Glare – Interlude 3

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Dot moved slowly and carefully through the store.  She placed a hand on the floor for the added balance and weight distribution, then slid the hand left to right and back again, pushing it through a layer of dust that gathered and tumbled onto the back of her hand.

She was glad for the fingerless glove she wore, because it let her feel the finer details while keeping it clean and warm.  The floor was cool and moist.  The exterior wall of the store was letting the rain in, and the rain traced a path through one portion of the store, cutting thin rivers through the dust.  Wet in places, dry in places, but persistently clammy and dirty.  Perpetually colorless.

It was the lack of color that got to her the most.

It was one of the big stores, where everything was gathered together into tall stacks and piles beneath and on metal racks.  The lights were fluorescent, and they flickered.  The buzzing sounds the lights made were more constant than the light.

A menacing sound.  Menacing, glaring lights.

It was safer to climb on the stacks of cardboard boxes than it was to walk on the floor or to make contact with the wood and metal of the shelves.

She paused as she climbed to a higher shelf, figuring out how best to ascend while minimizing dangerous contact.  Finally, she decided to take a risk by grabbing a metal cross-bar, hauling herself up, and setting her feet on a series of plastic bottles in cardboard trays, stacked higher than a man was tall.

She couldn’t read well, but she could recognize the labels.  Pills.  Vitamins, probably.  If these were here, then there might be better offerings close by.  She searched the nearby piles until she found cardboard boxes with cartoon characters on the front.  Pictures of cartoon character heads were beside not-cartoon images in shiny monocolor shapes.

Dot opened a box, careful not to make noise, and fished inside.  A plastic bottle within, and inside the plastic bottle… a colorful assortment of gummy vitamins.

She fished out the contents and pushed them into her mouth until she could barely close her jaw.  The artificial taste overpowered her nose and mouth.  Her eyes rolled back into her head with the effort of chewing.

A loud noise made her freeze.

The doors had been opened.  She heard loud footsteps.

She climbed deeper into the stacks of vitamins, listening and watching.

“Hellooooo!” the call was drawn out.  Dot tensed, listening as the greeting bounced around the building interior.

Dot waited.

“Anyone here!?”

She waited, silent, peering through the gaps between the cardboard boxes and plastic bottles.

Another voice could be heard saying, “Lights are on and nobody’s home?”

“They could be out, or a group of refugees might have stopped in on their way to the portal.  They could have set up power and scavenged before leaving things behind for others.”

Dot winced with every tromp of boot on tiled floor.  She could hear people rummaging, pulling down boxes and tearing into the contents.  Things fell to the ground.

She changed locations, putting some distance between herself and them.  It didn’t help; their explorations meant they drew nearer to her as she lurked on a high shelf.

“…names you can’t pronounce, grab that first.”

“Why?  Preservatives?”

“Preservatives, yep.  Keep a close eye out for the products with the wrong names.”

“Wrong names?”

“If it’s not called soap, but a ‘cleansing bar’ that means it’s so loaded with crud that they weren’t legally allowed to call it soap.  That shit is gold to us, because the chemicals in it mean it lasts.  If it lasts, it can be resold back home.”

“Soap goes bad?”

“It can.  I’d rather take the misnamed shit that lasts than take something more legit home and find out it went bad.”

“Good point.”

“We’ll teach you all the tricks.  It’s a good gig, believe me.”

“Yeah.  Hey, are those fridges?”

“Yeah.  I wouldn’t get your hopes up.  Power was probably out for months to a year before someone got this building back on line.”

“You think they have ice cream?  Or those push-freezes?”

“You don’t want ice cream, remember?  You want-”

“Frozen dairy-like desserts or something.”

“Now you get it.”

Dot watched as the younger man jogged across the floor to what was almost certainly his imminent demise.  He opened the glass door to the fridge display and began picking his way through cardboard boxes.

She could see the green lights appearing in the background of the display, flicking on one by one, apparently at random.

The older man noticed, stopping in his tracks.

“Jackson!” he screamed the word.

The machine rammed through the wall.  Six feet tall, six feet wide, with two legs, it slammed past metal racks, past food in cardboard boxes, through the glass doors, through the metal that the doors were attached to, and into Jackson.

Both legs broken.  From the way he hit the ground, his arm might have been broken too.

One mechanical leg thrust out, then dragged Jackson back into the hole in the wall.  Another reached out and began depositing a thin white fluid on the bloodstain.

Jackson’s mentor was running and the machine was just starting to clean up the blood when two more belatedly thrust their way out through the walls.  They paused where they were, seemed to decide what they were doing, and then used wheels on their underbellies to roll along the floor, the two forelimbs out and ready.

Gaps appeared in the face of each machine as they drew closer.  Jackson’s mentor shouted to friends elsewhere in the building as he rounded a corner in the shelves and stacks.

He made the mistake of grabbing onto a metal strut at the edge of one set of shelves.  The face of the strut moved, changing in angle, and jerked upward.  A machine had taken a blade and camouflaged it to look like the red-painted metal surface, and it managed to carve deep into Jackson’s mentor’s hand.  The machine that controlled the blade moved.  It wore a cardboard box.

Dot made a mental note of that as she remained frozen, watching.

The people were running, gathering together.  They narrowly evaded the machines, using corners and their small size to stay clear as the machines from the fridge wall careened down the wide aisles.

It didn’t matter.  They were already dead.

She could hear the gasps and shrieks.  Here and there, weapons were deployed.  Sprays of darts, more blades from innocuous surfaces, wire.

The gasps became more numerous, the sounds strained, and the activity of the scavengers slowed.  The ones who realized what was happening didn’t have the words to report it to the others.

Gas.  Invisible, odorless.  They gasped and used everything they had to try to draw air into their lungs, but the machines were putting something heavier than oxygen on the ground floor of the store.  Now they drowned.

Dot had lost family to this very same thing.  She had seen how painful it was, and she had known how painful it was to watch someone she cared about die that way.

