Flare – 2.7

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“I felt energized after,” I said.

“Can you elaborate on that?” Mrs. Yamada asked.

“My cousin remarked I looked better, more in touch with the world.  Normally, I get these intrusive… non-thoughts.”

“Non-thoughts?” Rain asked.

“Like, not intrusive thoughts, not ideas that I can’t get out of my head, but my mind has these places it tries to go, and I reflexively shut them out.  Like, one thing, I spent two years in the hospital and in the care home, obsessing,” I said.

“I know what you’re talking about,” Sveta said.

“Yeah. And I feel like I’ve devoted enough thought to that.  Two years of time, more than a lifetime’s worth.  So I lock up, mentally, or trip over the subject.  I get that a lot as my mood gets worse.  I have it for things I do, like using my powers.  I had it a lot less after the day at the hospital.”

“Some people have physiological signs, feeling ill, headaches, breathing, when they’re trying to find an outlet for things they can’t otherwise express,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “Others have habits, things or people they go back to, they could have needs or cravings.”

“What if the thing you turn to is also the thing that causes stress?” Kenzie asked.

“That is absolutely a thing that happens, Kenzie.  It’s at the root of downward spirals like addiction or overeating.  On a more subtle level, something like a panic disorder can self-reinforce because the panic provides relief, even as it makes the actual situations worse.  I like that Victoria identified something that arrests or controls the downward spiral.”

“It’s the sort of thing I plan to do again,” I said.  “Putting all the other stuff aside, distilling things down to the most basic route of helping people, in a way that’s good and healthy for me, too.  Or-”

Mrs. Yamada had started speaking at the same time I added the ‘or’.  We both stopped.

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Or where there’s bad, the good is enough to outweigh that bad and leave me better off,” I said.  I shrugged.

“Here in the group, we often discuss the issues we’re facing, how we relate to what others bring up, and we talk about solutions.  I’ll periodically try to turn things to more positive topics, but with six people here, it’s common for people to come to the session with something they want to delve into.

“I like that you’re dwelling on the good things, Victoria, and that you’re giving me an excuse to turn things toward a better note as we wrap up.  Does anyone else have something to share?”

Tristan raised one hand a little, and Mrs. Yamada nodded, giving him permission to say.

“It’s not positive,” he said.  “I don’t know if that’s alright.”

“It’s fine.  Go ahead.”

“What Victoria was saying, how she was saying she was happy, seeing the kids happy, and how she felt energized after.  I don’t have that.  I don’t have a way to recharge when I’m not at one hundred percent.”

“You definitely have things you’re passionate about,” Rain said.

“I like people, parties, noise, really letting the walls drop away and having fun.  There are things I’d want to go out and do which I can’t.  Things I’m not comfortable talking about with Kenzie present.”

Kenzie smiled at him.  “Rude stuff.  I’m not that young.”

“I know you probably know, I’m still not comfortable talking about it like this,” Tristan said.

“You say Kenzie but you don’t even mention me,” Chris said.  “I’m perversely pleased by that.  You mean fucking, right?”

“Please, Chris,” Mrs. Yamada said.

“I mean stuff,” Tristan said, “Stuff I can’t do because of my situation.  I did some of it back before the trigger.  More like sophomore high schoolers stealing their parents booze and having way too many people in a house while the parents are away, but that was the time of my life.  It was when I was the most excited to be on this- on that planet.  Now I can’t do stuff like that, the pressure release valve is screwed up for the same reasons I’m screwed up.”

“The case seventy stuff,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Now me passing out drunk might mean I screw up the time window for passing back control, however many alarms I set, and I can’t do that to Byron.  I can’t go have a one night stand because the way things are mean I’d be involving him in it as a bystander or voyeur.”

“Can you find new outlets?” Sveta asked.  “One thing I’ve learned over the past little while is that I still had a lot of growing to do.  It’s easy when you’re in a bad place to think ‘this is it, this is me,’ but there’s always more out there.”

“I’m trying,” Tristan said.  “But it sucks to know that the stuff I want to do and the people I want to do are out there and I can’t do that.  I know it’s the same for Byron.  It’s different for him, though, because he’s a quiet guy, he wants to take it easy, but you get the weird conflict where you want to chill out but you can’t because you also want to maximize your use of time, when you only get to live half your life.”

“I’d like to talk about that at a later point, when we’re not a minute away from wrapping up,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I’d also like to have a word with Byron and you after the session, make sure everything’s okay.”

“Sure,” Tristan said.

“On a positive note, if nobody minds,” Sveta said, sitting up with the faintest of metal-on-metal sounds.  “I got to recharge too, but it was a big one.”

“Your trip?” Kenzie asked.

“I know we talked about it last week, but we mostly talked about Rain staying safe and the hero team thing.  It wasn’t a little pick me up.  It was big, and I really want to find the chances to go and do stuff like that again.”

“Traveling?” I asked.  Her smile was contagious.

“Traveling.  We had a boat, and when we weren’t around people, I got out of my hamster ball.  We stayed pretty close to the coasts, Weld sailing or driving the boat and me swimming.  It was really, really nice.”

“I can tell you got a lot of sun,” Tristan said.

Sveta smiled.  Her face was so pale that her complexion was borderline impossible for a human.  “I like swimming.  I want to find a way to get out and do it more.  It’s the first time I can remember moving and having there be resistance.  Everything else is too hard or too reflex.”

“Anyone else?” Mrs. Yamada asked.  “Final words?  Thoughts?”

“I’m glad you had a good time,” Kenzie said.

“I really did,” Sveta said.

There was a pause.  No responses, the only sound was a clack as the wind blew the blinds away from the window and they swung back into position.  I wondered how bad the rain was.

Mrs. Yamada looked up at the clock, then said, “Then we should wrap up.  Tristan, a word.  Everyone else, have a good week.  There won’t be a Friday meeting this week, so I will see you next Tuesday.”

“I’d like to exchange people’s contact information, if it’s okay,” I said.  “If you’re wanting to do this.”

“You keep saying that like you’re hoping we won’t,” Ashley said.

“It might make things simpler,” I said.

“The others have my number,” she said.  “I don’t keep track of it.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Do you guys mind giving Victoria my number while you’re at it?” Tristan asked.

“Can do,” Rain said.

People were standing, now.  Tristan gave Sveta a hand in getting to her feet.

The group, Tristan excepted, filed out into the hallway.  A few people had coats draped or hooked on the the stacked plastic chairs along the hallway’s length.  I’d left my bag on the ground.  I pulled my phone out before I slung it over one shoulder.

A message from Crystal, asking if I was coming home for dinner.

“Pass me your number?” Rain asked.  His phone was as battered as he was, with a crack running down the case.

I thumbed through the concentric rings, put my thumb on my phone number and profile information, and then flicked it in Rain’s direction.

“Got it,” he said.

His info appeared on my phone, at the top edge.  It was soon joined by Tristan’s, then Kenzie’s and Ashley’s, near simultaneously.  Kenzie’s name was framed with colorful symbols.  Chris’s and Sveta’s were the last to appear.

Rain had handled sending me Sveta’s, Ashley’s and Tristan’s, it seemed.  Ashley was pulling on a raincoat, and Sveta’s hands were clasped in front of her.

Sveta might have sent me hers without using her hands, now that I thought about it.  It was possible she had a phone in her suit.

I glanced back into the room, to see if Mrs. Yamada had anything she wanted to convey with a look or gesture.  Instead, I saw her talking to someone who wasn’t Tristan.

Byron had black hair, shorter than Tristan’s, slicked back with something that shone in the room’s lights.  He wore a jacket, a black v-neck shirt, and jeans.  The contrast between him and Tristan in everything but facial features were striking- Tristan had been bright haired, his top and shorts all about contrasts with light and dark, color and lack thereof.  He’d brimmed with confidence.

Byron didn’t.  He looked distinctly uncomfortable, his hands in his jacket pockets, shoulders forward, a look of concern on his face.  The muted gray-blue of his jacket, the black v-neck shirt, the jeans, there weren’t any of the intentional contrasts I’d seen in Tristan.

“Are we going to wait for Tristan and try to have a quick chat about things?” Rain asked.

“I have dinner,” Kenzie said.  She looked at me.  “I try to have dinner with my parents every night.  We’re trying to reinforce that normalcy.”

“Is that going alright?” Sveta asked.

“It’s going,” Kenzie said.  She smiled.  “Which is better than the alternative.”

“I’m all people’d out,” Chris said.  “Most of you guys are better than some, but I’m done for now.”

“That’s a good enough reason to put it off, then,” Rain said.  He gripped the doorframe, leaning into the room a little.  I heard Mrs. Yamada’s voice stop.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Wanted to let Tristan and Byron know we’re heading out.  We’re not meeting today.”

