Glare – 3.5

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The van bobbed with the added weight as I set Kenzie’s projector-recorder box down.  As I moved back, I nearly tripped over Kenzie, who had climbed into the van right behind me.

“I’ve got the straps, I’ll tie it down,” she said.  “Thank you for doing the heavy lifting.  It really helps.”

“Sure,” I said.  I squeezed past her and climbed down from the back of the van.  “For the future, if I’m using my strength, you probably want to keep more of a distance.  I wouldn’t want to bump into you with my power up.”

“Oh, okay.”

With Tristan having laid out his plan, the meeting was done, Tristan’s creations had been dismantled, the rocky walls and barriers broken down and placed with other rocks, and I had my laptop with my gathered notes in my bag.

Kenzie’s dad was standing by the door to the van.  The others were gathered on the sidewalk in front of the library.

“Are you going to be okay going home alone?” Tristan asked Rain.

“If you’d asked me earlier, I’d have said yes.  I’m less sure now,” Rain said.

“Sorry,” I said.

“No need to be.”

“I want you to know what you’re up against.  I didn’t do it to scare you, exactly.”

“Knowing what I’m up against and being scared go hand-in-hand,” Rain said.  “Right now I’m telling myself we don’t think Tattletale is free enough to be tracking me down right now, and the others are injured or preoccupied.  I’m probably safe to get home like this, right?”

“I’d think so,” Sveta said.  “I’d offer to come with you, but it’s a bit of a long trip.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “I wouldn’t want you to go to that trouble, either way.”

“Have you given any thought to moving?” Tristan asked.

Rain shrugged.  “Every day.  Being where I am is tolerable for now, I think.  The commute to the city is a pain, but if I imagine they’re hiring a dozen mercenaries and a few others, then it could be a bigger pain for them.”

“Hey Flays-Alive-Man, for this job, we’re going to need you and your ten superpowered friends to catch a train and spend three and a half hours traveling to the middle of nowhere, and then you have to find our target,” Chris said.

“God,” Rain said.  “Don’t fire up my imagination with names like that.”

“I do want to focus more on your situation,” I said.  “We’ve talked about the team and what the group is doing, but your situation is pressing.  We can’t keep assuming they’re preoccupied.”

“I know,” Rain said.

“We should figure something out, cover any surprises in the short-term while plotting out something workable in the long-term,” I said.

“I agree.  You can send them the wrong signals, but they could try tripping you up too,” Tristan said.

“I know, really,” Rain said.  He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, like he was about to say something, then said, “Yeah.”

“I could come with and fly back, or fly over the train and keep an eye out for trouble,” I said.

I could see Rain’s reaction, the kneejerk resistance.

“Oh!  I have cameras,” Kenzie said, “And you could use them to communicate.  They’re not too obvious.”

“I could carry a camera,” Rain said.  “Just so long as I could turn it off when I need to.”

“Why would you need to turn it off?” Kenzie asked.

“Because I have to go to the bathroom sometimes.”

“Why would anyone use a camera to watch someone go to the bathroom?” Kenzie asked.  “No, wait, I don’t want to know.  I’ve learned my lesson about those sorts of questions.  But you can trust me, that’s not what I’m about.”

“I’m glad.  I still want an off switch.”

Kenzie rummaged in the back of the van and pulled out a bag.  She handed over something looked like a smoke detector in brushed black metal, with a lens in the center.  “Here.  A camera.  You can press down on the lens in the middle and it will alert me.  I’ll set it up so it lets the others know too, but I can pick up sound and visuals and pass it on to the others if you need it.  This is the battery pack.  You can pull it out and the camera won’t work.”

“Seems simple enough.”

“Whatever you do,” Kenzie said, reaching out to touch Rain’s forearm.  “Do not put the battery pack in backward, when you re-insert it.”

Rain looked down at the camera he held with a little bit of trepidation.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then it won’t work,” Kenzie said.

“You said it in an ominous voice,” Chris said.

“It’ll help Rain to remember not to put it in backward.  Duh.”

“It’s not going to misfire or blow up?” I asked.

“Why do you keep asking that?  No.  It’s a camera.  There is a very small chance of it blowing up, and if it does then it’s going to be a very small explosion.  Unless you’re very unlucky and a lot of the things that could make it blow up all happen at once.”

“I guess I trust your tech more than I trust the people who are after me to leave me alone,” Rain said.  He held up the camera.  “I’ll hold onto this, then.  Thanks.”

“Cool,” Kenzie said.  “You’re welcome.”

“You’re not going to be looking through it and checking in on me at random, right?”

“Not if you don’t want me to,” Kenzie said.

“I don’t want you to,” Rain said.  “No offense.  It’s just that the less you know, the less likely it is that one of the people after me decides to come after one of you to try to get info.”

“Okay,” Kenzie said.  “Not a problem.”

It’s a bit of a problem, I thought.  But not like you’re imagining.

Kenzie looked back toward her dad.  “And I should go.  You know how to get in contact if you have questions.  Do you want a ride?  Does anyone?”

“No thanks,” Rain said.

Kenzie double and triple checked with the rest of us, then looked over at her dad, who was waiting with barely any change in expression.  “I’m going to head out then.  Bye guys.”

“Bye,” Sveta said.

“Talk to you again soon,” I said.

Kenzie climbed into the passenger seat.  Her dad glanced over the group, briefly making eye contact with me, before taking a seat behind the wheel.  She stuck her hand out the window to give us a bit of a wave as her dad pulled away.

“Most uncomfortable car ride,” Rain said, watching them go.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Julien Martin, giving me a ride earlier.  Kenzie sent me a text letting me know he was on his way to pick me up.  I would have said no if she’d asked beforehand.  He turned up, let me into the car, then the entire way here, didn’t say a single word.  I didn’t say a thing either.”

“Am I missing context?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“It’s context for Kenzie to share,” Sveta said, her voice firm.

“Yeah,” Rain said, again.

“Fair,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure it was.  Not a hundred percent.  There was a point where I couldn’t do everything I needed to do if people were keeping secrets.  I didn’t want to press any buttons or tread on anything sensitive, and there were a lot of buttons and a lot of sensitive points.

“We’ll get you up to speed soon,” Sveta said.  “But we have to be fair.”

“Out of curiosity, Sveta, how much wear and tear did your body take out there?  Or is it bad of me to ask?” Tristan asked.

“It’s not bad at all,” Sveta said.

The conversation turned to armor and costumes.  I listened with one ear, but my thoughts were on Sveta’s defense of Kenzie’s background, and how careful Tristan was in asking about Sveta’s body.

There was something I’d noticed with the group, and it was something I’d fallen prey to myself.  When the group was talking, it was almost always in a guarded way.  Even Chris did it to a small degree.  Ashley too.  Conversations were meted out with care, not necessarily so each person was protecting themselves, but so they protected each other.  We often slipped back into talking like we were in therapy.

There were cases where individuals protected themselves and cases where individuals were also protected by others.  Kenzie had a role as the baby of the team, in a way.  There were things she didn’t disclose and things she was intentionally or unintentionally coy about, despite her overly open personality.  That was compounded by how others were ready to step up for her and defend her.  That was the security they’d given her.