She took her time picking through the boxes of vitamins, putting them in her bag.  It was nice that the gummy vitamins didn’t rattle.  She picked up other things as she navigated the shelves, including bandages and some random bottles.

An explosion drew her attention.

Someone in a costume.

Another explosion, followed by two more, and one of the big machines from the fridge wall collapsed.

Apparently alerted by one of the dying, the woman in costume climbed up onto the shelving units, to get to higher ground where there was air.  She threw a blue light out of her hand, and it detonated on impact with the next machine.

Back at the fridges, some of the fridges and surrounding wall had already been reconstructed.  Two more of the large cube-shaped machines squeezed through the gaps in the wall that were still there, before getting their wheels under them and hurrying in the direction of the woman in costume.

Dot moved closer to the ground to get a look.  It was important to know just how far gone this building was.

The entire area behind the fridges was gone.  Green flashing lights, wires, computers and metal twisted into shapes that helped it to provide a framework.  Machines were working slowly and steadily to refine and develop things.

In the opposite corner of the building, the hero climbed behind a stack of cans.  A spray of flechettes punctured the paper with no resistance- there was no tin to the cans, only the labels and the haphazardly perched tops.  The machines had already collected everything and then put things back so it looked like it hadn’t been touched.

The heroine fell and hit the floor.  She had been darted, punctured across the face and shoulder.

You die too, Dot observed.

Against all odds, though, the heroine had managed to hold her breath.  She got to her feet and she ran.

Dot climbed carefully, avoiding suspicious surfaces as she navigated the piles.  She kept one eye out for things she could use and one eye on the heroine.

A box cutter, left on the surface by a past employee.  Useful.  Dot grabbed it.

One of the machines shifted position.  Two legs on the ground in front of it, backside resting on the ground.  Its face opened wide, and a salvo of missiles fired forth.  Ten, twelve, metal canisters with streams of vapor painting the air in their wake as they flew in lazy arcs or even tumbled through the air before getting their bearings.

However haphazard they looked, they didn’t hit anything they weren’t supposed to.  They traced courses between stacks of pasta and boxes of cereal, through the struts of metal shelves, and through the two-inch gaps between shelf and the floor below.

The heroine shot at shelves, bringing down the contents in showers that might block the missiles.  Some missiles detonated.  Others navigated the falling debris, and the heroine shot at those next.

Some missiles didn’t detonate, but they weren’t missiles in actuality.  They were tricks.

The heroine backed up, then saw the two new arrivals, two more of the big ‘soldier’ machines.  She ran for the door.

But the machines had had her since she had let them know she existed.

The heroine made it to the door, and then a metal skewer harpooned her hand.

Blow it up.  Lose the hand, Dot thought.  She realized she was rooting for the heroine despite herself.

The heroine fought, and she’d had to stop running to fight.  More skewers impaled her forearm, then her other hand.

She used her power, she shot at shelves, but she lacked the angle.  The machines reeled in, using the wires attached to the skewers, and the heroine was hauled into the air, arms out to either side, legs dangling.

Dot sat, and she waited.  She ate more gummy multivitamins and she observed the machines.  She watched as the mess was slowly cleaned up, boxes pulled back into position, products lined up, and sections of floor that had been shattered by missiles were fit together like jigsaw pieces.

Here and there, deep in the craters and crevices, the ‘trick’ missiles had delivered payloads that weren’t explosive.  They looked like veins of metal in rock.  In weeks and months, they would ‘hatch’, revealing the machinery that had built itself within.  For now, they were paved over.  Smaller machines filled in cracks with something white that would harden, with daubs of black for the speckles in the tile.  A blade scraped away the excess, and a small nozzle provided a covering of dust to match surrounding floor.

A close eye would notice where the floor was different, but it would have to be close and careful.

The machines weren’t too challenging to destroy.  Dot’s groups had sometimes destroyed them.  The trick was that they set in roots wherever they went.  Each time they reached a new place, they would keep emerging from that place, from walls and floor and rock and tree.  It took care and attention to get the machine out of each of those things, and while that care was being taken, machines elsewhere would emerge, march, and make inroads along the flanks.

Green lights here and there went dark, the machines hibernating.  Dot deemed herself safe to move.

She stuck to the high ground, while the still-active machines continued their work below.  She eased herself closer to the heroine, and paused, observing.  Here and there, the woman kicked or struggled, and the machines didn’t respond.  Blood streamed down and dripped from her toes to her floor.  Each time blood accumulated enough to drip and make a small splash on the floor, a machine zoomed out to spray at it and then wiped it away before returning to its hiding place beneath a shelf.

Dot leaped.  She landed on the woman’s shoulder, and the woman’s face twisted, contorting into a wordless scream at the sudden, added weight on her injured arms and hands.

Then the woman looked at Dot, and her expression changed again.  Fear, alarm.

Dot was small, only about as large as the woman’s head, and she was colorful.  Her clothes had been stolen from dolls and pieced together with diligent care.  Her tail with its fur tuft on the end swished with the box-cutter it held..

“Help me.”

Dot shook her head.

“I have people who are counting on me.  I have a sick sibling, they need me to bring in the money from this work.”

“I have people too,” Dot whispered.  She stuck her tongue up to pick her nose, then drew it back into her mouth.  “Some sick too.”

The heroine made a small sound, bowing her head.  “I’ll help you, I’ll- I’ll convince people to give you medical care.  We can trade.”

Dot reached out with one hand, and she pushed the tab that extended the blade from the box-cutter.

“I’ll do anything,” the heroine said.

Dot paused.

“Anything,” the heroine said, seizing on the pause.

“My king,” Dot said.  “Where?”

“Your king?”

“Yes.”

“I can take you.”

“No you can’t,” Dot said.  She hugged the box cutter against her chest with two spotted arms, red spots on yellow-white flesh.  “You die here.  I’m not big or strong.  Machines are.  If I go for help then you dead before I’m back.”

“Please.”

“Tell me where my king is and I’ll be fast.  Merciful.”