“Okay,” Byron said.  “He’ll have heard you.”

He sounded different, even.  Quieter, in the way people talked if they were sure they’d be heard regardless, if they didn’t care, or, on the other side of things if they knew they wouldn’t be listened to.

“We’ll hang out,” Rain said.  “You and me, we’ll do something soon.”

“Okay.  How’s Erin?”

“She’s good,” Rain said.  “I could invite her to come with.”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Yeah, for sure,” Rain said.

Rain was still smiling when he stepped away from the door.

“Let’s go,” Rain said.

I had to pause as Kenzie and Chris got out of my way and turned to head down the hallway, while Rain and Ashley led the way.  I didn’t catch Ashley and Rain’s brief exchange of words.

I glanced back at the room, and saw Byron was looking at me while he was saying something to Mrs. Yamada.  The up-down look, followed by the quick glance away when he realized I’d seen him.

You’re too young for me and you’re not my type, based on what little I’ve seen and heard, I thought.

Sveta took my arm, squeezing it.  My reminder to focus on the others.

“You’re okay,” Sveta said, squeezing harder for a moment.  “You can talk.”

“You seem to be doing okay yourself,” I said.

“I’m great,” she said.  “Today was a good day.”

We walked to catch up, and I could feel Sveta periodically leaning harder on me as she worked to maintain her stride.  For all that she was in there, no doubt pulling on multiple components and relying on intricate machinery, she managed pretty darn well.

A little less so on the stairs to the ground floor, but I gave her my arm and plenty of support, and she did okay.

She hugged me with enthusiasm as we walked the five feet from the stairs to the side door, where the others were waiting under the rectangle of roof that jutted out from the side of the boxy building.

“I’m going,” Chris said.  “Bye.”

“Bye,” Sveta said, amid a few other scattered responses.  I raised one hand in a token wave.

Chris removed his headphones as he walked away, stowing them in one pocket of his cargo shorts.  He didn’t use an umbrella or wear a raincoat.  He seemed content to get rained on.

Kenzie had a blue raincoat with duffle coat toggles on the front, and was standing a bit in the rain, head bent over her phone.  Ashley stood on the sidewalk, her hood up.  Rain had settled for an umbrella, but hadn’t opened it yet.

“I’m walking to the bus station in Webster,” Rain said.  “Normally Tristan, Sveta, and I walk that way.”

“I can head that way,” I said.  “I’ll walk with you guys for a bit.”

“I’ll come,” Kenzie said, not looking up from her phone.  “There’s still time before dinner.”

“You sure?” Sveta asked.

“Yep,” Kenzie looked up from her phone.

“And Ashley?” I asked.

She didn’t reply, turning away to look down the length of the road.  She turned around, looking the other way.  In that moment, a car appeared.

“I’ve got a ride,” she said.

“Spending time with the the ol’ guardians?” Sveta asked.

I didn’t miss the word choice.  The forced cavalier attitude.  Awkward.

“I try to get as many of my appointments into the same day as I can,” Ashley said.  “It’s nuisance enough to have my day disrupted with this inanity, I don’t want it taking over my weeks.”

“We’re inanity, are we?” Rain asked.

“You can be,” Ashley said.  “Checkups and tests, therapy, group therapy, being supervised without it being official supervision, interviews, prosthetics tune-ups, work.  It becomes inane.”

“It’s all for good reasons,” Sveta said.

“I’d do better without all of the distractions,” Ashley said.  She looked at me, and she did the up-down assessment too.  It was something different from what Byron had done.  “I look forward to learning what you have to teach.”

“It was nice to meet you,” I said.  I wasn’t sure if I was lying, but it seemed like the thing to say.

She walked down the little dirt path that extended through the grass from the building’s side door to the road.  A black sedan.  She opened the back door, climbed in, and closed the door with more force than was probably necessary.

“I have so many questions,” I said.

“Weld’s kind-of dad figure was the Director in charge of the Boston PRT,” Sveta said.  “He was also kind of in charge of looking after Ashley, because her town was close to Boston.”

“Making sure she didn’t do too much damage?” I asked.

“Yes.  And gradually trying to get her used to the idea of cooperating with the good guys, making sure she was staying reasonably healthy.  They reached out regularly, letting her know there were better options.  Except that Ashley was a different Ashley.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “She’s going to be on your team?”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.

I didn’t have a response for that.

She squeezed my arm.  “I spent a lot of time with a lot of people who never got a chance, Victoria.  I feel like it’s my duty to give her one.”

I drew in a deep breath, then sighed.  “I don’t disagree.”

“But you don’t wholly agree, either?” Rain asked.

“I… believe in second chances.  Not necessarily in every circumstance, though, which seems to be the direction a lot of people are going.”

“We should walk,” Rain said.  “The sooner we get where we split off in different directions, the earlier Kenzie can head back to her parents’ and make it on time for dinner.”

“Yes, please,” Kenzie said, still looking down at her phone.

Sveta had an umbrella.  I held it so Sveta could walk while leaning on me, the two of us sharing it.

There weren’t many cars on the road, and even with the overcast sky making it rather dark out for the late afternoon, there weren’t many lights on either.  The route we were walking put us on a long stretch of road with small businesses and restaurants on either side.  Most of the illumination came from store signs in bright colors that were reflected in the puddles.

“I didn’t get a great read on Chris,” I said.  “He’s the other big set of question marks.”

“I like Chris,” Kenzie said, without looking up.  “He’s crazy smart about some things and adorkably stupid about others.  He’s hard to figure out but when he lets you in it makes you feel special.”

She said something like that with no compunctions, no reservations.  I almost envied her.

Sveta reached out and placed a hand on top of Kenzie’s hood.  “It would be unfair to share Chris’ story when he didn’t want to share it himself, Victoria.  I only said what I said about Ashley because she’s open about it.”

“In fairness, I wasn’t asking or prying,” I said.  “I was remarking.”

“Remarking with a question mark at the end?” Rain asked.

“Inviting an answer, but not pressing for one,” I said.  “I can drop it.”

“Okay,” Kenzie said.  She put her phone away.  “All caught up.  Stir fry for dinner, I’m going to pick up broccoli, and my workshop is warming up for later.”

“You’ve got a workshop, like a proper tinker,” I said.

“Absolutely,” Kenzie said, dead serious.

“Are you hiding a jetpack inside that raincoat, or are those rocket boots?” I asked.

“I wish,” Kenzie said.  “I can’t do that stuff.  I make cameras and inconveniently big boxes.  My best stuff is inconveniently big, box-shaped cameras.”

“Big boxes?” I asked.

“The term in my file is emplacements.  Terminals, tech, and computers big enough they’re hard to move around.  Like turrets, but I can’t really make good weapons or defensive things.”

“I see.  I can see why Watchdog wanted you.”

“Grr, arf.”

And I might be able to see why your supervisors wanted to keep you away from the front lines.

“Out of curiosity,” I said.  “Where are people?  I’m trying to figure out where you guys are situated and what locations might work.”

“I’m from Norwalk Station,” Kenzie said.

Norwalk Station would be off to the west end of Norfair, where we had the community center incident.  The ‘Nor’ part of Norfair.  It was a nice-ish area.  I’d passed through it a few times.  “And you’re in school?  Are you in the morning or afternoon block?”

“Morning.  I joined the study block for afternoons, I keep good grades so they let me, and I have paperwork from before that says they’re not supposed to give me too much homework, so I don’t have too much to do in the afternoons.”

“They might expect you to check in,” I said.

“They might.”

“Weld and I are in Stratford, so is Ashley,” Sveta said.  “Chris lives somewhere around here.  Tristan is close to here.”

Here being Fairfield.

“Bridgeport span, here,” I said.  “I’m closer to you guys in Stratford than not.”

“Of course I’m the furthest out,” Kenzie said.

“Almost,” Rain said.

“Almost,” Kenzie echoed him.

“Where are you situated?” I asked Rain.

“It’s complicated,” he said.

“Uh huh.  That’s starting to sound like a catchphrase.”

“I hate saying it as much as people hate hearing it.  Locationwise, I’ve always liked saying I’m from everywhere that isn’t anywhere.”

I gave him a look.

“Stop being vague and teasing Victoria,” Sveta said.

“I’m not teasing.  I’m in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to pin down.  North of Greenwich.  It’s a trip to get here.”

That put Tristan, Byron and Chris close to center, Kenzie out west, Rain out to the far northwest, me a bit to the east, and Sveta and Ashley a bit further to the east.  With the trains I was figuring it might take about four or five hours for Kenzie to get to where Sveta and Ashley were situated.  It would take Rain another couple of hours, depending on how far north he was.

“That’s a pretty significant logistics problem,” I said.  “Even in the best case scenario, if we found a place close to here, that’s a two hour or more trip for people to get here?”