I glanced over my shoulder at Ashley, who was hanging back, finishing the second of the bottles of water she’d brought back with her after going to the library.  Ashley was very similar to Kenzie in that department.  Unguarded in terms of how open she was about many things, but she had things she didn’t talk about, and she benefited heavily from the group’s defense of her.

It was the contract between them, the language they used and their habits, it carried over from the group.  It was going to change over time, I was sure, especially if their therapy with Mrs. Yamada ran its course.  I wasn’t sure if that meant the dialogue would become natural, if the contract would be betrayed in small ways, or both.

I was, as much as they’d asked for my help, the interloper.  They protected each other from me, even if it meant Sveta was protecting someone as troubled as Ashley from someone she saw as a friend.  I suspected it ran deeper than her wanting to see Ashley’s humanity win out over the monster.

Getting the information on powers and on the most important things like Ashley’s situation was easily doable, because it was need-to-know.  Where I ran into a stumbling block was that their view on need-to-know and my view differed.

I worried they had too light a view of things.  The ones who didn’t were among the more guarded, and they were being guarded too.

It all knotted together.  Was I supposed to be patient and wait for the information to come out?  Would it come out only as each crisis reared its head?  Or did I push and risk doing damage?

I could push lightly.  I waited for Tristan to stop talking about his armor, and the tools he used to fix the scuffs.

I wasn’t the only one waiting for a break in the conversation.  “I should probably go or I’m going to miss my train.”

“My offer stands,” I said.  “An eye in the sky, if you think you’ll need it.”

“No,” Rain said.  “I’d rather-”

He stopped at that.

“What?” Tristan asked.

Rain went on, “It’s my experience that when you’re in trouble, people are usually pretty good about offering help and support.  People are good like that.  I’ve seen it with family members that had babies, and people who lost loved ones.  Everyone turns up and offers their support, they bring food, they say they’ll be there.  And they are, at first.”

“You think we’ll get bored of this and not help you later?” Tristan asked.

“Not bored,” Rain said.  “Shit happens.  Everyone has their issues, things come up, and then they lose sight of the promises made to new parents, the bereaved, or whoever else.”

“I think that’s pretty unfair,” Tristan said.

“It’s reality,” Rain said.  He looked at me, “It’s nice of you to offer, Victoria, but I’d rather have you come and keep an eye on things when I feel like I’m actually in danger, instead of coming now, realizing what a huge pain in the ass it is to fly that far out of your way, and then feeling reluctant when it counts.”

I thought about reassuring him, pointing out that I’d traveled from the Bridgeport span to the portal in New Haven to Brockton Bay, several times a week, to get notes, check on the wreckage of the house and visit Crystal’s family.  I didn’t.

“Gotcha,” I said.  I’d pushed, I wasn’t going to push harder now that the boundary had been raised.

“You’re still blind, Chris?” Sveta asked.

“Yep.  It’s starting to come back, though.  Thirty minutes to an hour, I think.”

“Do you want someone to stay with you?” Sveta asked.

“No.  Hell no.  Then I’d feel obligated to make conversation and shit,” Chris said.  “It’s a sunny day, there’s a breeze, the weather is perfect.  I’m going to sit outside and wait and then I’ll make my way back to the institution.”

“They won’t be bothered if you’re late for dinner?” I asked.

“So long as I’m there by lights out, they don’t care.  They’ve got twenty staff and over a thousand kids in the building with dead or missing parents.  I eat or I feed myself, I mostly do the chores I’m assigned, I’m there when I’m supposed to be.  There’s lots of others who demand more attention than I do.”

“It sounds like the children at your institution are pretty vulnerable,” Sveta said.  “Nobody paying attention to what they’re doing with their days.  Any of you could be pressed into work or preyed on or you could end up disappearing, and nobody would know.”

“Not me,” Chris said.  “They’d regret it if they tried with me.  With triggers being a thing, they might regret it whoever they try it with.”

I was put in mind of my mom.  “It doesn’t mean the damage isn’t done before powers come into the picture.”

“Yeah, well, I dunno,” Chris said.  “I’m going to relax and wait until my vision comes back.  If it takes too long or if I run into trouble, I’ve got another change I was wanting to make today.  Keen Vigilance.  Perception focused.  It’ll give me a fresh set of eyes.”

“Okay,” I said.

The others got themselves sorted out.  Rain, Sveta, and Tristan started their walk to the train station.  Chris retreated toward the library.

Ashley remained by the sidewalk, drinking her water.  She’d been dead quiet.

“You good?” I asked her.

“I was dead for years.  I’ve been operated on, feeling every last movement of the scalpel, several times.  This is nothing, so yeah, I’m good.”

She put a curious inflection on the word.

It was eerie to think of Bonesaw’s involvement in things.  Her handling of Ashley here, how the Slaughterhouse Nine had got Blasto which had led to Fume Hood’s downward spiral.  It made me think of Crawler, and it made me think of what had happened to my home town.

To my home, my living room shattered with monsters left lying in places where childhood memories were supposed to be.  Monsters that had once been people, a few of them genuinely good and decent.

Heroes, even.

To my family.  To the person who had once been closest to me.

“Right.  Good to hear,” I said.

“We’re similar, I think,” she said.

I paused.  I’d been taking a second to think about how I would gracefully exit.  Now I was left to process what she’d said, and figure out how to gracefully answer that.

“Should I take that as a compliment?” I asked.

“Take it however you like.  Them?  They’ve experienced hurt.  They’ve known horror.  Maybe not so much for Kenzie, but she experienced enough hurt that it balances out.”

“I probably shouldn’t be hearing this,” I said.

“They haven’t seen the worst of it.  They haven’t seen rock bottom and then had someone or something reach up from below and drag them deeper.  The Slaughterhouse Nine were that for me.  I got the impression from how you talked about Tattletale that she was that for you.”

No, I thought.  Only in small part.

“My first take on you was that you knew enough to be useful.  Then you talked about Tattletale, and your reaction to someone who has the information, who’s careful, and who has resources?  You’re afraid.”

“I’m concerned,” I said.

“I respect it, that fear.”

“Concern,” I said.  “If it was just fear for myself, that would be one thing.  But I’m concerned about the others here.”

“It’s a very concerning world, isn’t it?” she asked.  “There’s a lot to be concerned about.  You and I, we have our eyes open about that, even if we’re taking it in very different directions.”

“Are we?” I asked.  “Aren’t you giving this hero thing an honest shot?”

“I am.  It’s not going to work out, but I’ll be here until the end.”

“You sound pretty sure about the fact that it’s going to go south.”

She tipped back her water bottle, finishing it off, and without even lowering the bottle from her mouth, used her power.  Shorter than her prior uses, abrupt.  It made its usual cacophony of noise, my ears ringing faintly in its wake, and it pushed her hair up and back, so it took  a second to fall back into place.

She caught her balance, taking a second before she stood straight again.  Then she looked at me with eyes that had no pupils, no irises, only the white, and only the dark makeup to draw out the eyelashes.  Slowly, her pupils faded back in.