“I don’t- this isn’t about me.  Can you- can you let them know the Machine Army is this far north?  They shouldn’t be on this side of the Raleigh chasm.”

“They kill me on sight.”

“Find a way?  Please?  I’ll tell you where your king is, I help you, but you need to tell them.  We need the Wardens to stop them before they get their roots in.”

Too late, Dot thought to herself.

The woman seemed to take it as assent, when it wasn’t.  “The Wardens’ headquarters, probably.  It’s- it’s on Gimel, where a lot of the trains go.  The train nearest here goes there.  You’ll want to look for a building with a statue of a knight with a sword at the front.”

Dot took a two-handed grip on her box cutter.

“Tell the Wardens.  Let them know, so they can take measures.  Tell them Burnish said it.  It might save your King’s life.”

Dot paused.

“Yes,” she said.

Then she cut into the woman’s throat, until blood sprayed from the artery.  She opened her mouth wide, until the teeth on the upper half of her mouth pointed in the same direction as the teeth on the lower jaw, and bit in deep, locking her mouth in place.  She swallowed the blood, gorging herself.

Vitamins, protein, nourishment.  She would fill herself here, then visit her brothers and sisters.  Then she would set out on her quest.

A distance below them, machines washed away the blood.  After the heroine had been kept up and out of the way long enough to ensure her power wouldn’t be a problem, she would be cleaned up too.

Dot felt energized, her focus as sharp as the box-cutter.  She knew where their king was.

King Rinke.  Nilbog.

She clung to the underside of the train.  The ground was a blur beneath her, periodically studded with rocks and branches.

Those of her kind who ventured into the human’s civilization didn’t tend to return.  She knew it was a risk.  She knew she had a one percent chance when it came to this.  She’d said her goodbyes accordingly.

Blackspot would be left in charge.  He’d been unwell lately, and he might be too unwell to lead their group.  He was thirteen and that made him old, and after their discussion, her communicating in broken English and gesture and him communicating in chirp, he’d agreed.  She suspected he’d made the decision because he hoped she would bring their king back somehow.  It was Blackspot’s only chance at being recycled and made into new life.

Lump would be second in command.  Lump had been injured a year ago, after running into humans.  He barely moved now.  When he died, the group would be more free to move, but they wouldn’t leave him behind until then.

Lump was one of the only big ones that were left.

Dot used her tail to fish out a gummy vitamin from inside her tunic where it sat close to her belly.  It stuck to her skin and had to be peeled away.  She chewed it slowly and carefully.

She was thirsty.  She hadn’t anticipated how dehydrated she would get.  The chewing got her saliva flowing, though some unfortunately flowed out through the corners of her wide mouth.

There was a hole that smelled like shit, leading into the train interior, but she didn’t want to climb up into there.  Shit didn’t bother her, but the smell would hurt her ability to stay undetected.

She was a scout and a spy, a messenger to a king in captivity.

She would endure.  She clung to the bolts and bars, arching her back when she saw a branch or rock that might scrape at her, and she chewed.

The train slowed.  She shifted her position, ears reorienting to catch more sound.  Every detail she could pick up would matter, now.  She was in hostile territory.

The train rolled to a stop.  Doors hissed as they opened, and the crowd began to make their way out.  Dot peered between the wheels and up, to see the refugees and the scavengers, as well as the men and women and boys and girls in uniforms who came and went.

She dropped to the tracks, and she moved to the dark corner, crawling through the dust and grime to help cover up the color of her spots and outfit.

Too many for her to slip across the platform.  Would she have an opening?  She crept along, looking for vents, for cracks, or anything where she could slip through.

Too new a building, too maintained.  This was nothing like the kingdom or the ruins she had known during her five years of existence.

The only time she had seen this many humans was when their kingdom had been invaded.  She had been aware as each set of humans boarded at different stops, but for all of them to get off here, for there to be no more tracks?  This had to be the end.  Their destination and hers.

She trembled with anticipation as the stream of people from the train slowed.

Boots were more serious than shoes.  Matching boots were most serious.  She associated matching boots with the men with guns that worked with the people in costume.  When men with matching boots and people in costume got together, it was often to kill her kind.

She would save her king.

She crept along the underside of the ledge, where the platform jutted toward the train.  When the train left, would she be exposed?

She would do anything for her king.

Her weapon was ready.  The box cutter.  It still smelled like the blood of the heroine.  Of Burnish.

Thinking of the blood made her think again about how thirsty she was.

“Christ,” one of the boots said.  “Incoming.”

Someone else groaned.

“Good afternoon,” a woman said.

“Afternoon,” was the curt response.

“You’ve got a thtowaway.”

Dot froze.

“A thtowaway?” was the response.  There was a sound of an impact, light.

“Thomething thmall.”

“Is this like when you had us stop the train, put the entire city on hold, made us get the bomb disposal bot under the train with a camera, all to show us some squirrel roadkill caught in the machinery?”

“I’m here for a reathon.  Thith ith what I do.”

“Every time you jerk our chains you lose trust, and you’ve jerked our chains a lot.  You haven’t done much to regain that lost trust.”

“I wouldn’t jerk your chain, Adam,” the woman said.  “I thpecialithe in noticing thmall thingth, and I know how thmall and thort your chain is.”

There was laughter.

Dot wondered if she had any options.  There hadn’t been anything she could use to disguise herself as roadkill.  What would she do if the train started moving?

“Can you actually see short, uh, chains?” another woman asked.

“No comment.”

“I think we have a camera we can drop to the track.  It should be up at the station proper.  We can do a quick search.  You want to grab it, Adam?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll make a call, ask them to keep the train put while we search.  Stay close, Rat?”

“The name’th Ratcatcher.  I’ll thtay clothe.”

Dot made her way along the car, until she found one of the holes near the shit-hole.  This hole didn’t lead up into the car, there was a grate barring her way, catching hair and other gunk, but it was just wide enough for her to squeeze most of the way into.

She waited, listening, until she heard the clatter.

Her role in the community had been a scout, to start with.  She had ended up a leader after a while, but she was still a scout at heart.  Exploring new places, figuring out ways to deal with traps, with the enemies that lurked out there.