“I could build something,” Kenzie said.  “I can’t make promises.”

“How confident are you?” I asked.

“Kind of confident,” she said, sounding anything but.  “I haven’t done teleportation or breaking movement devices before, but if I made it a series of emplacements and built them big, then if I traveled once a week or so to visit the send-receives and make sure they don’t break down, it might work.”

“Tinker stuff breaks,” I said.

“It does,” Kenzie said.

“It would also be liable to break or break down when you needed it to work the most.  During disasters, or times when there aren’t a lot of downtime.”

“That’s very true,” Kenzie said.

“I’m wondering if there’s even a good way to go about this.  I’m not trying to screw you guys up, I’m genuinely wondering.”

“It might not be as complicated as it seems,” Sveta said.  “I can move quickly if I have to, Ashley doesn’t have much occupying her days, when she doesn’t have her appointments, and I don’t think she minds much.  She’s happy to wake up early and read on the train, she even goes to the New York hub a lot, and that’s a full day trip.  As for you, you can fly again-”

She squeezed my arm as she said it, rocking a bit side to side as she did it.  I rocked a bit with her.

“-and the way you were talking about things, this wouldn’t be a full-time thing for you,” Sveta finished.  Her enthusiasm had risen as she talked, and only dropped with that last part.

“Maybe,” I said.  “It seems you’d want a location that was closer to Kenzie and Chris then.  Closer to Rain.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  He was looking around a fair bit.  “I don’t mind the trips, either.”

“You okay?” I asked him.

“Yeah.  Forgot for a short while that I have an attempt out on my life.  I really should dwell on it more, to be safe, especially with Kenzie in tow.”

“I can hold my own,” Kenzie said.

“It’s an attempt on my life,” Rain said.  “Lives could be lost.  I don’t want yours to be one of them.  I would feel insanely shitty if you jumped in to help and you got hurt or killed.”

“Insanely?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“I’m going to call my ride, I think.  See if she can catch me en route instead of me going to her,” Rain said.

“She?  Erin the lady friend?” Kenzie asked.

“Erin the friendship I’m not going to mess with,” Rain said.   He pulled out the phone and stepped a bit away, walking at the road’s edge instead of on the sidewalk.

We reached an intersection, and Rain stepped away, one hand to his ear while he held the phone to the other.  His eyes roved, looking at nearby rooftops and the dark spaces between buildings.

The building at the corner of the intersection was a bar, and a group of ten or so people were standing outside, smoking.  The place and the people smelled like the cheap alcohol that was barely a step above moonshine, that was being sold on the cheap in a lot of places.  Made to fill a need, now a surplus, with cheap, shitty beer available to fill the need instead.

Their attention was on Sveta.

“Hey,” one called out.

She glanced at them, then set to ignoring them.  I took her cue.

“Hey,” the guy called out again, drawing out the word.  “Hey, you with the paint.”

“Whatever you’re going to say, I’ve heard it before,” Sveta said.

“What the fuck’s going on with you, huh?  What’s wrong with you?” he called out.

I turned my head to look at him.  Sveta squeezed my arm, then shook her head a little.

“Hey, you’re weird,” he called out.  “You’re freaky.”

The light changed.  We crossed, Rain trailing a bit behind, still on the phone, periodically responding.  He shot the guys a dark look.

“I don’t like it when people are mean to you,” Kenzie said.

“Thank you for that,” Sveta said.  “And thank you, Victoria.  I know you probably wanted to say something.  I’m glad we didn’t make it into a thing.”

“Does it happen a lot?” I asked.

“Some.  It beats people running away and screaming, and the running and screaming part beat people dying because of me,” Sveta said.  “This is an improvement.  Things will improve more in the future.  I believe that.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Me too.”

“Me too,” Kenzie said.

Sveta put a hand on Kenzie’s hooded head, squeezed my arm.

“My ride’s here,” Rain said, catching up with us, waving at a distant vehicle with its headlights on.  I got a better view of it as it pulled up beside us.  It wasn’t a pretty vehicle – a van with rust around the right headlight.  “We’ve got a good long drive back.  Was good seeing you guys, good to meet you, Victoria.”

“Good to meet you, Rain,” I said.

The driver stuck her hand out, waving.  We moved around to where we could see her through the passenger-side window.

Erin, Rain’s friendship he wasn’t intending to mess with, was not the kind of person I imagined driving a van like that, or spending time with someone of Rain’s somewhat grungy, not-inclined-to-smile presentation.  There were women where someone’s first thought might be ‘they could be a model’ and there were women where the first thought was ‘they have to be a model, it’s not fair if they aren’t’.  She was the latter.  Short black hair with a long swoop at the front, dangly jewelry, more piercings in one ear, and one of the memorial shirts, much like how the dress I was wearing served as a way for me to represent and remember Brockton Bay.  She was from New York, it seemed, or she wanted to represent it.

“Erin, you’ve seen Kenzie and Sveta before.”

“Hi again,” Erin said.

“And this is Victoria.  We were talking about having her be our coach.”

“Hi,” Erin said, leaning toward Rain to get a better view of me, extending her hand in another wave.  Rain looked momentarily like a deer in the headlights with Erin’s face close, with Erin doing a very good job at not noticing or not looking like she’d noticed.  “You look a lot like Glory Girl.”

“I am,” I said.  “I was.”

“Huh,” Erin said.  “That’s really cool.  Maybe I’ll see you around?”

“It’s likely,” I said.

“You guys have a good night.”

“You too,” Kenzie said.  She held up her phone, like she was trying to get a signal.  “Drive safe.”

“We good to go?” Erin asked.

“Yep,” Rain said.  “You want a ride somewhere convenient, Kenz?”

“Sure!”

Kenzie climbed in behind Rain, giving us a wave before the door was closed.

Just Sveta and me left.

We watched as the van pulled away.

“I have a lot of sympathy for Rain,” Sveta said.

“Are you talking about the attempt on his life or the long car trip with the girl he very clearly likes?”

“Oh, yeah, the dangerous thing too,” Sveta said.  “Mostly the long trip.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But that’s all negative.  We’re going in the same direction, right?  We can catch up?”

“We can definitely catch up.  I want to hear more about that vacation.”

“And you can come over for dinner, right?  Sometime?  You’re not far.  I can’t promise a good dinner, because I’m still trying to find food that Weld can really taste that won’t make the neighbors evacuate their apartments, but there’s takeout!  Or delivery.  I’m sure there’s something we can do.”

“You couldn’t keep me away,” I said.

Sleep eluded me.  I stood on the balcony, I stared out at a city without nearly enough lights or light in it, a jagged and incomplete skyline, and I tried to shake a persistent melancholy I couldn’t put my finger on.

The day had been a good one.  My friendship with Sveta rekindled, with Sveta doing as well as I could hope for, possibilities for the future, interesting puzzles to work out, and I’d been able to do favors for people I cared about.

A part of it was the therapy.  It was strange, to be in a place mentally and emotionally where therapy had a cost to it, in a way.  The voice of Mrs. Yamada and the tone of the conversations reminded me of the darkest period in my life.  Those reminders were probably responsible for the nightmares that had torn me from sleep.

Maybe it would be good if I called the new therapist, a new voice.

It wasn’t the nightmares that kept me from getting back to sleep, but a restless nagging feeling.  I liked problems I could decisively solve, things I could tell myself I had an answer for, something I could handle in the dawn, and then I could go back to sleep.  The feeling that had settled with me wasn’t that sort of answerable question.

It was the restless nagging that had me carefully and slowly open the sliding door of the balcony, step into the living room, and gather some things.  A bag with my wallet and things, fresher clothes, the mask I’d worn for the broken trigger incident.

I went flying, and my destination wasn’t one that would answer the nagging feeling, but one that could answer other, more concrete questions.  With luck, I’d be able to distract myself.

There were cities and areas I’d considered for the therapy group’s expedition.  Ones in need, ones I knew didn’t fall neatly in one jurisdiction or another.  I used the highways and major roadways as my waypoints, so I wouldn’t pass them or find myself flying too far north or south.

The sun was rising by the time I reached the first.  Sherwood span.  Too low a population, I could tell right away.  Too many farms, the houses too spread out.

It took me twenty minutes to reach the next.  The area was slow to wake up, which was a surprise, given the amount of construction sites I could see from above.  Usually the work started first thing.

It was a nice slice of city, with a view of the water, tall buildings, shiny, modern, with nice, large houses, but it was only halfway erected.    There were cars in driveways, but there wasn’t much life.

I flew low, stopping at one of the gates to a construction site for a taller building.

Laminated sheets had been put up on the gates.

Construction suspended until we’re given what we’re owed.

The same was on display in other places, with laminated sheets of paper and graffiti.  Some of it was angrier.