All to dispose of a water bottle, apparently, or to make a point.

“I’m not even the most fucked up person on this team, Victoria,” she said.  “I might not even be in the top two.  Our therapist knows, and that’s why she was concerned enough to reach out to you.  They, the really fucked up ones, they probably know.  But I know it too, which makes me pretty certain.”

“Yet you’re still here,” I said.

“So are you.”

“I’m cursed with an impulse to help people,” I said.

“It’s an epidemic,” she said.

“Guess so,” I said.  I used my flight, my feet rising an inch or two off the ground.  “I think I’m going to take off.”

She gave me a small salute, her expression dispassionate.

I didn’t want to give the impression I was running, so I asked, “See you in a couple of days, then?”

“Yeah.”

I flew skyward, at the speed and angle that made even my stomach do that overly light flip-flop at the distance between myself and solid earth.  I came to a stop when I couldn’t see the library anymore.

I didn’t fly home.  I had too many thoughts in my head, and after seeing the others, seeing personalities and outbursts from Tristan’s comments for Byron to Ashley’s more dire threats, the powers, the secrets that were being kept or barely suppressed…

I remained in the air, the ground a blur beneath me, the clouds not all that far above me.  The city was painted in its golds, its concrete and pavement with yellow paint, its grassy patches, its fields of wheat and corn.

Just me up here, the wind in my ears.

I believed Ashley.  It wasn’t that she was honest, she wasn’t.  She bluffed and she bluffed often.  I suspected the bluffs were because she’d been telling me the truth when she’d remarked on the common thread between us: we’d seen some of the worst the world had to offer and we had reason to be afraid.

I believed her when she said there were people on the team who she saw as more ‘messed up’ than herself.  I had my suspicions about who.

Something was up with Chris.  Mentally and emotionally he was compromised.  Physically, compromised.  Socially, in terms of where he fit into the world, again, he was compromised.  He’d almost revealed the least of himself of anyone present.

Rain was another issue.

The team supported and insulated its members, they protected one another from the interlopers and the outside stresses.  There were times and places that could be good, but I could just as easily see things go in a direction where outsiders weren’t sufficiently protected from the group, while the group carried on like this.

My job, in a way.

I’d keep an eye on all of them, of course.  Kenzie could be a danger, and I could see even Sveta going to a bad place, however much I liked her.  Tristan was strong, and he spent half of his life locked away in a lightless, motionless prison, only a window that looked out through his brother’s eyes and listened through his brother’s ears.  It would be so easy for him to go off the deep end.  Ashley was unpredictable and dangerous, pure and simple.

Chris I could only keep an eye on.  Rain-

I didn’t fly back to Crystal’s.

I flew to the train station, and I held a position where I couldn’t make out the people, but I could make out the train.

I was paranoid, and too many things today had prodded at my paranoia.  There were many I was helpless to do much about, but I could act on these suspicions.

A train came, traveling west-to-east.  I knew Sveta and Tristan would be boarding it.  Had I been on foot, it was the one I would have caught.

When the other train came, traveling the opposite direction, I followed it.  I had a pit in my stomach, doing it, but I had a gut feeling that this was part of why Jessica had reached out to me, and why she had been relieved that I was keeping an eye on things.

Yes, they knew things about each other.  But they kept secrets.  There were evasions, walls that were thrown up.

I just didn’t understand what Rain was doing.  To have a hit out on his head and reject an escort, holding firm to that rejection even after having the danger driven home?

“What’s going on, Rain?” I asked.  Where I was, suspended in the sky, wind rushing past me, there was nobody to hear.

I was prepared to follow him to Greenwich.  It was a lengthy trip, and it left me to think about grabbing dinner, possibly on the trip back.  I tempted myself with thoughts of a burger or a good souvlaki roll.  Something warm, as I thought on it.  This high up, there was no heat radiating up off the ground or nearby surfaces, less sunlight bouncing around with light energy dissipating and becoming heat, and the steady wind flowed past me to swipe the warmth that my body put out.  As stakeouts went, this was liable to be cold, and I’d have to figure out something for bathroom breaks.

As self-imposed missions went, it wasn’t just hard for me to justify doing this, it was a pretty rough experience.  The mind-numbing dullness of a sit-and-watch stakeout combined with the hypnotic nature of a long-distance drive.  Drivers, at least, had to watch the road and be mindful of other drivers.  I had nothing to help keep my thoughts centered.

From Stratford to Bridgeport.  I had my binoculars out, and I watched for trouble, studying the people boarding the train.

Nothing obvious.

The train carried on its way, traveling from the Bridgeport neighborhood to Fairfield span, past the community center that had been attacked at Norfair, and then onward to Norwalk station.  Kenzie’s neighborhood.

There were stops where only a pair of people left, stops where only a few got on, and Norwalk, unfortunately, was one of the major stations.  I couldn’t track everyone that boarded.

My thoughts were preoccupied, thinking about what I was doing, my doubts, my frustration that I couldn’t effectively watch out for trouble while doing this the way I was doing it.  It was too easy for someone with powers to board the train and go after Rain while uncostumed.  Was it likely?  No.  But I wanted to justify what I was doing.

There was a chance, though, that when Rain got off the train, he would be followed by fellow passengers until he was in a place where he could be attacked.  I could watch out for that.

I could watch out for any unexpected stops, and I could keep an eye out for the old staples of railway robberies and ambushes – trains moved slowest when they went around corners, so I could keep an eye out for ambushes and unexpected boardings that took place in those locations.

With my thoughts caught up in things as they were, I nearly missed it.

The train was old-fashioned in look, cars linked by couplings, and passengers could move between cars, with the space between each car being open to the air.  Periodically passengers would step out to smoke or get fresh air.  Most were parents with kids.

At the caboose, a figure had stepped out onto the back.  Rain.

He climbed over the railing and jumped, while the train was going well over a hundred miles an hour.

Hands out to his side, his bag in one hand, other empty, his feet touched the slope, and he stopped.  No momentum, nothing to suggest he’d been on a speeding train a matter of seconds ago.  The fact he stood on a slope didn’t seem to matter, as he didn’t slide, slip, or fall.

He looked around, but he didn’t look up, and I wasn’t sure he would have seen me if he had.  He jogged down the slope, and walked across a field.  Past the field was mostly wilderness and dirt road.

Rain walked for ten minutes to get where he was going.  Erin had parked under a modest little bridge in a town with one gas station.

I didn’t feel good, watching them interact.  I felt guilty for spying, even though his actions proved he was being dishonest.  I watched Rain make conversation with his friend.  Minutes, where he did most of the talking, pacing some, while Erin leaned against the side of the vehicle.

He must have asked something, because Erin shifted position, reaching through the window.  A second later, she drew her hand out.  She had a handgun.

It didn’t mean anything.  This was justifiable, given his situation.  Lying about where he lived and where he was going was justifiable.  Even his friend carrying a gun made sense, when he was being hunted.

His story about how they met and where she came from… I wasn’t sure.  It didn’t feel like I knew the whole of it.