She had dealt with the Machine Army.  This little toy wouldn’t stop her.

With clawed toes and the opposable toe on her foot, she clawed some of the hair out of the drain.

Patience.  Care.  Machines were predictable, once they had revealed their tricks.  The challenge was to find the tricks without being discovered or caught.

She watched as the machine passed under her.  Dropping from her hiding place, almost noiseless, she landed right behind it.  She used all of her strength to tip it over, then wrapped the hair around the wheel and reached up, tying it to a bit of metal at the base of the hole, where a passing rock or branch had made the metal rougher.

Snagged, caught, but in a believable way.

She darted away, as voices commented on the situation, trying to riddle out what had happened.  A human dropped down between the platform and the train itself, ducking low to peer between wheels, looking for the little camera drone.

The platforms were mostly empty, and most of the watchful eyes were focused on the little drone and the issue.

She stuck her head up, ears low and close to her body, tail swishing beneath her, and then made a break for a vent.

A human moved, making a run for her.  Shoes slid on the smooth floor of the station platform as the human put herself between Dot and the vent.

“Not so fatht,” the woman said, as Dot skidded on the floor, stopping.

The woman was small, as humans went, and she wore a costume that covered most of her body.  Her mask was roughly cone-shaped, but the paper or wire that kept the mask pointy had been dented or damaged at one point, and the nose drooped a bit.  Rodent-like, with ears sticking out and back at the side, flat against the side of her head.  The eyes behind the eye-holes were large, dark, and moist.  If Dot unfocused her eyes a bit, it looked like there was nothing behind the eyeholes.  Dark hair draped around in front of the ears and down the back of the woman’s head.  As pointy as the mask was, she wore a hood or a hat with a point going the opposite direction.

She wore a jacket, denim, with a threadbare collar, a striped shirt beneath, and a thin chain belt with mousetraps dangling from it.  Her socks were striped as well, extending high enough that they just barely met her denim cut-off shorts.

Dot was willing to admit that if she was going to die, at least it was at the hands of someone with a good aesthetic.

“You thall not path,” Ratcatcher said.

Dot remained where she was, frozen.

“Can you talk?” Ratcatcher asked.

“Yes,” Dot said.

“I like your colorth.”

Dot stretched out her hands in front of her, looking at her arms.

“I bet you’re beautiful when clean,” Ratcatcher said.

“Yes,” Dot said.  She was.  She wasn’t interesting looking, but she could talk and she could use her hands, feet, and tail, well, and she had some pretty patterns: her namesake spots.

“I want you to go home,” Ratcatcher said.  “If we fight, I’ll win.  I thpecialize in dealing with your type.”

“I’m here to deliver message,” Dot said.  “That all.”

“What methage?”

“Burnish.  She went to a store.  Machine Army was there.  She wanted me to tell.  North of the Raleigh chasm.  They were surprised.”

“We thought it was your people,” Ratcatcher said.

“No,” Dot said.  “I watched.”

“You didn’t help?”

“Too small, too weak.”

“That’th no ekthuthe.  Burnith was a good one.  Nice to me.  I’ll mith her.”

Dot remained where she was.  She looked back.  No sign that the men who were investigating under the train even realized she wasn’t there anymore.

“Thank you for your methage.”

“I’ll go now,” Dot said.  “But can I have water?  I’m so thirsty.”

“Come.  Vending machine.  Have you theen thethe?”

Dot had, but she shook her head.

Ratcatcher held out a hand.  Dot was wary, but she ventured closer.

“Thay hello to Raththputin,” Ratcatcher said.  “Thtay in my pocket for now.”

In another time, another world, Dot might have stayed.

But she had a king to rescue.  A king adored by his people.  A truly great man.

As Ratcatcher reached into a pocket, change jingling, Dot saw opportunity.  She leaped for the ground, went under the vending machine, and then ran along the wall, darting for the vent.

Big people were often slow.  Ratcatcher wasn’t.  Fast reflexes.  Fast in general.

But Dot was faster.  Had the vent not already had a corner peeled away, Dot wouldn’t have been able to make it inside.  As it was, she ducked inside, and Ratcatcher’s gloved fingers only managed to seize the ends of the hairs at the end of Dot’s tail.  Dot hauled herself free.

Ratcatcher moved her mask aside, fingers going to her mouth, and then whistled.  “Trouble!”

But Dot was already in her element.

She ran through dusty vents, navigating the guts of the building.  Flashlights periodically shone into the vents, illuminating areas.  She avoided most of those beams of lights, going this way and that, until she found another convenient point, where two pieces of metal weren’t flush together.  She squeezed through and pulled her bag after her.

It was another minute until she realized two things.

Ratcatcher had friends.

The convenient openings in the vents and leading from vent to the inside of the walls of the station were there because of those friends.

Dot had dealt with rats before, but these rats were the sort that were very ugly and very large.  In the right light, they might have been mistaken for very ugly, small dogs.  Dot had always liked that story when the King read it from the scary children’s book.  The children got the dog and the dog turned out to be a Mexican sewer rat.

These rats were that sort, apparently, and they smelled like Ratcatcher’s pocket had.

She drew her box-cutter, extending the blade, and sized up her opponents.

Three rats against her and her boxcutter.

It might have been an even fight, but she had her devotion to her king on her side.

She would rescue her king.

The building that held her king was fitting for the stories.  The statue lacked color, but it had the right atmosphere.  She was bleeding but she told herself that this was how things were in those stories.  The heroine at the foot of the castle of the evil empire, the king in captivity.  She hurt from the battles already fought and faced the greatest challenge yet.

Getting inside wasn’t hard, but getting up was.  The vents were barred and had cameras, and people were already on guard when she arrived, keeping a close eye on those same vents.

She could only wait.

Patience was essential to a scout.  The fact that every inch of her hurt from her fight with the sewer rats made the patience a little different.  She had been hurt before, and she had been hurt in a way that made each breath an effort.