I was reading a very bold, large bit of text about how certain people should be choking on cocks, when I saw I had company, standing in the corner of my field of view.  A cape.

I turned to face them.

Not anyone I recognized.  A man in armor with spikes on it.  Plate mail, and plate armor was hard to get done right, especially in this modern day.  He carried no weapon I could see.  Spiky plate armor wasn’t exactly original or new, either.

He didn’t say anything or do anything, but he was holding a piece of paper.

I approached him, my forcefield up.  He didn’t budge.

When I was in arm’s reach, he put his gauntlet toward me, paper in hand.  I dropped my forcefield to take it.

“What’s this?”

He wasn’t someone who sounded more intimidating from the inside of a helmet.  His voice was very normal as he said, “We saw you fly in, we discussed, we called some people, this is our message to you.”

“Got it,” I said.  I looked around.  “Quiet town.”

When my head was turned, he reached for my throat.

I put my forcefield up, and I knocked his hand aside, forcefully enough I almost put him on his ass.  The sound rang in my ears.

“Our town,” he said.

That said, he trudged off.

I watched him go, and then I walked in the opposite direction.  People were watching from doorsteps with coffee in hand, or standing by cars, now.

I didn’t want to back down or look weak, not if this was possibly a place I might be visiting with any regularity, so I walked slowly, like I wasn’t bothered.

With all that in mind, I still stopped in my tracks when I read the note.

Turn around and fly home, Glory Hole
-TT

They’d asked around, huh?

I folded the paper up, and I held the folded square as I walked, thinking, observing.  A slice of city, paralyzed, a clear villain presence.

The guy with the spikes might have been Cleat.  A low-tier cape with some background in fighting rings and mercenary work.  Unlike most in fighting rings, he’d never found enough success to get traction in other circles.  Ironically.

I’d left Brockton Bay in the middle of a situation, or I’d been taken from the city during.  I’d put in the hours and put heart and soul into trying to combat the badness that was taking over the city, and at the end of the day, I hadn’t ever enjoyed a resolution to that situation.  I’d never felt like I’d made enough of a difference in the end result.

It was tempting, the idea of coming here to a place like this and somehow completing that journey or using a success here to convince myself I could have made a proper difference if I’d been given a chance.

But this wasn’t about me.  It was about those teenagers and kids in Yamada’s group.

A sign was erected by one construction site.  It was covered in graffiti.  ‘Cedar Point Apartments’ was written at the top, but ‘Cedar’ had been covered over in paint, and ‘Hollow’ had been written in its place.

Cute, and from some cursory investigation, the rebranding had been performed elsewhere, throughout the district.  Graffiti and other signs of anger were clear as day, much of it vile and senseless.

Did I really want to pit those kids against this?  They might give it a shot, and if it was insurmountable, Mrs. Yamada might be happy, and if it was surmountable, everyone would be happy.

I wasn’t sure.

I looked at the graffiti, getting a sense of the atmosphere here.  Vulgarity, vulgarity, obscenity, drawing of vulgarity, hate, anger, vulgarity, possible gang tag, ‘hollow point’ appearing again.

I stopped in front of another piece of graffiti.  It wasn’t crowded in with anything else, so it stood out, almost a piece of art in how it was spelled out on a ruined wall, half-toppled.

THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE NOW

I had the paper in my hand, I had my doubts, but the nagging feeling ceased being nagging and became acutely clear as I looked at the statement.

“Fuck that,” I said.

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169 thoughts on “Flare – 2.7”

      1. Yeah. Let’s see how everyone feels next year when Victoria is using her aura to make everyone so afraid of her that they all behave in the city she is running.

    1. What? The statement was correct. If it was “This is how things will be” or “This is how things will remain.” I’d agree with Victoria

      1. I read it as “this is how things are now” in a permanent sense. Things are broken and terrible now, and that’s the new norm.

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


        Needs a word added or dropped, and I’m not sure which.

  1. So glad we finally know what Kenzies specialty is, I wonder how much variation she can get with her emplacements. Byron seems like he’ll be an interesting contrast to Tristan, hopefully we’ll see plenty more of him. I wonder if the two twins each have different combat styles? Erin will probably be important to Rains character arc in the future, she’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

    1. I’m still not sure I quite get just what her power does and how that connects to her apparent surveilling abilities. Also, teleporting?

      1. Seems like she has a wide range of things she can do (teleporting, coding, etc.) as long as it fits in the parameters of being in a large, difficult-to-move construction.

        1. I read that more as “this is how I tinker”, rather than “this is what my power is” – whatever her specialty is, the things she makes for it are inconveniently large boxes. Note that teleporters are clearly not part of her specialty, while cameras (including ones that aren’t inconveniently large) are.

          I still think her powers are essentially “surveillance Tinker” – especially cameras, sensor emplacements, and servers for data processing / hacking? From the prologue, she’s able to make servers that man-in-the-middle something that is presumably Dragontech, as well as beating Tattletale at her own game.

          1. I think this makes the most sense to me in light of all we’ve learned so far, re: “This is how I tinker” versus “This is what my power is.”

          2. I think “a broad range of things in inconveniently large boxes” fits within Tinker possibilities. Defiant’s core thing was apparently miniaturizing whatever and sticking it in a halberd, while Leet’s thing was making anything once. Apparently she can rather plausibly make a teleporter, but it will be an inconveniently large box.

      2. Emplacements. Like gun emplacements, sensor emplacements etc. Large scale non-mobile tech. Weapon station of a fortress, yes. Radar/sonar monitoring station, yes. Data-center for information analysis, yes. Ask her to fit all that on a tablet, no. Fit all that onto a giant robot, maybe? Giant robot wont be built by her though.

          1. Seems to be exactly that, yeah. Same core issues (feeling unwanted, needing validation, being the weird kid, etc), but instead of going “Screw it, I’ll do without” like Colin, Kenzie went “Notice me senpai,” and so her shard went for gigantic, highly-visible effect instead of miniaturizing as much as possible.

            (Which in true shard fashion, screws her over by making her creepy, because while one might manage to forget tiny surveillance cams, good luck with ignoring gigantic, tower-sized ones…)

        1. “Like turrets, but I can’t really make good weapons or defensive things.”
          This implies that she can’t make gun emplacements or the weapon station of a fortress, or at least that she wouldn’t be very good at it.

        2. So basically she could make a landbound version of the Hubble Telescope for survallience. That’s kinda funny.

          I can see why that makes it hard for her to be a frontline team member, but good gravy she’s not someone you’d want to fight on her own turf. She’s perfect for holding an area.

          1. Nah, she and Rain would be better suited to factory assembler robots. As I view it, she’s probably decent at making any buildings you’d find in a sci-fi RTS game, but her real focus is the sensors. I wonder if interferometry is something she’s optimized for?
            Either way, Kenzie is a decent Mapper and possibly a Carrier, Victoria is an okay Matchmaker, Ashley is actually a very good Brawler (against tough or acceptable-to-kill opponents, at least), and that just leaves a Keeper. Surely Chris or Capricorn has a power suitable for defending the squishies? I also wonder if they’ll end up recruiting Fume Hood, or changing the roster several times across the series.

      3. She’s a tinker. Her power grants her an innate understanding of several highly advanced technologies. Some tinkers have fields they specialize in, e.g. self-contained, sealed habitats for Sphere/Mannequin, while others have something more akin to a personal approach they can take to any problem, e.g. miniaturization and efficiency for Armsmaster. This is usually not a strict limitation, and most tinkers will easily match or exceed baseline human experts in fields outside their specialization. Armsmaster was able to understand Dragon’s code far better than any mundane programmer, even though it falls outside his field. Some tinkers do have hard limits, for example Leet’s inability to build anything more than once, or String Theory’s strict time limit between beginning the design process and the time her device would inevitably go off, whether it was ready or not. Those happen because of Shard magic, and don’t really have to make sense.

        From the sound of it, Kenzie’s tinkering might have all three, to varying degrees. She excels at working with cameras, generally builds things that are too large to move, and really struggles with designing anything small or mobile.

        1. Armsmaster’s specialization was linkages. He could link one device to another, having the waste heat of the first drive the power of the second, etc. This led to him being able to miniaturize everything because he effectively minimized the need for insulation, spacing, and some structural components.

          Armsmaster was able to follow Dragon’s code better than others because he understood the linkages instinctively. He could meddle in one area and have an understanding of how it affected others in sequence.

          Generally-speaking in Wormverse, every tinker has one specialty. When they appear to have abilities outside their specialty, it’s probably a secondary effect of their primary ability (like Armsmaster) or their primary ability is misunderstood (like Kid Win).

