) a belt of extra arms may NOT be the optimal placement. I was thinking they’d be on his back/shoulder blades, giving him a greater firing arc.

          This guy will be a harrier-style cape, running around and setting up big plays. Victoria and Sveta would probably act as the front-liners (assuming Sveta has more control over her power), Kenzie plays console with Tristan, Ashely can wreck shop when they need wide-scale destruction, and…

          I don’t actually know anything about Chris. Do y’all know anything?

          1. Kenzie I’m thinking is a survalliance Tinker. She had a power that seemed to reglate her to the base, she was able to set up the chatbots, evesdrop on a private chat, and freaked her former teammates out so much they want nothing to do with her. So I think she always ends up spying on people, and then learning things they don’t want her to. And then because she wants to be helpful and have them like her she starts doing things about those things they don’t want anyone to know. And then they start really not wanting to have anything to do with her.

  18. Good chapter! Really glad to see things shaping up and how they are shaping up. This should be a fun team to watch. Also, shout out to Wildbow for being a scarily prolific writer. This is legitimately terrifying. I was trying to get a friend to start worm, and I looked at Worm’s wiki article (which may or may not be accurate) the word count is longer than the entire Harry Potter series (about 1.68 times the length) and was published in just two-ish years. Honestly, seeing how often these chapters are coming, it sounds about right. Seriously, dude, by yourself something really sugary and warm and sweet today and take a break for a few hours. You’ve earned it. Also, if you ever need to take a week hiatus or whatever, none of us have any right to complain.

    1. His general response to suggestions of a break is that the break would do more harm than good.

      His output really is impressive.

      1. That’s fair. Mainly, I am not saying he should or shouldn’t but that he is definitely allowed. He probably knows a heck of a lot more about taking care of himself than I do. There is often a decent amount of fan backlash when authors don’t maintain really good time schedules, so I feel it should just be said that if he ever does need a break for any reason, he has a hell of a lot of vacation days saved up at this point.

  19. I was thinking about this mornings chapter over my morning tea, and I just kinda want to solidify what I know about Of5 (Rain) and put some theories out there.

    So, we know Rain is trying to find self betterment, and that before his trigger he seems to think he might not have been as good of a person, and wonders if some of his new feelings are due to personality bleed over. Also his user name seemed to hint at a 5 person trigger, even though the person* who contacted him said the mall trigger was a 4 person trigger.

    I am wondering if Rain might have perhaps caused the group trigger. Perhaps he did something that is arguably hard to justify, and now his personality has shifted he regrets it, but the others in his cluster don’t forgive him. If the other trigger-mates were part of a family or group, it might explain why the media didn’t select Rain as another who triggered as well. For example, (just an example) Rain attacked a group of people while at the mall, the five of them get powers, but the media doesn’t realize that the assailant (Rain) also got powers. Rain said it wasn’t kiss/kill that makes them hate him, at least not entirely. Maybe it was him actually doing something truly awful to them. Something bad enough to cause a group trigger.

    Probably just spinning my wheels here, but maybe someone will find it interesting to think about.

    *Identity has been decoded by fans, but I won’t mention here since it could be spoilers, check the worm wiki page on Of5 and check citations to find the Reddit thread talking about it.

  20. …Oh. Oh, wow. Capricorn is two brothers sharing a body. Well, this sheds quite a bit of light on Glow-worm 0.2! Moonsong is apparently very good at telling the two of them apart without any apparent clue: first Tristan logs in and says “hey”, and Moonsong immediately addresses him as Tristan, leading Tristan to remark “haha. every time.”, presumably because Moonsong guesses right every time. Later on, Byron logs in and says “hey”, and Moonsong presumably recognizes him, because he tells another member not to stress out, prompting Byron to say “wish I knew how you did that”, so it seems that neither brother knows how Moonsong is able to always call it right.

    Also, with this new context, it would now appear that Capricorn wasn’t ordering a hit on Moonsong, he was ordering a hit on HIMSELF. Probably. Though the hit was ordered “in reserve”, and I’m not entirely sure which brother was the one ordering the hit.

    1. My guess, Moonsong’s a Thinker. Skitter remarks that Tattletale always answers her phone on the first ring, as a side-effect of her ability, and I think she answered with a name when she did so. Might not be Moonsong’s primary ability, or even a secondary one. But some sort of minor precognition or identification power would probably do it.

  21. Oh. Gold Morning. Gold Mourning. Did Wildbow do this intentionally? I bet Wildbow did this intentionally.

    Oh, and first post. Yay.

  22. Having a twin you spend most of your time with, experiencing things together and enjoying each other’s company, to now only being able to watch one another’s lifes with limited communication…
    Yeah, that’s not gonna be messy down the line.