Breathe in, breathe out.  If she did that once, she was one step closer to being better and being okay.  She knew it was a long journey, but surviving was important.

Surviving was especially important now.

He was close.

She would free him, and he would usher in a new age of greatness for her and her people.  She might even have a place at his side, where she could be close to him at all times.

She wasn’t even sure what that would be like.  She had been ecstatic when she had seen mere glimpses of him, back in the old Kingdom.

Breathe in, hurt, breathe out, hurt again, feel the scratches and the bites when she shifted position.  Breathe in, breathe out, double check she wasn’t anywhere she might be found.

She licked at her wounds, and she licked at the dust and grit, so her colors would be bolder.  She licked her hands and ran wet hands over her hair, smoothing it.

She had arrived early in the morning, on the train, and now she waited until the sun was high in the sky.  Each breath was a step closer to wellness and moving again.

She dug in her small pack for the bandages.  They were the small kind, with sticky sides.  She had brought the colorful ones with cartoons on them for luck, and now she placed them over her wounds, along with little bits of cotton and fabric to soak up the blood.

It seemed like there were more people who came and went than there were stars in the sky, but her senses might have been playing tricks on her.

The trickle of people slowed.  When some made early returns, they smelled like food.  Midday meals, then.  She waited until everyone was back and working, sluggish from the food in their bellies, and then she made her move.

Up the underside of the stairs to the second floor.  Into a crack between a booth and the wall.  Up to the third floor, in a similar way.

There was security guarding the way from the fourth floor to the fifth.  A commotion gave her a chance to slip through.  It helped that she was small and it helped more that she was experienced.

Now she explored.  The fifth floor didn’t seem much like a prison.  The sixth was closer, with more security, more computers, more monitors.

She heard a voice, and she caught a familiar name.

“…Rinke.”

“I don’t see the point.  He’s a broken man.”

Dot clutched at her chest, just over her heart.

“He’s a great man.  Him being broken or not broken doesn’t change that.”

“I don’t see the point, Riley.  I don’t think I’d gain anything, and I don’t think the people I care the most about would be very happy about me hanging around with him.”

“You hang around with me.”

“Someone has to check your work.”

“Whatever.  I’m going to go talk to him.  I think you should join us.  You can check my work after, we’ll make it fast.”

The pair started to walk away.  Dot checked the coast was clear, then followed.

Up to the seventh floor, then higher.  Her body ached, every one of her movements harder than they had been before she had started climbing up to the top of this monstrous building, but she knew she was close.

A dining hall, with lots of tables, and a kitchen off to one side.  It smelled like a hundred different foods.

The two girls didn’t talk much as they walked.  The younger one was on the cusp of adulthood, but she smelled like blood and sickness.  She was blonde, wearing a dress.

The older one had crossed the threshold to adulthood.  Her arms were striped or marked somehow, almost completely covered with freckles, and her brown hair was tied back into a ponytail.  She wore jeans and a top with spaghetti straps, and had a jacket folded over her arms, which she held close to her body.

“You don’t find it sad?  Spending time around him like this?”

“Sad?” Riley asked.  “No.  It’s… reassuring.”

“How?”

“It’s a crazy, fucked up, upside-down, inside-out world.  I think he understands that.  He lives in that world.  Not in a fantasy version of it.”

“It seems to me like he lives entirely in the fantasy.”

Riley chuckled.

There was another security checkpoint.  The two passed through, and Dot was forced to hang back, watching them go through.  She couldn’t pass herself.  It was sealed off like the old kingdom had been.  What was the word?

Quarantined.

She found vents, and she climbed through the vents.  The vents, too, were quarantine-sealed.

She hated that she was so close.  Her king was in arm’s reach, and she couldn’t touch him.  He was talking, right this moment, and she couldn’t hear him.

Patience, she told herself.

Patience.  A scout had to know patience.  She was here to free him, to give him power again, even if it meant him taking her apart and turning her into another kind of life that he could use.  Achieving that goal had always been something that would take time.

She searched vents, and she found one that had a gap she could use.  She worked at it, wedging her box-cutter into the gap and wiggling it until she could get fingers in the gap.  She used strength to widen it further, felt air escape through the rubber seal she’d peeled away, and knew she’d broken through the quarantine protection.

With more work, she was able to get an entire arm through.  Screws scraped against metal as she worked them through.

She found her way into the walls, and from the walls, she found her way to a double-layered window with wire mesh between layers.  She could see glimpses of the scene from an angle, distorted, by peering through the side of the thick glass pane.

The girl and the woman sitting at a table, separated from King Rinke by another thick glass wall.

Almost frantic, Dot searched the interior of the walls, looking for gaps, anything she could use.  Everything was sealed, everything secured.

The answer ended up being the power outlet.  She worked at the outlet, clawed at the seal that cemented it to the wall, and moved it enough that sound could get through.  Later, when it was quiet, she could get through too.

“…a Red Queen and an Alice, then.”

“Or you could call me by my name.”

“I’m quite fond of Alice.  She was a chaotic force in the worlds she visited, you know.  She questioned, she challenged.  A revolutionary in absurd worlds held captive by their own conventions and riddles.”

“This supposed Red Queen and I are friends, you know,” Alice Riley said.

“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” the Red Queen said.

“They were friends and enemies both in the story,” King Rinke said.

“You know, Jamie, I told the Queen here that you were one of the people who really got it.  I drew comparisons to our friend Valkyrie.  The Queen and Valkyrie know each other, you know.”

“I’m flattered by the comparison, my Alice.  I’m not surprised they know each other.  Queens are well-connected.”

“I’m getting sort of sick of being called a Queen.”

“My dear, you have all the power in the world.  You can move in any direction you choose.”

“Less than you’d think.”

“You’re here, aren’t you?”

“I’m… I think if I’m here, it’s because I’ve been checkmated by her.  She implied she’d waste my time if I didn’t go along with this.”

“It’s very, very easy for even a Queen to be checkmated, if she doesn’t act like a Queen.”