      4. I started reading Worm again, and just got through a couple chapters with Bakuda which seem relevant. As a tinker, he specialty is bombs, but they don’t seem limited to just fiery explosives. One is a black hole, and another stops time in an area. Given that, if Kenzie says she specializes in emplacements (that aren’t weapons/defenses) I think she could create boxes that teleport between themselves. I also think that this plan of picking an area that needs help and focusing there is something that will allow her to maximise her helpfulness. Just keep her safe when she’s building.

  2. Kenzy’s power seems interesting. I get the feeling there’s another ‘level’ to it because as effective as emplacements might be, I’m not sure if they qualify as “terrifying as shit”.

    1. she’s terrifying because tinker level cameras mean infinite spying. Taylor had that ability too and she used it to kill gods.

    2. Imagine picking a fight with her, except every hilltop nearby opens and huge emplaced lasers cut you to ribbons.

      Super computers running things too. Then we have the unresolved question of just how much of a programmer she is. She never denied being able to create AIs… but even her basic programs were capable of snooping.

      Recall also that Richter died, but his shard didnt. So someone out there is likely to reconnect to that same shard, but with modified aptitudes.

      I am quite curious about where Wildbow takes her 🙂

          1. It hasn’t been confirmed, but Defiant was pretty certain that she’d had a trigger event and she spent a lot of time in Ritcher’s presence. He seems like the obvious source of her shard.
            IIRC, she triggered a year after Ritcher died and spent her entire existence around him before that.

  3. Tattle tale!! I feel so conflicted. I can’t wait to see her again, but it’s weird because she hates our new protagonist and vice versa.

    1. That not really felt like more of a “I’m here; you’ve been warned” than a “I don’t like you”. As far as I know, Tt has no reason to hate or even really dislike Victoria.

      1. But Victoria still hates Tattletale, because of what happened at the bank job. Also, TT just likes poking fun at people.

      2. There’s something almost friendly, or even respectful, in addressing someone with an insult you last used four years ago. Well, maybe not respectful. But if she genuinely wanted to hurt Victoria, Tattletale could just as well dropped some casual remarks about Amy or the whole flesh blob thing. Victoria’s emotional weak spots aren’t exactly hard to find. “Glory Hole” has a sense of “I miss having you as an enemy”.

      3. TT and Victori had similar issues and their reactions to those pushed one another’s buttons in a big way. Add the preexisting us vs them mentality and the fact that Tatts was a contributor, on multiple occasions to most of the worst events in Victoria’s post-trigger life, and there’s plenty of reason. And…on Lisa’s end…she’s kind a spiteful bitch to anyone who makes her feel the least bit insecure, shich, if you’ll remember, Victoria has a power for.

      1. Hmm. Maybe Tattletale’s fed up of running this show, and wants an excuse to fold up and move on, take a back seat as it were.

        Or maybe this isn’t her territory. She’s in the city next door, and the instability here is getting in the way of what she’s doing there. Lots of possible thinker plots and plans, but we don’t know which one they’re doing.

      2. Yeah, Tattletale doesn’t fuck up stuff like this. If Victoria wants to fight now, it’s because Tattletale wants that outcome.

        1. She doesn’t mess that stuff up…except when she does. If she makes that one initial bad guess and then spirals it out to a wild chain of horrible conclusions…well it’s happened before.

    2. I felt it was something like reverse psychology. Tattletale knows exactly how Glory Girl would have responded to being told to fuck off.

      1. It could be, but on the other hand, Tattletale is the master of self-defeating short terms gains for long term losses.

        She knows “Glory-Hole” would leave if that note was passed to her. Did she know she’d come back with a whole team?

        1. I think Victoria’s reaction is reasonably predictable even without powers. It might backfire, but Tattletale is probably counting on her coming back in some form of force.

      2. So, I’m not the only one who’s thinking, Tattletale has been looking around, taken note of a deteriorating situation and deliberately wound up Victoria, to get her going.

        Victoria : I don’t why we’re here. We have nothing to talk about, Prattle Fail.
        Lisa : I’m inclined to agree, Glory Hole.
        Amy : Oh, I didn’t think I-
        Victoria/Lisa : Fuck off!

        And to think that I chose the first two for my short fanfic. I’m beginning to think I should write a continuation, have Amy in it, the three of them forced to deal with each other, have it go horribly wrong and call it “BusCrash.”

  4. Lots of yay points in this chapter. Sveta finding her happy place, Kenzie’s entertaining soecialty, Victoria finding people to unwind with.

    And Tata, of course. A great reminder that we only think of her in a good light because she almost never was tge thundercunt turbobitch she is to other people to Taylor. She’d been one FOR Taylor, but to Victoria?

    Was the note… A nemesis application?

    1. Or reverse psychology? TT can’t expect Victoria to listen to a note telling her to abandon a situation like this, especially when that note is signed by a person she loathes.

      1. My money is on this. That was deliberately inflammatory, she knew what she was doing. I’m just wondering why, now. Reading about Tattletale from the perspective of someone who isn’t an ally is going to be…an experience ^^’

      2. My guess is that TT is still working to stabilize things. No reason for her to suddenly stop. She likely has some idea why victoria is in the area, so having a new team of heroes nearby helps her somehow.

        My guess there is that heroes need some wins. I cant imagine TT approving of all the villain style grafitti unless she specifically wants the villains to be challenged. Victoria flying by is just a golden opportunity to pick who will lead her opposition.

  5. My anticipation for seeing Tattletale as a Coil-style villain is growing. She was pretty relatable in Worm, but from an outside perspective I could see her coming across as a right sociopath.

    Throw in Victoria’s preexisting issues plus her team’s general weakness to mental attacks and you’ve got the makings for a final boss.

    Also, I’m really interested in what Chris brings to the table. All the other members’ general powersets seem accounted for, more or less, but his is still up in the air. From the way he’s been acting I’m leaning towards Thinker, half because it makes sense from a narrative standpoint (team has everything but a Thinker, pretty much) and half cause he’s been giving off some serious Sylvester vibes (pointed questions towards Vic earlier plus intimations that he’s more mature than his age would indicate).

  6. Tattletale huh?

    I have two theories on her, the first I’m 95% sure of and the second I think is likely but maybe not immediately.

    1: Lisa’s got nothing on Vic. Victoria spent 2 years stuck in her own head, there isn’t anything TT can say that Victoria hasn’t already dealt with. The only thing that could probably shake her is Amy related stuff.

    2: I think Tattletale will sympathize with the group. These aren’t big name government sponsored capes, these are broken people desperate for a purpose. I think Lisa might eventually set herself up as a manufactured nemesis.

    That said I am biased, she might just be a straight up villian. She is handling Rain’s cluster after all, but she probably knows something we don’t.

    1. I agree with #1.

      For #2 I think TT is still working to improve things. Remember her stated goal before was to fade into the background and become fabulously wealthy. Right now she has these villains that are openly being villainous. I think she needs a shove to make her minions more willing to hide and head off the warlord mentality that is taking hold among villains. She is going to be playing chess with herself, while using victoria to move half the pieces.

      1. For sure. She’s seen firsthand what that mentality leads to, in Brockton. Things are cleaner, quieter, and better for her if she isn’t constantly having to navigate that mess, which leads to something similar to Coil’s plan to keep the peace on his own terms while reaping the benefits.

    2. Considering a well-timed emotion blast was all it took knock Victoria out of her delicate mental balancing act I think she’s more vulnerable then you think. All TT has to do to play Victoria’s emotional spectrum like a fiddle is get a good read of her, specifically her current triggers.

    3. I disagree with 1) because I think it’s clear from everything we’ve seen so far that Victoria is recovering from PTSD. She checks all the boxes:

      – traumatic events with threat of death or severe harm
      – avoidance of any reminders of the stimulus (she can’t even mention Amy’s name)
      – reliving symptoms (when the reminders do come through
      – hyper-vigilance (which affects her sleep)

      Yes, she’s recovering but I think she’s overestimating her recovery. Her self-assessment in the 2.6 doesn’t fit with her actual responses so far, and I’m guessing if Yamada knows that is why she was so particular about her continuing therapy when she’s thinking it’s not so important.

      So, no, I don’t think she can take anything TT throws without getting really shaken. She’s proven emotionally resilient enough to be able to keep going but I don’t see how she’s not going to at least stumble.

      That said, I’m not sure TT is really planning to throw stuff.

  7. I feel like Tattletale is far too insightful to imagine that a note like that would drive off Glory Girl. Of course, she might also not have enough information to go off of.

    I also like what WB is doing with the powers of Team Therapy. One of the joys of “Worm” was watching just how far Skitter was able to push her control of bugs, with her creativity, thought, and ruthlessness. It took a power that, at first blush, might seem a bit mediocre (“Oh, she can control bugs. Huh.”) and turned it into something spectacular (“Holy shit!!! She used spiders to do what now???”) Ditto with Armsmaster, whose tinker power was basically making small things. A lot of Worm’s best characters (like Jack Slash) embody that theme of a power that seems small, or odd, or flawed, at first, but is made terrifying or spectacular by the personality of the one who uses it. And the inverse, as well – those with the powers that seem the most spectacular, or peerless, are often undermined or rendered tragic by the character of the person using them (e.g. Eidolon, Alexandria, Panacea).