If they’d traveled again, I might have watched to see where they went.  If they’d gone to one of the smaller equivalents of Hollow Point, it might have told me something.  If they met certain people, it might have proven out my suspicion.

They went to get ice cream in the dinky one gas-station town, and I couldn’t conscience staying to watch.

I flew home.

I let myself into Crystal’s apartment through the sliding balcony door.

“…ave site?” a male voice.

“Whenever I’m traveling in that direction,” Crystal said.

“That’s good to hear.  I keep meaning to travel out that way, but…”

“It’s a universe away.  I can go with you sometime, if you want.”

“That might be nice.”

I shut the balcony door.  I could have closed it silently, but I didn’t.

Crystal, standing at one corner of the living room, had the door open, but she stood in between the door and doorframe in such a way that her body filled the gap.  She twisted around to look at me, and I saw a forcefield start to be painted out.

“It’s okay,” I said.

The forcefield winked out.

“You sure?” she asked.

I nodded.

She opened the door wider.  My dad was in the hallway, wearing a sleeveless top with a hood, in a very light fabric, and yoga pants of similar light weight.  A gym bag sat on the floor by his feet.

“You’ve been flying,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said.  “That’s really positive.”

“I guess,” I said.  “How are you?”

“I’m noticing how empty my apartment feels, a lot.  That’s not me trying to guilt you.  It’s me realizing where I’ve wound up and wondering how I got myself here.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you want to invite him in?” Crystal asked.  “I can fuck off if you need me to.  Or you can take over door duty?”

“I wouldn’t ask you to fuck off in your own place.  Are you getting tired of standing guard?” I asked.

“A bit.”

“We can invite him in.”

My dad entered the apartment.  “Sorry to drop in.”

“Is that what this is?”

“I worry, when you drop all communication.  I thought I would at least ask Crystal if you were okay.”

“I see,” I said.  I walked around behind the couch, putting it between myself and him, and leaned forward on the back of it.

He took a seat on the armrest of the armchair, one foot on the ground.  “I want you to know that what happened at your mom’s house, I’m sorry about that.  It wasn’t right.”

“I appreciate that.  I… I wish I could tell you that I was sorry for how I reacted there.  But I don’t know if I can.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” he said.  “I think any and all of us should be understanding when it comes to old wounds.”

Old wounds, I thought.

Were they that old?  Didn’t ‘old’ presume they’d healed over or that things had been addressed or mended somehow?

“I guess,” I said.  “What mom did, I was pretty vocal about why I was upset about it.  Did Crystal explain why I was bothered by what you did?”

“She deflected my question when I asked.”

“If you noticed it was a deflection,” Crystal said, “I need to work on my patter more.”

“Just a bit more,” my dad said, smiling slightly.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said.

“It’s okay,” I said.  I paused.  “You realize, dad, the reason I felt betrayed wasn’t that I thought you were in on it or anything, right?  I felt betrayed because you let yourself believe mom’s words more than you believed everything you saw in years of living with me, after visiting me in the asylum, after seeing how I function and how I don’t function.”

“I’m not going to try to defend myself,” he said.  “You’re absolutely right.  I let myself be stupid.  I have a way of doing that when I’m around your mom.”

“I just don’t understand how you wouldn’t just stop and realize it doesn’t make sense.  When you know about the nightmares and the fact I hadn’t flown in months, and the fact I don’t even want to talk about her, you’ll believe I’d be willing to meet her face to face and have a meal?”

“It’s not that clear cut.  Your mother is a clever woman, to the point she can outsmart herself.  She has good instincts when it comes to getting people on her side, too.  I’ve been missing home, the past few years, and seeing the woman I still love being warm for the first time in…”

He trailed off.

“Since twenty-eleven,” I said.

“Yeah,” my dad said.  “With food I’ve been aching for for just as long already cooking, the kitchen and barbecue rich with that smell.  Things, like I said, that make me stupid.”

“What food was it?” I asked.

“Laser seared kebabs,” Crystal said.

I bit my lip.  Family recipe.  With my lip still between my teeth, I said, “Okay.”

“I’m not making excuses,” my dad said.  “I should have clued in.  When Amy turned up and I knew you were coming, it wasn’t framed like a reconciliation.  It was framed as you knowing everyone was coming and you would have things to get off your chest.  Carol said she would referee and I knew it would go poorly if it was just her, so I offered to help.  While I was offering I wasn’t stopping to think.”

“Was a part of it you just wanting things to be normal again?  The four person nuclear family back together?”

“Yes,” he said.  “I’m not about to lie here.  I- yeah.  Yes.”

It hurt, hearing that.  Knowing my dad and where he wanted to be were that far away from where I was and where I wanted to be.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I let my guard down when I should have had it up to protect you.  I wanted you to hear that apology, and I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Crystal and I are looking after each other,” I said.

“Absolutely,” Crystal said.

“That’s great,” my dad said.

I rubbed my arm, wrist to shoulder.  “I’m giving some limited direction to a team of heroes right now.  It’s messy.”

“Any team is bound to be.  It’s good that you’re doing that.”

“Messier than most,” I said.  I paused.  “Top one percent of messy.”

“Ah, I see,” my dad said.  He rubbed his chin.  It was late enough in the day that the stubble he usually had on his chin was more of a shadow.  “The Dallon-Pelham family never does anything the easy way, does it?”

“No we don’t,” I said.

“Can I help?” he asked.  “Advice, support?  I don’t have a lot of money, but…”

“I’ve got the team outlined on my laptop.  Six people, either under eighteen or in the vicinity of eighteen.  One complicated case, age-wise.  Um, this doesn’t leave this room, right?”

Nods from both Crystal and my dad.

“They’ll probably go covert.  Gather and sell info.  I think I can pitch that to the big teams and get the initial funding.  I might be able to get costumes through them as well.”

“They have the infrastructure set up for costumes,” my dad said.  “They’ve got most current members outfitted, and I’ve heard rumor of them branching out to supply other teams and heroes.  I would be very surprised if they said it wasn’t doable.”

“Perfect,” I said.  That helped if and when it came to negotiating.  I held up my hand.  “Funding, costumes, target… target is hard to pin down.  A lot of low-level threats out there, banding together.”

“If you’re keeping an eye out for the criminal populations that aren’t joining larger groups, the places you want to keep an eye on are the Cabin, the Tea-Shop, the Pitstop, the Rail, and the Greens.  Those last three places are pretty seedy and traditional villain bars.  The others are villain bars without the bar part.”

“What about the ones who are hooked into bigger groups?” I asked.

“That gets more complicated, and it’s less about the places to watch and more about the names to keep an ear out for,” my dad said.  “Marquis, Goddess, Lord of Loss, Mama Mathers, the Crowley brothers, Deader and Goner, Barrow.”

I knew the names and I knew where they were situated.  No big surprises there.  I nodded to myself.  Marquis.  So casually mentioned.

“How messy is it?” my dad asked, his voice softer.

“They’re young, some of them are kids, and I’m not positive they’re all going to survive the next two weeks,” I said.  “And that’s not even- there’s enough other mess I could almost forget about that danger hanging over their heads.”