“I’m starting to think I’m not smart enough to keep up with this conversation.”

Riley the Alice laughed.

“You should visit again, Red Queen.  Have tea.  Keep an old man company.”

“You’re more than an old man,” the Alice said.

“A king without a kingdom,” King Rinke said.

“A fallen king is still a king,” the Alice said.

King Rinke tittered.  Dot, hiding in the wall, smiled at the expression of joy.

“Yes, I do remember that,” King Rinke said.

“We should go soon,” the Alice said.  “We’ve finished our tea, and we’ve got work to do.  The Red Queen needs to check over the, ah, vial I’ve created that says ‘drink me’, and make sure it’s safe.”

“Please don’t make anything like that,” the Queen said.  “I’d hate to see it go wrong.”

“My work doesn’t go wrong.  Thank you very much.  It was wonderful to see you, Goblin King.  I’m sorry the visit was short.  I mostly wanted to introduce you two.”

“It’s been an experience,” the Queen said.

“What’s next for you, Red Queen?  What will you do, once you’ve seen what our Alice has been up to?”

“I’ll… I guess I’ll be at my father’s side while talking to some of the most powerful people in all the known worlds, and I’ll see my parents, trying to say goodbye and yet unable to pull away, or making my greetings and being pushed away, and I’ll continue to feel like I’m in the wrong places every step of the way.”

“You’re a queen.  You have such power.  You can go anywhere you want, if you’re willing to wield that power.  Your struggles are because you’re trying to be something you aren’t.  Take that as advice from a king who has lost his kingdom to a Queen who has yet to claim hers.”

“I don’t like what happens when I try to use power to claim anything.”

“Then use position.  The fact that you’re a queen affords you power by default.  If you stand in the right places, things will change as a result.  Use that.  Recognize it.  Things may start going the way you hope they might.”

There was a pause.

“I’ve said similar things,” the Alice said.

“Yeah,” the Queen said.  “I worry because the only people willing to talk to me say similar things, but I’m not sure they’re people I should listen to.”

“A king without a kingdom,” King Rinke said.

“Let’s go with that,” the Alice said.  “That’s probably it.”

There was a slight commotion, chairs moving, dishes clacking against surfaces, as the girl and the woman gathered themselves together and stood from their seats.

“Come again, Red Queen.”

“I can’t make promises, but I’ll be in the building a lot, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

There were more noises, and then doors shut.

Knees pulled to her chest, tail wrapped around her, Dot felt warm and happy, her king’s words wrapped around her, filling her up.

She barely dared to move the outlet, to force her way past it, to break the spell and to try to have more.

But she had to save her king.

The King had a bodyguard, a strong soldier of a man, taller than the King, muscular, and clearly dumb.  The bodyguard noticed her before the King did, and reached out to touch the King’s arm.

“Ah,” King Rinke said.  He had a sad expression on his face.  “They’ve been watching me closer for the better part of the morning.  I suppose you’re why.”

Dot wasn’t sure what to say or do.

“Come.  Can you talk?” he asked.  He seated himself, his bodyguard reaching for the chair to steady it as the King sat.  The King stuck one leg straight out in Dot’s direction.

“Yes,” she said.  She leaped forward in the same way and lurching way her heart leaped into her chest.  She ran up and along his leg, up him, to him.  Clawed fingers and feet clutched for the fabric of his shirt.  His gray-touched beard tickled her head and back.

She could smell him and he smelled like home, like family and love.  She felt his hand on her back, and she felt it pet her.

She could have cried, if she weren’t so dehydrated, if so much of her body’s energies and fluids hadn’t gone into bleeding and healing.  Every ache and pain, from hours of clinging to a shuddering train to fighting rats and scaling a building interior, prying her way past sealed building fixtures, it became a dull, throbbing reassurance that she’d done right.

“You worked hard to get here.”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“You’re the third to get this far.  One of only two that could talk.”

Third?  She wanted to ask, but she was worried about the response.

“I didn’t make you, did I?  You were birthed.  You look like Polka’s get.”

She nodded, hard, head rubbing against his shirt as she clutched tighter.  He knew her.  He didn’t know her but he knew where she was from and so he knew her.

“Polka the third?”

“Fourth,” she said.  “But thank you for thinking I’m like the third.  She was the most beautiful and clever.”

“The fourth was clever too,” he said.  He stroked her.

“I come to save you,” she said.  “You can use me for material.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said.  “Not for one as beautiful and noble and brave as you.  No.”

She felt the tears well up.  Noble.  Highest of praise.

“No,” he said again.  He gave her a stroke, from head and ears to tail, and then he reached down, hands on her arms and shoulders, and he moved her back and away.

“No,” he said, a third time.

With that, she understood what he was saying no to.

“We need you.”

“No.”

“The others get sick and die.  They want to be recycled.”

“No,” he said.  “No, daughter of Polka.  I’m too old, and I’m watched too closely.  They’re watching and listening even now.  We had our chance, and as our Kingdom stood on the brink of war, your king chose the wrong allies.  The Alice that just visited me was one.”

Tears flowed now, but they weren’t tears of joy.

“We lost.  I’m firmly in check.”

“But-”

“No,” he said.  He stroked her, then held her firm with one hand around her shoulders, while he reached for his tea.  Gently, carefully, he tipped it to her mouth.  “Drink.  You’re thirsty.  You look exhausted.  The caffeine will help.”

Dutifully, she drank.

“And then you should go.  Go back.  Find the others.  Take care of them.  Be gentle with humans you meet.  So few of them understand power, and so many of them have so much, now.”

He moved the cup again, and she drank again.

She shifted her feet, placing them under her, and then stood, one foot on each of his legs.

She embraced him, arms in his beard, clutching at his shirt.  His hand pressed against her back, and her tail wrapped around his wrist.

As quiet as she could manage, she whispered, “You say this because they’re listening.  You must want to be free.”

She felt the hand at her back move, pulling her back and away again.  She leaned against it, moving back so she could see his face.

She understood now, why the Alice had used the word ‘broken’.