  23. “I think it would be a good, easy place to learn the ropes.”
    Well Victoria, you’d think you’d know better than to just GIVE Fate an in like that.
    Like, that’s not even tempting fate anymore. It’s straight up holding a giant neon sign that says “Send Endbringer or equivalent here pls.”

  24. I gotta say I would much rather prefer to get to know these characters through actions and events, than through a bloated 2 chapter long dialogue scene. And it looks like it may continue.

    So far, it was one of the most boring chapters I’ve read from you, including the entirety of Worm and Twig. Pact I couldn’t finish, so I won’t compare.

    But seriously, I guess my feedback is – try to avoid overly long dialogue in the future. Especially where new characters get to tell us their situations, instead of us witnessing them through actions.

  25. Byron and Tristan need to work out a system of leaving notes for each other for communication. If the two-hour tradeoff window is flexible, if it’s something they choose to do instead of a fixed thing that the Case 70 effect forces to happen, then they can even get something pretty close to realtime as long as they’re in a safe location.

    I wonder if it has any impact on their dreams.

    1. I also have to wonder, is the switching voluntary? Because if it is, that hitman might be an insurance policy to make sure the brothers share nicely. It’d keep Tristan or Byron from deciding they don’t want to have to give up control.

    2. As far as I understood, the second brother is fully aware and present at all times. So there’s no real point in notes, because you can just say/think* whatever you mean to say, and the second brother will get the message.

      *think – not sure if they read each other’s thoughs. Even if not, simply saying something out loud will be enough.

      1. Tristan mentions he can’t communicate with Byron, so my guess is they use the same brain independently of each other and can never read/hear/whatever each other’s thoughts.

        1. No, he mentions that Bryon can’t communicate but that he hears everything, watching from the sidelines.
          That’s why someone says that he hates talking as if Bryon is not here, and openly adresses him with proposal to hang out later.

  26. I guess I’m in the minority of people on this one, this circle therapy set actually started boring me to tears and disengaged me. I know this seems to be about Victoria starting to pull herself together and maybe start heroing… but I just ended up not caring.

    1. I feel the same.
      Also I gotta admit that for right now – I completely don’t relate to these characters. Undersiders were cool from the get go, from the first scene on the roof.
      These guys? During glow-worm I kinda like Kenzie and mangled wings, but after they were verbally explaining themselves to me for two chapters – I just don’t care. Even worse – I began to dislike them.
      I hope it gets better.

  27. Great quality, nice down to earth chapter.

    Not exactly my thing, but I suppose this was a necessary exposition.

  28. This is really good and…gonna have to stop reading now. I started Worm after it was completed you see, and I’m not sure I can take joining the ranks of those anxiously awaiting the next chapter. Gonna have to keep 2 or 3 chapters behind forever.

    Now I just need to force myself to forget this story exists for a month or two..

  29. Also, really glad for the characterization. Therapy circle was kinda awkward, but it’s really nice to have time to get to know the characters instead of action-scene-after-action-scene.

  30. I came here after re-reading Glow Worm, which now makes much more sense knowing which characters are new and which ones are familiar.

    Chris intrigues me. I don’t think anyone in the comments has pegged him yet, but the references to invertebrates, being extremely rude & going by cephalopod are all blunt references to his origins.

    He’s a broken trigger.

    From another civilization.

    He’s a remnant from a prior Gold Morning in another galaxy.

  31. Aaaaand finally back from the dead after the New Years’.

    Weird chapter, this one. A bit of an exploration between the people in the room, but Victoria’s past, is something we already know in fair detail, so trudging that ground seems weird.

    Powers shuffling around? Wow, some clusters are weird.

    And ooooh, Ashley is an interesting character, at least. Hope she sticks around in the story. So is everybody else, actually.

    The team forming is a welcome progression route. Here’s to hoping it lasts.

    Thank you for writing.

  32. “Like prison rep,” Ashley said. “Having to show you’re not to be messed with, without making such a mess that you add to your sentence.”
    “Yes,” I said. “Not an analogy I would have jumped to, but it’s a good one.”

    Though the parallels between how self-sufficient superhero teams work and criminal behaviors might well be part of why there’s so much distrust towards them. Though that might have less to do with the ones who try desperately to stay in the public eye and more to do with the ones running quasi-protection-rackets.

    Kenzie’s “I don’t want to be left behind” spiel reminds me of Aisha, just with a different shell. Both want to help, both feel like they’re kept out of the important stuff for their own protection. Both, I suspect, are going to get dragged in when the s*t really hits the fan and there really isn’t any other option.
    They also both have powers that can help keep them out of harm’s way, at least a little. Imp’s powers were suited to quiet infiltration and sneaking around the enemy for a sneak attack, which tended to result in less firepower being pointed her way. Kenzie, being a tinker, could theoretically make stuff for the others to use while staying behind at base when things went down. I foresee her enjoying that about as much as Imp enjoyed playing second fiddle to Grue.

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