“You’ve taken them under your wing?”

“Yep.  I’m going to at least point them in the right direction, I hope.  I might be the wrong person for the job, but someone has to do it, right?”

“Wow,” my dad said, barely audible.

“What?”

He shook his head.  “It’s hard to articulate.”

“I’m trying to play this slow, keep it calm.  I know a lot and I’ve been down some of these roads.  I’m hopeful I can at least keep things from getting out of control.”

“That may be a tall order,” Crystal said.

“Maybe,” I said.  “If they absolutely insist on getting out there and mixing things up, I’ll point them in the direction of the asshole villains who are ramping up their activity and taking things over.  The nascent Tattletales and Marquises.  Kneecap them or their plans before they can get too big.”

“You really are your mother’s daughter,” my dad said.

My eyebrows went about as high up as they could as I turned my full attention toward him.

“What you said before, and what you said just now.  Those words could have come from her mouth in a different time and place.”

“This isn’t winning points with me,” I said.

“I’m not here to win points,” he said.  “I want to make sure you’re safe, sane, and healthy.”

I noticed the implication of what he was saying.  That taking this course might not be one of those three things.

“What should I be doing different?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I don’t think any of it is wrong, but I haven’t always been the best judge in the moment.  I’d say CYA.”

“On what front?” I asked.

“Do you have counsel on call?”

“I wasn’t aware we even had a legal system yet.”

“We don’t, but it’s coming soon.”

Counsel on call.  It was common for new teams of heroes to have a lawyer available, who they could call and outline the situation to before they took action.  Covering their asses, making sure the arrests could stick, that there was a voice with the authority and knowledge to talk to the police and courts if and when the heroes’ actions were questioned in more depth.

It wasn’t a bad idea.  It hobbled things, slowed them down, it was a bit of a headache… but having a lawyer as a hoop to jump through could restrain some of the more impulsive parts of the team.  I’d have to run it by them, but it made sense.

“I could ask around,” my dad offered.  “But if you really wanted a good perspective on who you could talk to, there are better people to ask.”

“You mean mom,” I said.

My dad nodded.

“Yeah,” I said.  I clenched my fist and relaxed it.  “I’ll talk to her.”

“You really want this.”

I thought of the team when it had been operating together, playing off one another, being good at what they did.  I thought of Tattletale and her version of my hometown and how much I really wanted her and people like her to lose every reason they had to be smug and confident.

I wanted to bring those two ideas together into a concrete reality, and I wanted it badly enough I was willing to go have a conversation with my mom when I was really fucking pissed at her.

If it meant wrangling this team that was going to do what they were doing whether I was involved or not, I’d do that.

“I feel like whatever I say, you’re going to say I’m just like mom again, and then I’m going to be mad at you,” I said.

“Can’t have that,” my dad said.

“Putting all of that stuff aside,” I said.  “If I walked away, if I left it alone, I’m scared of what would happen to people who didn’t deserve it.  I can’t do that.  I don’t know if that’s the Carol in me talking, but it’s the truth.”

My dad nodded to himself.  “That’s not your mom talking, I’m pretty sure.  Similar, but… not your mom.”

He didn’t even need to say it.  The moment I’d seen the look on his face as he’d opened his mouth, I’d realized who I’d been echoing.

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140 thoughts on “Glare – 3.5”

    1. As a certified person that knows French, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Mar-kees. That is, if he’s going with the way it’s pronounced in French.

    2. According to the author-approved pronunciation guide from the Worm Audiobook Project, it’s Mar-kwis.

      Not gonna lie, though, I insisted on pronouncing it Mar-kee until halfway through We’ve Got Worm.

        1. “MAR-kwis” is the way you pronounce it when you’re referring to the rank of nobility in English-speaking countries. (It IS “mar-KEE” in French.)

          “mar-KEE” is a marquee, a sign with lights around it.

          “mar-KEEZ” is a marquise, a particular cut of a jewel.

          1. That doesn’t make sense. The rank of nobility in English speaking countries isn’t spelled Marquis, it’s Marquess.

          2. The English spelling of the rank is Marquess, and is pronounced ‘Mar-kwis’.
            The French spelling of the rank is Marquis, and is pronounced ‘Mar-kee’.
            Given that Amy’s birthname is Lavere, which is French, and the use of the French spelling, it will be pronounced ‘Mar-kee’. But, Wildbow uses an Anglicised pronunciation of Hebert, as ‘Hee-bert’, when the pronunciation is supposed to be ‘Ay-bear’, so that’s no guarantee.

  1. “Knowing my dad and where he wanted to be were that far away from where I was and where I wanted to be.”

    Believe were should be was.

  2. typo thread:
    “No. Hell no. Then I’d feel obligated to make conversation and shit,” Chris said. It’s a sunny day, there’s a breeze, the weather is perfect. I’m going to sit outside and wait and then I’ll make my way back to the institution.”

    Chris said. “It’s

    1. “He looked around, but he didn’t look up, and I wasn’t sure he would have seen he if he had.”
      Should be
      “He looked around, but he didn’t look up, and I wasn’t sure he would have seen me if he had.”

    2. >As self-imposed missions went, it wasn’t just hard for me to justify doing this, it was a pretty rough experience.

      I feel like there’s a ‘while’ or ‘although’ missing after that first comma

      >They went to get ice cream in the dinky one gas-station town, and I couldn’t conscience staying to watch.

      I’m not sure if this is an editing artifact? It threw me for a loop, I’ve never seen conscience used as a verb. Anyway, great chapter!

      1. Because conscience is not a verb.
        > I couldn’t in good conscience stay to watch ?
        > I couldn’t condone staying to watch ?

        Or maybe Victoria thinks in borked english.

          1. No respectable dictionary refers to conscience as a verb with any meaning.
            Abuses can be acceptable in thoughts/speech, due to their nature; but let’s keep things clear in the absolute.

          2. Perhaps you and Wildbow are thinking of how “countenance” works and misapplying it to the similar-sounding “conscience”? “Countenance” has a second meaning as a verb, as in, “grinvader won’t countenance people trying to make a verb out of ‘conscience'”.

            None of that helps any in fixing the ~typo. I’m just theorizing about its origin.

            Consider using “justify” instead, i.e.
            > They went to get ice cream in the dinky one gas-station town, and I couldn’t justify staying to watch.

            Seems somewhat close in meaning.

          3. There is no absolute when it comes to language. There is only successful and unsuccessful communication.

            There are contexts where certain modes and registers of use are more appropriate, but fiction in general bows to the intentions of the author over formal convention, and this goes even more so in first person where the narration is heavily influenced by the character.

            The only problem with any kind of language use in that context is when it communicates something but unintended and unwanted.

          4. Dictionary wise you are right the proper phrasing is ‘couldn’t in (all/ good) conscience’ or ‘couldn’t (countenance/ condone)’ . However, the ‘couldn’t conscience’ phrasing is definitely a phrase of English in use in the wild, so it’s valid for dialog/ internal monologues.