“There are things I’ve talked to my Alice and the Valkyrie about, but reclaiming my kingdom or starting another anew isn’t in any of the many realms of possibility or fancy.”

“But-”

“No,” he said, one last time, and the look of pain in his eyes was proof to the word.

As she’d jumped to him as her heart had leaped with joy, she jumped away at the pain, both his and hers.

“Your name, child?” he asked.

“Dot.”

He smiled.  “Fitting, for the daughter of Polka.”

She nodded, but she didn’t feel like smiling.

“Go home, noble dot.  Do us all proud.  Tell the others whatever they need to hear.”

Her hand clutched at her chest, over her heart, and then she turned to go.  Into the wall.  Back the way she came.  Every ache and cut and scrape felt magnified as hurt radiated through her.

Going down was as hard as going up had been, but this time she didn’t have anything to go to.

Back to Blackspot, with his sickness and his hope of being reborn?  Back to Lump, who got weaker every day?

To tell them what?

More rats waiting for her, probably.  Other things.  More pain.  More machines, inching into their territory.

As much as she hated to admit it, the others were dead.  She was one of the strongest who were left, that she knew about.  There were other tribes and groups, there were armies, but they fought for a kingdom that hadn’t had a king for a very long time.

Hurt and pain turned black and angry inside her.

She thought of the machines and she thought of Burnish’s words.  The fact that warning people of the machines might save her king.

By the time she’d reached the sixth floor, moving slowly, the idea had found its root in her head, much like the the machines found root in rocks and metal, seeds of machinery that spun out and made it so a rock could crack like an egg, revealing gears and a thousand moving pieces.  Machines that made machines, all hiding and deceiving and inching forward with endless patience.

Small things were capable.  She had power of her own.

She needed purpose to drive her forward, and her purpose, the goal in her mind, was to go back to that store, to find a piece of machine, and then to put it on the train.

The machines would hatch in the heart of all the known worlds and the humans would lose their kingdom too.

It was that hate and thirst for vengeance that pushed her forward, now that she didn’t have her king to serve that role.  Those feelings boiled up, leaving wet streaks on her cheeks as she crept forward, from hiding place to hiding place, shadow to shadow.

The stairs were tricky.  From the sixth floor to the fifth floor, it was open area, trick to navigate.  Someone sat on the stairs.

The Red Queen.

Dot settled in, finding a place to sit and wait.  She watched the one the King had called a Queen, and she licked her wounds, both real and metaphorical.  She wished she was interesting enough in design to lick her own heart.

Something, a huff of pain, a wheezing breath, a scuffle, it made the Queen look.

The pair locked eyes.

“We got a warning about you,” the Red Queen said.  “You’re not getting up to trouble, are you?”

Dot shook her head.

“You’re hurt.  Come here.”

Dot hesitated.  Then she crept closer.  She flinched as the Queen moved her hand.

“It’s okay.  Move your hair aside.  I’ll touch the side of your neck.”

Dot pawed at her hair, moving it.  She felt the touch at her neck.

The pain around the cuts and the bites faded.  The aches and sore joints sang with euphoria as they became normal and the endorphins that had flooded her body to help remained.

She reached out, with arms and tail, and wrapped herself around the Red Queen’s arm.  She stared at the tattoos, black and red, tracing one hand along the ray of a sun.  Not colorful enough, but… not bad.  She had spots, too, but of a very different sort.

“Why are you sad?” the Red Queen whispered.

“My king doesn’t want me,” Dot said.

“Can I?” the Red Queen asked, moving her hand, and Dot saw.  Dot nodded, and closed her eyes as the Red Queen stroked her.  A different, lighter touch.

“I’m stuck too,” the Red Queen said.  “I’ve finished my work for the day, but someone I’m supposed to stay away from is just downstairs.  I think I know how it feels.”

“If I could have one thing only, I would have him close.”

“Yeah.”

“As a friend or a master or a King or anything.”

“Yeah.”

“But I can’t.”

“And that anger of yours?  What are we going to do about that?”

Dot might have been surprised, but King Rinke had called this woman a Queen and Queens were supposed to be capable of great things.

She kept her mouth shut.  Amazed as she was, she wasn’t dumb.

“How about… in exchange for that healing I just gave you, you keep me company for a little while?”

Carefully, slowly, Dot crawled into the Red Queen’s lap.

The Red Queen stroked her, and each stroke was like the inhalation, the exhalation, the single step toward feeling a little bit better.

Even when the hand stopped moving, and rested on Dot’s shoulder, when Dot stared at the missing fingertips, she felt a little more okay.

They sat there, long after the coast was clear for the Red Queen.  It was only when people came up the stairs that they were forced to move.  The Red Queen moved Dot closer, putting on her jacket, and closed up the jacket so Dot was held close, and it was good, Dot’s ear pressed down to the Red Queen’s heart.

The Red Queen started down the stairs, one arm helping to keep Dot in position within her jacket.

“I’ll help you with your anger if you help me with mine.”

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196 thoughts on “Glare – Interlude 3”

    1. “She leaped forward in the same way and lurching way”
      Repetition.

      “She understood now, why the Alice had used the word ‘broken’.”
      If I got it right, it was RedQueen!Amy, not Alice!Riley who first used that word. Credit where it’s due.

  1. Aw. Amy made a friend. And that friend is a sapient nonhuman monstrosity made by Nilbog.

    The machine army is horrifying. A self-replicating ambush predator that lives in cities. I guess that’s from one of the quarantine zones. Honestly you’d think they’d just nuke those places. Maybe the airburst would just spread them further.

    1. Considering all that we’ve seen in the Wormverse, I don’t really think anyone could justify calling Dot a “monstrosity.” That label would be reserved for things like Scion, Hack Job, Echidna and these fucking terrifying robots that seem to have been made by the world’s first S-Class tinker. The most monstrous thing about Dot was Nilbog’s treatment of her. Seriously, she goes through all that effort to see him, offers to let him use her body however he wants, and his response is to tell her to go back where she came from and watch her family die. That was cold, Nilbog. That was so cold, you should change your name to Ice Rinke.