    So, we have a few “seeds” of some interesting powers here – Rain’s multi-trigger, Kenzie’s emplacements, Victoria’s phantom Cthulhu. I feel like WB is setting up a bit of a magic trick, distracting readers with something that seems more “curious” than spectacular, and all the while in the background he’s setting things up for the reveal.

    1. Agreed.

      My thought is that if victoria can get her psychology under control, she can use her forcefield like an exoskeleton with extendable limbs and shifting shape.

      As she gets more of herself under control, I imagine we will see the slowly dawning realization that she has much more control than she realized. After all, other members of her family can create shields all over the place in whatever shape they want. Which makes more sense as a one step power bud, that she can make a shield that exactly copies her body and never changes, or that she can make a shield in any shape she wants as long as it is centered on herself?

        1. If I had to guess, I’d say she was a bud off of her uncle Manpower for her force-field and pinged off of her mother/aunt and boyfriend for flight and her aura respectively. I’m pretty sure I remember Wildbow giving a more accurate breakdown at some point, but I’m not sure where that was.

    2. I propose that until they come up with an official name for themselves, “Team Therapy” is our shared name for this ensemble.

  8. I wonder if Victoria knows that Tattletale pushed heavily to recruit Panacea. Remember that TT partially contributed to Panacea’s breakdown. I have a feeling that TT will sorely need Victoria’s aid in the future. Perhaps using therapy secrets for blackmail to get what she wants. If we assume that TT will put together meetings along the lines of what happened in the alliance against the ABB… Victoria could step on quite a few villains and “opportunistic capes” as part of opposing TT.

    Things are going to get ugly.

    1. I don’t think you’re wrong, but I have a feeling that Victoria will sorely need Tattletale’s aid in the future. Information is powerful, after all, and Worm has a history of heroes and villains working together for periods of time.

    2. It wasn’t that heavy. She was more enthusiastic about how Panacea needed to fix Glory Girl’s brain RIGHT NOW or it would turn out REALLY BADLY. Skitter was the one who really wanted her for the Undersiders.

      I don’t think it’s gonna get all that ugly, either. They’ll be fine. I mean, they’ll obviously be enemies, possibly even archnemeses, but they mostly just hate each other on practical grounds and neither is really the type to try to kill the other. It won’t be anywhere near the really BAD cape relationships. They wouldn’t have trouble working together in an Endbringer scenario if they had to.

  9. Oh WOW.

    My eyes popped when I read the TT note. It’s about to get freaky, y’all! I agree, though, with the theory that TT is playing a longer game here than simply warning V off, but I’m not putting any money just yet on guessing what that is.

    The idea of our Lisa as big bad sounds interesting, though, and I’m hoping we get to see that play out for a bit, if not for the long haul.

    Thanks for the holiday gifts, Wildbow!

  10. Interesting note. Lisa was generally antagonist in conversation, but a big part of that was it made it easier to read/manipulate those she was talking to. That’s harder to do by note. The big question is what has two years of being a crime lord done to her?

    Interesting that Erin was able to recognize Victoria without a moment’s hesitation, especially if she wasn’t a Brockton Bay resident.

          1. Damnit, but . . . damn, that sounds about right.

            Though Aisha did give off a more ‘ragged’ look?

    1. With the foreshadowing we’ve gotten about modeling, and the really strong hint that Erin has been a model, the simplest explanation is that Erin and Victoria have been on a shoot together. That doesn’t explain what she’s doing with Rain. Rain and Victoria just met. They only met because Yamada decided they should. There is no plausible connection between Erin and Yamada. Eventually we’ll learn something about Rain that explains why Erin is around.

        1. Yeah, I feel like she was a fan of Glory Girl pre-apocalypse. (Speaking of which, a scene where Victoria runs into someone who’s wearing a Glory Girl t-shirt would be pretty entertaining … )

  11. I first read Worm in 2015, then Pact and recently re-read Worm and was super excited to start on Ward. This is the first time I’ve ever caught up with your writing and I can’t wait to keep reading! Thank you!

  12. I am excited to see TT in action from the other side. I have the feeling she is going to be playing chess with both sides in the background.

    Loving the characters so far. Well done!

  13. So I can’t resist giving my TT(wo) cents.

    The note is Tattletale’s standard tactic of needling someone to see how they respond, using that response to clarify her profile of that person. Victoria has popped up on Tattletale’s radar twice in a short while but prior to that I doubt Tattletale has heard much if anything at all about Victoria. She doesn’t have a good idea of what Victoria is like post-post Amy. After being dealt a major defeat at the community center in what’s likely her first time out caping in years, when faced with a new problem does she give up or dig in? Either way, it’s no skin of Tats back really. If the note encourages Victoria to give up then she’s done her job and if it encourages Victoria to dig in, like it has, then it’s not a big deal. What does it matter to Tattletale if some B-listers lose territory?

    For what I think she’s doing, she seems to be filling in some of the gap that Cauldron left behind. Working with villain groups all around the worlds, helping them get established, maybe to become an institution in the villain community. Partially in opposition to Teacher, mostly because this sort of thing is what she’s good at and likes doing.

    Would not be surprised at all if she’s working with the Wardens in secret from time to time if they’re willing to pay up. MM had a way of contacting her in Bitch’s epilogue and didn’t seem to hesitate to do so. Then again, that was two-ish years ago.

  14. Huh, this was something!
    There’s a lot stirring in my brain right now, but all that’s conclusive is that I’m really happy that- so far – the character with the dissociative identity disorder stand-in (Capricorn) isn’t a murderhobo. As someone with friends/family with the disorder it’s good to see it treated as something other than a scary freaky disorder for villains. Based on the Glow-Worm chapters, Capricorn might not be totally fun for everyone, but I do appreciate that they aren’t like, a cannibal or something.

    That all said: Geez Tt calm down??? chil??

    1. What’s the strict definition of DID, by the way? It (or something that resembles it) seems to be possible to develop deliberately, going by conversations I’ve had, things I’ve read, and my own experience. (I’ve mostly abandoned the personas I developed experimentally, but I do occasionally consult the one with the good situational awareness about things I’ve forgotten, which is surprisingly effective.)

      1. I’m just a psychology student, but if I remember correctly the defining feature of DID is a lack of memory when the other personalities are ‘in charge’. Essentially it’s a dissociative disorder, which is why the name was changed from multiple personality disorder. (Other dissociative symptoms would probably meet criteria too, e.g. derealization or depersonalization while other identities are active).

      1. I don’t know, she could come up with something like what Clockblocker did. Nothing comes to mind, though. Any thoughts?

        1. I guess I’m expecting something of a theme to develop for this new team, and Victoria would probably choose something in keeping with that theme? It’s possible that Victoria might develop new techniques for using the oddly-shaped force field, which could also contribute to the cape name she chooses. Last week, though, I called “The Brockton Bay Avenger”. People like TT whom she blames for its demise are at the top of her shit list.

          1. You’ve just said everything that’s on my brain concerning Ward, right now. I don’t feel like I have anything meaningful to add, except to say that I wish that this forum had an upvote system, so that I could upvote your post.

  15. I don’t want this!
    I’m sort of kidding because I think Victory V. Tattletale will be really interesting. I just had an initial reaction of “Oh no!” When I read the note. Maybe they could just find a nice master or stranger nemesis, instead of pitting a bunch of people with various issues against a high level thinker who really enjoys picking at people’s issues. Though if she’s going to be the Warrior Monk, then dealing with TT’s barbs might help her find some inner peace if it doesn’t break her.
    I’ve also been trying to think of names for her. I’d bet WB already has her name planned, but I really like Silverline. It’s a play on the idea of silver linings, and I think it’s very inspiring and hopeful, while also referencing her flight and aura.

    1. Maybe it’ll be like Armsmaster and Skitter, where they basically start off antagonistic and clashing but as things go along and bigger and bigger threats show up, they eventually settle on the ‘I don’t really like you, but I do basically respect you’ relationship and will work together against the “real” threats.

      Or perhaps TT will always remain just outside the story with just hints here and there that she’s moving and shaking things outside our vision.
      I kinda suspect this more now, as I don’t see TT being brought back as a major character of the story. She’ll be a bit like Doctor Mother, where its her actions and what she’s set in motion that contribute to the story more so than her as an individual.

      Though I’d hope there would still be an interlude with TT and Imp going at each other. 🙂

      1. Or, to spin it a bit, something along the lines of “Nike” or “Nikeia.” Google translate tells me the greek for “Victory Bringer” is romanized “Nikitis nikis,” which sounds like it is in desperate need of wordsmithing.