        1. It just seems to lack commas. The verb here is stay. “I couldn’t stay to watch” is the primary sentence with “in good conscience as a modifier”

    3. “With food I’ve been aching for for just as long already cooking

      I’m not sure what this means or what it is supposed to be.

      1. He really misses those laser seared sausages, and got hit with a whammy of nostalgia (his favorite food, his favorite woman, the family could be back together again!) and just kinda rolled with it instead of fighting against it, because he wanted to believe. I may be adding a little extra meaning to the passage, but that’s about what I got out of it.

    4. “So long as I’m there by light’s out,”
      > lights out,

      “She bluffed and she bluffed often.”
      Missing something ?

      “she’d remarked on the common thread”
      Doubled space.

    5. The city was painted in its golds, its concrete and pavement with yellow paint, its grassy patches, its wheat and yellow fields of wheat and corn.

      Wheat is repeated.

        1. Not if they’re in Fall.

          If they’re on the Eastern Seaboard and it’s early October then the wheat will be gold and just ready to harvest and the corn stalk will have started to dry out and turn gold and also be ready to harvest.

          The trees will be just starting to change as well so you’ll have reds in there.

        2. It depends on the season. If they’re golden, it’s close to harvest time. Which, since the school year started not long ago, makes sense? We’re talking about field corn, which is a much more common crop than sweet corn.

    6. Tribute and Moonsong left the office. Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.

      -Shouldn’t it be Tristan that was there after they changed?

  3. Goddess? So Earth Shin’s making a move on the megapolis too?

    Rather worrying, given that her power’s in the same tier as Glaistig Uaine and Eidolon …

    1. Because Mark and Carol want the family back. Both have their problems that make this harder to happen. Amy wants the family back too I’d say. The problem is Victoria. She can’t be in a family with Amy. She definitly can’t forgive and forget. But like it or not Amy is part of the family, and it can’t be whole without her either. And while she suffered for Amy’s mistakes, and her parents flaws, and she may have suffered the most it’s not like they haven’t either.

      And to be fair I’m not blaming Mark one bit for being roped into Carol’s scheme when she sprung it on him. I’ve had family do that kind of thing, the thing that if I’d had any time to think about beforehand I’d have said no, but because they sprung it on me and surprised me I ended up going along with it, happen to me.

      1. That’s actually a really interesting quirk in human psychology. How we like to please people.

        I’ve totally been there too, thanks for pointing out the relevance here, negadarkwing!

  4. Wow. I can see how this goes. Her mom tentatively agrees to be their counsel, but payment is she has to have a meal with her and Amy. Or something similar.

    It’d be completely manipulative and given Vicky’s earlier reaction, Carol will push it out a little later for when things have cooled down. It’ll start of small, ‘family’ building exercises before she brings in Amy.

    Maybe right when the team fails a mission and needs help the most, Carol does her Godfather impression and brings Amy back in. Or worse someone gets injured and only Amy can put them back together.

    Regardless. Sounds like fun.

      1. Money could be a real factor there. Carol is likely to give them a better rate than any decent lawyer who isn’t and relative and desperate to make amends with her daughter.

    1. Or someone get’s mangled up. And the only option is to call Amy. At which point Victoria might have to make a choice. See and interact with Amy, or let a teammate die painfully.

    1. The only person whose name she avoids thinking—Amy.

      Probably, at least.

      But she was talking about being unable to walk away because she was afraid what would happen to innocent people, and that’s sort of what Panacea’s problem was.

      1. I believe her dad means Amy, otherwise there wouldn’t be that emphasis on it. Amy’s big problem at the start of Worm was that she could save everyone and felt obligated to do it which put immense pressure on her shoulders.

    2. It’s interesting that multiple people could have read to this point and not known that referred to her sister Amy. The most common thing we heard from Amy, before she cracked, was her complaining about “having” to go to the hospital and save sick children all the time.

      1. That’s exactly why I’m not sure if it’s Amy. Being afraid of bad things happening to other people never seemed high on Amy’s list of worries. She did ‘good’ things because she felt that she had to or else she’d be ‘bad’, not because of a deep concern for the well-being of people she doesn’t know.

  5. Umm wow, I don’t have much to say beyond how much I am enjoying Ward. Also incredible how much rain is downplaying his powers.

    1. Yeah, I actually expected him to rely on the waxing/waning to reach useful power levels; either he knew that day would be a ‘full grip’ phase and plotted his way back accordingly, or he’s that good on any day and is selling himself short for reasons.

  6. -“I was dead for years. I’ve been operated on, feeling every last movement of the scalpel, several times. This is nothing, so yeah, I’m good.”

    She put a curious inflection on the word.-

    It’s horrible to think that one of the carryovers from her last life might’ve been her… Manicure.

    1. Someone give Ashley a hug. I mean she’ll start screaming about how she hates it, but deep down inside she’ll be happy about it.

      1. She might even be sorry about killing you for your presumption, but she’d bury that deep down where she keeps her “needs to be hugged” feelings.

  7. I don’t understand Cluster Triggers. If everyone else inRain’s Cluster dies does his power increase? I love the whole dreaming about the others and the Power ‘High’ switching each day, even to a ‘dead’ slot – though it seemed that ‘slot’ had a RNG dice throw that gave the high to a random alive member.

    I really want Pancakes to get her hands on Sveta and see what she can do – and if she is a Cauldron user then she can have another trigger event yes?

    Since Victoria seems a lot closer to her passenger with the ability to have such fine control over her aura and switch of her force field – did she trigger again? Will being forced int o a situation with Amy cause her to trigger again? Since she is second-gen her stress can be much lower to Trigger yes?

    1. It sounds like Victoria hasn’t second triggered she just carries her monster form in the shape of her forcefield. I’d suspect a second trigger for her my increase the intensity at reduced range of her aura and let her control the shape of her forcefield.

    2. 1. The mall group’s dreams and rotating schedule of power boosts may be unique to them. We’ve never seen anything like it before, but to be fair, WB has never gone into this much detail about clusters either.

      2. ISTR that Panacea has tried to “heal” Case 53s in the past, but the effect was temporary at best.

    3. Sveta didn’t trigger. She was coerced into drinking power-serum that turned her from ‘human girl’ to ‘bag of tentacles with a girl’s face’. I don’t think Cauldron capes- Case 53s or otherwise- can double trigger, but who knows? It’s an oddity. Like the possibility of a second trigger cluster- what would happen there?

      As for Clusters, the only cluster-capes that showed up in Worm were Circus (and we have no info on her Cluster or what happened to it, but it’s implied the cluster had something to do with her gender fluidity if I recall right) and Flechette, who had a dual trigger with a minor villain who spent the story in New York but who got in contact with Rain for Glow-Worm.

      1. Given how Cauldron was taking heavily-wounded people from other worlds, it was probably less “coerced” and more “she was unconscious”. Still not consensual, but different.

        I’m not sure why people keep saying they don’t think Cauldron capes can second trigger or bud. They seem to act pretty much like other shards, despite being “dead”. The only oddity which points to malfunction is that one parahuman with an unusual power and one whose power was put under unusual strain had issues with their power supply.

        1. They didn’t first trigger, did they? Not in the traditional sense of triggering like Rain, both halves of Capricorn, Chris or Victoria. And second triggers themselves are pretty rare things.

          I think they can bud, though I don’t know how it’d work with a Case 53 or triggering in general.

        2. Second trigger events are supposedly triggered by circumstances that are very similar to the first trigger event. It’s my understanding that Cauldron capes don’t really have a first trigger event for the second one to mirror. I think that’s the reasoning behind the “can’t have second trigger event” line.

          Of course, even if that’s true in the general sense, powers have all sort of weird exceptions that turn up. I expect it could happen, but that it would be even rarer than extremely rare “normal” second trigger. I personally wonder about the interaction of someone who already had non-triggered shard being given a Cauldron vial.

          1. I think it’s said somewhere in arc 29 by Dr. Mother that Cauldron capes with a corona pollentia are generally a little stronger.

      2. After listening to We’ve Got Worm, I think that Brian lied about his trigger event and suspect that he cluster triggered with Sophia. Her coming obsession will killing him would be part of the kill/kiss effect.

        Weaver and the Wards fought Watch who was described as a grab-bag cape.

        1. She hated him because his darkness came from the same alternate reality she shunted her mass to when she activated her power. She couldn’t demanifest as much as usual in the clouds, and was more badly effected by the sensory deprivation effect. She took personal affront to that and decided he was her nemesis. Had it been a true case of kiss/kill, I think she’d have recognised him when she bumped into Taylor & Brian out of costume and they kissed to make Sophie jealous.

          I had forgotten about Watch, though.

          1. I don’t think there was a specific interference with them, just an early demonstration of Grue’s power drain before the second trigger ramped it up.

          2. EoP, I consider that much interaction between Brian and Sophia’s powers to be more of an indicator that I’m right. I envision a scenario where they trigger in close proximity to each other, but not in sight of each other. They’d be a cluster, but they wouldn’t know it. Putting aside Rain’s weird special interactions, I don’t think that cluster members will just automatically recognize each other. I’m not even sure that Rain’s counterparts would just know him if they hadn’t seen him in their dreams. Also, IIRC Flechette wasn’t sure that March was part of a multi-trigger with her so she didn’t just know.

            Looking at the Grab-bag cape article in the Worm Wiki pointed out a few others, but the ones that I’m upset about forgetting were Mouse Protector and her counterpart, Ravager.

          3. They aren’t clustered. If they were, Grue would be able to push matter into the Dark Dimension instead of just pulling it out, and Shadow Stalker could pull matter from said Dark Dimension instead of just pushing it. Besides the power using the same world, they aren’t similar at all. Grue’s a Shaker who creates clouds of thick darkness that block most sensory input; Shadow Stalker’s a Breaker/Mover that shunts her body into a dark world to make herself lighter and able to walk through thin walls, windows, fences, etc.

            I think it’s just two very similar shards working in very similar ways. Like Purity and Lady Photon. They can both fly, and they both have laser attacks. Their shards aren’t related, and they aren’t clusters (well… Lady Photon might be, with Brandish) but on the surface they do similar things. Purity’s power draws energy from ultraviolet light; Lady Photon doesn’t.

          4. Hmmn, we haven’t seen Sophia yet either, and last we saw she was still running around. I can totally see her barging in shooting people with crossbow bolts and utterly fucking up some delicate operation the group is running at some point.

      3. I’d think that there’s a few things just about every single Case 53 would want. One would be a way to get their memories back. The other would be if you could induce a specific form of second trigger and make them shifters who can return to a human form.

        Also how much do we know about March? I know they are in a cluster with Foil, and some sort of interest in her, but I’ve realized I don’t know exactly what kind of interest it is, or even March’s gender.

      4. Flechette was also a multi trigger. It’s mentioned in Arc 9, I think during Clockblocker’s POV.

        Actually, she could be part of Circus’s group, since they both use their power to throw weapons more accurately, although it is a bit of a stretch.

    4. It’s all but certain that Cauldron parahumans can’t have normal triggers. One of the reasons Doctor Mother never gave herself any powers was that she had a corona pollentia, and could have triggered naturally in the right situation. She thought that taking one of her own powers would prevent that, and she if anyone would have known.

      1. Then again getting shredded by Sveta, after Case 53’s invaded her base, and as far as she could tell killed Contessa, followed by Scion invading her base, taking a break from ending multiple Earth’s didn’t do it. So maybe she shouldn’t have waited.

          1. She was holding the vial but it shattered (also why Sveta got released) so unless you can absorb powers through your bleeding fingers then she didn’t take anything.

  8. Ashley admitting through barely veiled words that she’s afraid ofconcerned about the real ugly stuff ? Did she die and get cloned… oh wait. Carry on.

  9. They’ll probably go covert. Gather and sell info. I think I can pitch that to the big teams and get the initial funding. I might be able to get costumes through them as well.”

    “They have the infrastructure set up for costumes,” my dad said. “They’ve got most current members outfitted, and I’ve heard rumor of them branching out to supply other teams and heroes. I would be very surprised if they said it wasn’t doable.”

    The “they” pronoun here is referring to the “big teams,” but information seems too specific. She’s checked with all the “big teams” and knows they can costume people?

    It just brought me out of it because it was like having two characters talking about working for “big business”

    1. Got a point there, while I don’t think expecting any big teams to be able to supply costumes is unreasonable her dad seems to suddenly shift to talking about a specific team without one being brought up

  10. I’m all caught up and I wanted to wait to post for the first time till I caught up but couldn’t resist last chapter. I have just finished my third read through worm its interesting, on my first read I missed so many things as I focused mostly on Taylor and the Undersiders. On the second read I focused a lot on secondary characters like Weld, Amy, Krouse, Faultline, etc. And on my third read I focused on the background, the nameless characters, the scared people of brockton bay, the kid that brought Gregor his food, Mr. G , the graveyard caretaker, etc. And thats when Worm really hit me. And I took at least a few hours between chapters to visualize how all of this must have looked from the perspective of ‘man in suit #3’ the terror of being hit with bonesaws work or even before then, hearing that Leviathan is coming to town and then hearing that Jack showed up for the after-party. Anyway, I just wanted to say, great work as always and I look forward to reading this three times, the sensation I will get when I re-read the scene were Rain goes into the ice cream shop and knowing what thats all about thats gonna be a good feeling right there.

  11. “Why would you want a camera that turns off?” Uh Kenzie I think I see part of your problem right there.

    So awkward silent ride with the dad. If he’s a robot that explains so much. If he’s not a robot that explains even more.

  12. I’ve said it before, but the more I see Victoria and Ashley interact, the more I see them getting along in the future. Their interactions here, both Ashley talking about their similarities and the callback to their Glow-Worm messaging, made me even more interested in their dynamic. It would also be a nice way to contrast Victoria to her old self as Glory Girl, as she would never have befriended a former villain back then.

    1. The irony of that interaction is that I don’t think that either of them know they were talking to each other online. They didn’t exchange any personal details besides “hero” and “villain.” Victoria just used the same turn of phrase that she used in her online chat, but if Ashley made the connection, Victoria didn’t catch it (thus, neither did I). Ashley might make the connection later, but if they don’t exchange PHO contact info, I don’t see Victoria figuring it out.