  16. So let’s plz not underestimate TTS ability to fuck with people, especially since her ability to control her power and general influence has likely skyrocketed since Worm. Don’t forget that TT has firepower(imp and bitch alone, if still active, could wreak havoc on most enemies) intellect and info in this new world. Yes, Victoria has tougher skin but Tt survived Coil, Echidna, Scion ACTIVELY WORKING TO MURDER HER, THE SIMURGH FOLLOWING HER, Jack Slash slicing her face in half, and Teacher, who has frickin Contessa and Lung on his side. She’s likely even stronger than she was.

  17. Hype!!!

    Being able to see these new posts as they come up is definitely a wild ride- on an archive binge, that last line would elicit, “oh, neat.” But with waiting for the next post, it feels so much bigger!

    1. A toggle is an alternative to a button, kind of like a stubby cigar that goes through a loop, and fastens by being turned sideways

    1. Imp on her own would have a field day just fucking with all of the Team.

      I mean..I guess Foil would probably just stab them? That’s, like, the least traumatic way the Underwisers have ever defeated anyone IIRC.

  18. They have really cool phones. (Are they new or are they “yes there really was a tinker tech boom, promise”?)

    I hope Vicky has sex with someone, at least twice. I feel like the first time would probably not go well, but the second time she might enjoy it pretty well. It’d be a thing for her, with her body/dysphoria issues. Also getting the feeling it’s slightly on her mind.

  19. I think the “Glory Hole” moniker served as verification to Victoria that it really was a note from Tattletale.

    And no reader of Worm will believe that TT expected Victoria to turn around and leave. It seems more like a deception for Cleet and his ilk.

    Tt might not know what Victoria has been up to since Gold Mourning, but she almost certainly has the report of V’s fight with Lord of Loss. And tt will have a good idea of what V was doing before and at GM.

    She definitely playing a foil to the new Team.

    Is it just me, or does it really look like V is gonna become much more involved with new team as leader?

  20. I wonder if Imp was in this chapter, listening to the therapy or near Victoria when she got the letter.
    Well, if she was, I forgot.

  21. “`“I’ve got a ride,” she said.

    “Spending time with the the ol’ guardians?” Sveta asked.“`

    Director Armstrong would be fun to see. I’d be intrigued to see some of Edict and Licit as well, they’d come across as pretty interesting. The whole small town setup of Stafford was what captivated me with that particular WoG, and it’d be interesting to hear what had happened/how the town had followed up the hospital massacre.

  22. Lol, it’s nice to know that even after the apocalypse tattletale still keeps her ability to shit post. My only doubt, what was her goal when sending that thing.
    Keeping Victoria away? haha no. That paper is obviusly a bait, for what for? who knows.

  23. Interesting how perception of characters changes with familiarity. I smiled when TT called Victoria Glory Hole in Worm but went that’s so rude today. I really hope TT is not a dick kind of a villain.

    1. I hate to break it to you Gunslinger, but she is a dick kind of villain and has been since Worm. I mean she was nice to her underlings, but she mainly uses crude jibes and insults to whittle away at her enemies insecurities and mental weak points. She might decide to be a bit nicer this time around, but considering she is still calling Vicki “Glory Hole” I doubt it. I will add though, TT is an ass, but she is not as evil as some villains. She isn’t as good as Taylor, but she won’t kill babies, and harm anyone more than she feels she has to, and can even be nurturing and kind to some.

      1. Taylor did kill a baby, though. Or a toddler. I guess she was like two or three. I’m not saying Taylor was EVIL, but she wasn’t really a paragon of morality either.

        1. Killing a baby IS a good deed, if there is a strong chance Grey Boy is about to use his power on it. Not to mention the rest of the S9. I’d take a bullet over that anytime, and if I had kids I’d choose the same for them. There are cases where Taylor’s actions have been questionably good or arguably evil, but that wasn’t one of them.

          1. She didn’t shoot Aster to save her from a fate worse than death, she shot her because she was worried Aster might be the catalyst that ends the world. It’s a similar kind of greater-good decision in some ways, but I think it’s a bit different. Less personal pity, more operational necessity. Someone has to shoot the kid, just in case, and Golem’s certainly not gonna do it.

            In that same fight, she shot Nice Guy. And as innocent and harmless a two-year-old girl might look, Nice Guy had a superpower that did the same, his harmless innocence far beyond what any mundane human could ever accomplish. Taylor had good motives, but she did not hesitate to kill ANYONE who was in the way of her saving the world. Or in the end, anyone who looked like they might be about to get somewhere near her way in the future. She wasn’t EVIL, but she was completely ruthless in achieving her goals.

            In the context of Tattletale being an asshole, she’s certainly not a better person than Skitter, but probably nicer for her enemies to deal with.

          2. The more Taylor tried to do the right thing, and the bigger the right thing became, the worse she became in terms of what she would do. And I don’t think it was just her, Cauldron seemed to suffer from it too.

        2. I would not hold that one against Taylor. Aster’s mother tried throwing her out a window, presumibly to her death rather than let Grey Boy get ahold of her. And Purity was extremely devoted to her daughter. At the time Taylor shot Aster, Aster was with Jack, Grey Boy and Bonesaw. Killing her was the nicest thing Taylor could have done, or Aster would have ended up in a time loop of unimaginable pain and suffering.

          There’ shit Taylor did that’s definitly questionable, but I’m not going to count that one.

          1. Cauldron was a special case, and came about as a product of Doctor Mother and Contessa executing a path that Contessa’s power provided. A very long, convoluted path answering how they could build an army strong enough to possibly save the world. I’ve always really felt for Doctor Mother. She was such a villain in so many ways, but as soon as she set herself on Contessa’s path, she almost relinquished all free will she’d have otherwise had.

  24. “Chris removed his headphones as he walked away, stowing them in one pocket of his cargo shorts. He didn’t use an umbrella or wear a raincoat. He seemed content to get rained on.”
    velmaSaysJinkies.gif

  25. So… emplacements, the ability to build automated infrastructure, high end AI/VI… the ability to teleportation pads.

    My first thought is ‘Fortress’…

    …. my much much much scarier thought says ‘Factory.

  26. The story is developing pretty nicely. I have to say, I am curious if all the males attracted to Victoria may be a subtle manifestation of her aura. I think I mentioned this before, after the broken trigger bit, but it seems like a lot of people seem to find her very attractive. I know she seems to consciously control her aura now, but it is possible it might still operate subconsciously a bit more subtly. Of course, it is possible this is because she may be more attractive than Taylor with, most of the men she spends time with aren’t sociopaths, and she is not greeting any of them by filling their orifices with stinging biting insects.

    1. It’s also just possible that Victoria is much more aware and attentive of people looking at her body because of, well, the obvious reasons.

  27. Please tell me there are more location options.

    Don’t get me wrong this theoretical conflict excites me, but there is one massive issue with it.

    That is a terrible place for a starter hero team. They only have one or two experienced members and the entire town is run by villains.

    1. Depends on whether they want to be big or not. Shards reward conflict with better powers, so dropping new capes into the deep end tends to make them powerful or dead. If they start with access to a good defense of some kind, which can just mean healing, they tend to end up powerful. Otherwise…
      (Victoria is the closest we know to a mobile defensive specialist on the team. She’s not a very good one, either. You may be right to worry.)

      1. It gets worse when you think about the very issues that Victoria brought up about why hero teams fail.

        I just hope TT isn’t running the town. Not for any fan reason, but going against someone with perfect information is bad for any team but especially this one.

        1. TT’s info isn’t perfect – 90-95% complete, sure, but by no means perfectly complete or perfectly infallible. However, with Team Therapy as we see it, she doesn’t need to take into account that remaining 5-10%, not when she can run them around in circles with what she does have.

  28. I never really liked TT as a character, nothing personal I just hate all knowing/smug characters
    Looking forward to seeing her from a different viewpoint

  29. I’m so happy Weld got out on the ocean for Sveta! His fear of deep water was so intense in Worm, it’s a huge personal step for him to be able to go out on the ocean. And that he did it in the context of helping Sveta is, well, very romantic. I’m glad that both of them are growing and learning and doing that in the context of loving one another.

      1. Likewise. On the other hand, he might have been practicing with making himself buoyant. If I had his powerset I would be want heavy metals to experiment with, like tungsten and uranium, but I’d also try making vacuum-pockets throughout my structure in order to reduce weight, and if I couldn’t do that with just my shapeshifting, I’d try getting metals that will burn each other if I bring them in contact (and possibly severely injure myself in the process, I suppose.)
        Actually, Weld might just absorb a helium tank whole, then balloon himself when he needs to be light. That could work. I expect that buoyancy isn’t actually that difficult for him, but that he wasn’t prepared for it on the oil rig. Also, the helium tank idea, the obvious jump to swallowing a fire extinguisher, and the ability to mix metals inside his body, suggests to me that Weld is linked to Gregor the Snail both conceptually and by which Cauldron vial they were each given. Fun!