  13. “God,” Rain said. “Don’t fire up my imagination with names like that.”
    Nobody tell Rain about Genoscythe.

    “It doesn’t mean the damage isn’t done before powers come into the picture.”
    Or at the same time. Victoria, you’ve been to Brockton Bay, you should know powers can make things worse on their own.

    “This isn’t winning points with me,” I said.
    “I’m not here to win points,” he said.

    I would have gone with something about how not everything about Mrs. Dallon is bad. She’s got some positive characteristics; you need them to run a cape team.

    I thought of Tattletale and her version of my hometown and how much I really wanted her and people like her to lose every reason they had to be smug and confident.
    Victoria’s changed some, and for the better, but at heart she’s not so different from who she was. Here’s hoping she changes from “knock down bad guys” to “build up good guys/society” before it’s too late for her.

        1. If his death is canon that would mean at the very least his existance in the first place is canon. Anyways I’m just making a joke.

          1. The new Host of Genoscythe kills people with fermented Apples in the Western Part of the UK in Earth Brit.

            I give you… Geno-cider, brewed in the west country.

  14. Barrow is still alive? I’d have thought the Undersides killed him during the timeskip, but in that case I guess they’d have had even more unstable superpowered children to look after…

      1. One of the several groups that were moving on Brockton Bay that they dealt with in Taylor’s absence. He’s a Shaker who can’t leave the altered zone he’s created since it moves with him, and he’s got an entourage of younger parahumans. Strongly implied to be some kind of child molester.

  15. Victoria is sort of reminding me a little of Blake at the beginning of Pact. A bit fucked up, with serious issues, PTSD and a screwed up family, but still trying to do the right thing and get on with life. And probably about to face some serious horror and escalation that will make her long for the days of merely fucked up. (Unless wb decided to throw us a curveball and this really is just a story about the healing power of friendship. You never know with him.)

  16. Something occurred to me.
    Fume Hood used to run with Blasto and possibly was romantically involved.
    The S9 kidnapped Blasto and were responsible for his death.
    Original Ashley was part of the S9 at that point in time.
    Possible drama in the future?

  17. I’m guessing that Erin is the 5th member of Rain’s cluster trigger, and that she’s a Trump with the ability to boost powers. She and Rain have a case of ‘kiss’ rather than kill and their plan is to eliminate the other three members so he can get the boost every day.

    1. thats the most interesting and plausible theory I’ve read.

      not sure it will happen at all, but its not way out there like most theories.

  18. I don’t’ think I could ever express how much I hate this story at this point. Victoria really has become very similar to Amy. I always hated Amy. Both for what she did to Victoria, but also for what kind of person she was. She was so boring and pathetic. It was impossible to feel good on her behalf. Victoria is kind of the same here. It’s depressing. 🙁

    1. That’s… on the one hand, I like the characters, and on the other, we never really did feel good on Amy’s behalf. She inspired an awful lot of sympathy, but her story was miserable basically all the way through. Even Sylvester’s was better. (Heck, even Blake had more happy notes in his story than Amy did, going by the revelations Ward gave us. That’s rather impressive in retrospect.)

  19. I’m loving the characters and world so far in Ward, but I can’t help but feel the dialogue has taken a step back from Worm and Twig. Characters seem to take turns to dump paragraphs on each other, which doesn’t flow like natural dialogue at all. I suppose that this is how group therapy dialogue plays it, but it seems to be slipping into other characters too (Crystal and Mark) , which ruins the potential contrast to normal dialogue that Victoria was talking about. Either way, I feel like it could benefit from being broken up with more descriptive texts, to get those strong visualisations Wildbow is so good at, rather than the rather utilitarian feel it’s giving off. Ashley seems to be the only one this isn’t occurring with, her conversations have a real energy to them. That’s probably why she’s my current favourite Ward character.

    I get that Wildbow is trying to give the inside of the protaganists head a different feel, which he is always excellent at, but at the moment it’s giving Ward a very “Tell, Don’t Show” feel that, in my opinion, weakens the work. Still fantastic so far though.

    1. I mostly agree, I care a bit less about to with Team Therapy, cuz… backstory (Though I will point out that Kenzie’s dialogue has a bit of character to it as well as Ashley’s) however it’s is a huge bummer that it’s bleeding into other characters as well.

      I’m hoping this is deliberate and that WB is using this to indicate that Victoria’s Dad is intentionally using therapy-speak to try and repair the relationship he has with her. If this is the case then we should start seeing less of it (outside Team Therapy where it seems that Victoria worries about therapy-speak as a plot point)

  20. “helps me keep my balance a little”

    Jumps off a train moving over 100 mph.

    “makes things easier to break”

    Can slice walls of rock in half

    “can cause Little doubt or guilt”

    Forces Vicky to ignore her lying eyes and feel guilty over catching rain lying to the point she leaves.

    Nothing sketchy here!

  21. I’ve been suspicious of this from the moment Rain was introduced, but now I’m certain. Rain is just as affected by Kiss/Kill as his fellow clusters and he’s intending to use the team to kill them all.

    From the moment Rain and his situation were introduced, I started wondering why they weren’t mentioning how *his* cognition had been affected by Kiss/Kill. Now I’m certain it’s intentional on his part. He’s playing his side in the Kiss/Kill effect as self-defensive, but I don’t think that’s the case. He’s just as intrinsically motivated to kill his clustermates as they are.

    Furthermore, I think we can definitively say he doesn’t value the team beyond their ability to help him kill his clustermates. Actually, more than that, he’s willing to see them die to further his own ends.

    Because he *lied* about the power levels they could expect to encounter. He undersold his own power level, lied about his capabilities. That’s what we see when he halts his momentum. (Also it explains the power disparity between him and Snag). The only reasons I could imagine for him to do that would be to engender sympathy and encourage people to ‘protect’ him, or to get his teammates to take on more than their fair share of the combat burden so he can do less. Which means he’s intentionally keeping them in the dark about the true power levels they can expect to be going up against for his own safety, at the expense of their safety.

    I think, in the near term, Rain is going to be the greatest threat to the team’s safety.

    1. That’s a reasonable suspicion. I like what I’ve seen of him, but I don’t recall seeing an actual main-cast teammate betrayal from Wildbow yet, and I recall that he’s prone to innovation. Either way, I hope he stays interesting.

      1. Sure we have: Skitter. You can argue that she didn’t betray the Undersiders when she went hero, since she never fought against them afterwards, but she definitely betrayed Armsmaster when she stopped being an undercover agent and became an actual villain. Part of the reason he was such an ass in the early chapters was that he realized she’d gone villain for real before she admitted it to herself.

        1. No, Armsmaster was an ass partly because she was messing up his nice neat narrative of himself being the important hero by helping the Undersiders show him up. Mostly though, he was an ass because Armsmaster is just an ass.

          1. Bitch pushed Skitter back into the office with the Dragonsuit after the Undersiders raided PHQ. That was a betrayal from a member of the core cast.

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