  30. Hmmm. My first thought about Kenzie’s powers is that she doesn’t sound like a combat cape. She sounds more like a “build and maintain the new world’s internet servers” kind of cape.

    But then I remembered that the aliens don’t really do non-combat powers. So Kenzie must have some kind of combat functionality. Which means her power has to do something dangerous.

    I don’t think there’s too much to be read into her possibly being able to make a teleportation rig. Kid Win didn’t have any such specialty and he still made a big rig gun which could be warped in. Squealer made a long-range only stealth cloak (which has to be really complicated) and her power was basically just big, bad, loud vehicles. Tinkers seem to be very versatile and capable of working with almost any given technological concept as a rule, with only rare exceptions like Blasto, Bonesaw, and Lab Rat standing out as being strictly limited by their specialties.

    Tinkers tend to only have trouble making things which run explicitly counter to their specialties, or can’t reasonably be fit into their niche at all. Which makes Kenzie super weird actually. She has *difficulty* making weapons? Her emplacements tend to be strictly immobile/difficult to move? What is the combat application of her power?

    I’m kind of scared to find out the answer, because it’s certainly not going to be a conventional answer, and with Wildbow unconventional is synonymous with pants-wettingly terrifying.

    1. Basically any power can be used for destructive purposes, by a sufficiently clever host. On the flipside, if the host is unimaginative and cowardly, any power can be completely useless. Panacea and Bonesaw were pretty close to each other in terms of powers, but only one of them got into the top ten of most terrifying monsters in the world. The shards drive people towards conflict, yes, but that’s more a psychological effect. It doesn’t say much about the powers themselves how people are using them.

      As for Kenzie, her power seems like the kind you’d use to outfit a villain/hero lair. Like, remember that part in The Dark Knight when Batman used his massive computer to seize control of every cell phone in the city and rig them into a distributed city-wide sonar imaging system? Well, suppose you took the location data from that, but instead of having a fistfight with the person you’re trying to find, you just teleported a bomb on top of him. She could mimic Skitter’s Boardwalk Warlord shtick, on a vastly larger area, with just those two machines. Locate the people who are bothering you, and destroy them while sipping tea in your overlarge chair.

      Or maybe something like Leet’s swarm box from the Monarch arc. That was definitely an emplacement. Not insect manipulation, specifically, but just large boxes that replicate other capes’ powers. The Topsy Turvy Box, that reverses gravity! The Canary Box, that lets you mind control the whole city! The Nursery Box, that summons dead babies! The Path-To-Victory Box, that prints out a list of things you need to do to accomplish any goal!

      1. I like the Path-To-Victory Box. Any Zion tinker-shard is probably tuned to be unable to replicate that power, but an Eden/Cauldron tinker might be able to.

    2. They don’t fit not because they can’t do it, but because they use a vastly different tech tree. Blasto: Genetic engineering, speciality hybrids; Bonesaw: Surgery; Lab Rat: Mutagenic compounds. It’s still Tinker tech, but it’s bio-technology, whereas Squealer, Kid Win, Tecton, Defiant and even, to a lesser extent, Dragon, all focus on conventional, mechanical/electrical technology.

      Even then, the tech still fits their gimmick, even if it’s seemingly outside it. Tecton specialised in architecture/structural engineering; his power armour was needed to help him build. Squealer’s cloak deadened sounds at a distance, but was mounted on a big-arse hovercraft that wasn’t any quieter- you just couldn’t hear it coming until all of a sudden you could. Kid Win’s gun is tricky; his speciality is modular gear, and we didn’t see him do much with it. And Bonesaw was still able to understand someone else’s cloning tech to jury-rig and duplicate it, and transfer memories into the clones.

  31. I’m getting the feeling that where Worm was all about “escalation”, Ward is about “downward spirals”. Both have levels and get bigger as you continue with no way of getting off the ride.

    That’s why everything is so broken and barely held together with duck tape and twine. It’s will just break and fall and splinter and disintegrate and the fallout will be beautiful.

  32. if Tattletale ever ends up in an antagonistic confrontation with Ashley, things could get interesting. Tattletale could ruin Team Therapy if she wanted to, but what could she do to the wannabe villain? She could recruit her, but she could also motivate her to be a hero (even unintentionally).

    1. I’m a fan of everybody we’ve met in this story so far, but I secretly suspect that if Tattletale wound up facing down Team Therapy, the answer to “what could she do with so-and-so?” is “whatever she wants to,” regardless of what name you use to fill in the blank.

      To be fair, tho, Ashley is pretty badass. She (or some version of her) did wind up in the Slaughterhouse Nine, so I’m pretty sure that most of Tats’ strategy against her would be some variation of “Do not fuck with.”

        1. Ya. That’s what I recall, too. Still, if you’re a villain, and Jack Slash looks at you and thinks “meat shield,” that’s a step up from him looking at you and thinking just “meat.”

  33. I think Tattletale is actually luring Veronica in.
    I don’t think she really will be the bad guy. She might be perceived as one though by Veronica.

      1. I like the idea that its mainly a way to confirm to her that it really is tattletale by using an insult she’d used before, rather than trying to be particularly mean. (And it was a childish insult rather than something actually devastating)

  34. After 13 months of on-and off reading I can now say I have not only read the entirety of WB’s published works, but also all of the comments as well! I’m really glad to have caught up and am looking forwards to finally interacting (in however minor a way) with all of the wonderful people whose comments I’ve read throughout these journeys.

    I’d like to thank Wildbow for the fascinating and fantastic pieces of fiction. As much as I’d love to give feedback on your work, I fear that I would be parroting a lot of other people’s opinions. Suffice to say I read for your characters and for the ingenuity you have in having people doing so very much with so very little, even if it gets tiring or stressful to read when emotions are too charged for too long. It’s given me inspiration and lessons, both, for when I write and run my TRPGs.

    I’d also like to thank the comment section in general for providing helpful, sometimes comedic, insights into the works. You have often helped me understand things I hadn’t realised I’d missed and I confess no small amount of joy happened when I started Ward and saw some familiar names returning.

    I started trying to do some speculation, but it felt too broad to really count. Obvious things, like the team’s going to get dragged into dealing with TT and that there’ll be some membership shake-ups when they fail for the first time, stuff like that. Maybe I’ll do better responding to other people, who knows?

    I look forwards to experiencing a Wildbow work as a serial and not a completed work. Let’s see how different the cliffhangers feel when I actually have to wait for a resolution.

    1. I have to say that I reading the chapters as they go has the huge downside of having to wait for the next one to drop, which can be a significant downside.

  35. I guess the stage is set for a Team Therapy vs Team Tattletale conflict. But I can’t help but wonder how Victoria & Co can possibly survive this. Tattletale’s power and personality are last thing these guys need to endure. She will mentality break every single one of them.

  36. It seems like Wildbow’s writing and characterization have improved overall since Worm. And I’m enjoying the post-trauma focus of the story. The kids still all seem too mature and knowledgeable for their ages, and when flirting or sex is involved the writing is still problematic and obviously written by a man.

    1. Their . . . ages? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that’s plausible behavior.

      On a second note, obvious is obvious except when it isn’t, or when it’s just hindsight. And in this case, sir, I believe you are relying on hindsight, not any type of ‘obvious’ analytics.

    2. I mean, I thought wildbow was a woman for most of worm before I saw people referring to him as he. So ‘obviously’ is subjective. In hindsight I can see where you notice it when reading certain passages but I dont think its obvious.

      1. He’s specifically mentioned how some people were absolutely certain he was a woman, and I’ve personally seen people’s guesswork before he revealed anything.

  37. Wildbow, even originally (in Worm), Tattletale was a very one-dimensional character; she was screamingly obnoxious, with powers that meant other characters had to just stand there and take it. As another poster observed, I *really* don’t like invincible characters – even if they’re supposed to be “light-hearted” or “played for laughs.” Tattletale as a character was subjecting me-the-reader to her ugly nature… and though I didn’t find her convincing, I didn’t find reading *that* pleasant.

    Why, then, are you beinging her back? Do you have some hope of fleshing her out this time, writing her as something more than just ill-nature and power-entitlement? Someone wrote that Tattletale wasn’t really an evil character, and I agree; like Taylor, she’s a malignant little bully.

    Is she something more?

  38. Since I’m just getting caught up again, not going to do too much here.

    “This is an improvement. Things will improve more in the future. I believe that.”

    You poor little thing. You believe that.

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