      I’d apologise for that line, but I’m still posting it, so you know I’m really not sorry.

      1. Well, it’s not like there’s anything else he could do, given how tightly he’s being surveilled. (He can’t even keep her with him, since he’s only allowed one creation.) He definitely seemed equally devastated at being forced to do that …

        Really, his only possible means of escape is going full S-class threat and unleashing his contingency plague, and even then someone would probably kill him in the process.

        1. Aside from the bit where she wants to introduce omnicidally-malfunctioning robots to the last bastion of interworld civilization.

          1. Considering that the entire purpose of here life just got thrown out the window, that’s probably a perfectly normal reaction that she’ll get over soon.

    2. IIRC Wildbow explained with Nilbog that nuking his creations wasn’t garunteed to work. Because remember while he runs the Goblin King bit he’s not. He’s human. He knows what nukes are, and he can create things that might just survive and come back for revenge. I’d assume the same applies to the killbots. They have protocols for nuking.

    3. All the nukes got used fighting Scion, remember? I’d guess they don’t have the capability to nuke all of the machine lands even if they wanted to.

      1. I’m pretty sure the question is one of “Why didn’t humanity nuke them instead of quarantining them?”

        Also, when were the nukes used? The only one I can remember is the one Miss Militia summoned.

        1. During the later stages of the battle, Khepri lured Scion to an abandoned world and emptied the entire bomb stockpiles of every technological civilization she could find directly on top of him.

  2. So I guess the Red Queen is Amy and that she had to wait because Victoria was in the building. I hope Amy and Victoria get a meeting soon.

    1. I’m thinking Victoria took out a Restraining Order? Or is it enforced on Warden property via Yamada’s recommendation?

      1. It’s probably just enforced by the fact that Amy knows it would be a really bad idea to unexpectedly show up in front of Victoria.

      2. “I hope Amy and Victoria get a meeting soon.”

        I thought people in this thread were arguing against nuclear explosions. Seriously, that is a meeting that I think is coming in the not near to medium term of the story. I expect it to be disastrous and really juicy to read.

        1. Well better you have your nuclear detonation in a controlled situation, out in the middle of nowhere than at an unexpected time in the middle of a city. Depending on how things go the family dinner might be a better place for it than, say in the middle of a crisis.

          So really the question is. What’s the worst place the bomb can go off?

  3. So, Amy was upstairs when Victoria visited the Warden headquarters? Spooky, what with Victoria trying to convince herself that Amy wasn’t secretly close to her.

    I get the feeling we haven’t seen the full tragedy of Guts & Glory yet.

    1. Just remember. When Amy has become the Goblin Queen, it’s all because Vicky rejected all attempts to try and mend things.

      Heck when Rinke was talking to her asking her why a queen like her should be unhappy, I was thinking “Because the one who holds her heart despises her, and she can’t fix it.”

      1. negadarkwing says…. **Just remember. When Amy has become the Goblin Queen, it’s all because Vicky rejected all attempts to try and mend things.**

        @negadarkwing: Victoria’s not the villain here. It’s not *Victoria’s* responsibility to ruin her life caring for the dangerously insane sister who molested her. Vicky has absolutely NO duty to accept anything from Amy; apologies, advances or even her presence! Vicky’s NOT Amy’s mother, and she doesn’t OWE her anything at all… even in the mudane world of Here & Now, people are generally not required to face a sibling who molested them. (Yeah, “molestation” is a metaphor; what Amy actually did to Victoria was considerably worse.)

        1. Are we forgetting the alternative to the molesting was slow acidic death? And that it wasn’t done on purpose? Or maybe you’re thinking of the making her like her bit? When Victoria hugged her sister after repeated firm warnings not to do it when Amy had just been victim of a SH9 horror show. The kind that created Bones as out of a normal and happy child.

          I don’t think Victoria is the villains. But blaming Amy for everything is pushing it a lot. Everyone fucked up. Carol probably fucked up the most out of anyone… Both her kids needed therapy way way waaay sooner. But it’s just a very unfortunate situation, and while it’s obviously hard for Victoria not to blame her sister, we have full context and should no better.

        2. Honestly, Victoria’s just as guilty. She habitually abused her aura while Amy was going through puberty, which is most likely why Amy developed her crush. The fact that Victoria handled the crisis points considerably worse (yelling and breaking things, instead of apologizing and trying to fix them) does not endear me to her.
          (Not that either is all that guilty. Amy did something similar to rape, because it was about as simple as kissing and seemed less intrusive at the time. Victoria threw a hissey fit, after a long history of pushing boundaries and doing something similar to drugging everyone who objected. I blame the Passengers for most of it, as they’re the ones who gave morally horrifying powers (rape someone as easily as kissing them! Drug people with a smile!) to children. Not that it’s much better for adults.)

          1. Reminder that Jack gets 99.9% of the blame, the rest of people involved can fight over what fraction of that 0.1% of guilt.

          2. Jack was bad, but he wasn’t responsible for Victoria’s (severe) issues. That was a combination of superpowers and common immaturity. 99% of the problems were, if anything, Zion and Eden’s fault. And even then, they mostly just made existing issues worse.

        3. Well first off the Goblin Queen bit was actually me joking there. I guess tone doesn’t come across well there. Everyone keep in mind some of what I’m putting up isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Some is. I suppose I’ll have to make it clearer in the future.

          As for simply treating it as fault, well I see other people covered that. The whole of New Wave is full of tragedies, Fluer’s death, Crystal loosing her parents and brothers, and of course the sheer mess of the Dallons.

          Don’t mistake my sympathy for Amy and criticizing Victoria as a lack of sympathy for one or the other. But this isn’t a case where you just look at one and say “That one’s completly wrong the other one is completly right.”

  4. Minor nitpick that keeps bugging me: if it’s just an inert gas they’re using (that isn’t CO2), they wouldn’t actually notice that they’re being asphyxiated. Turns out your body’s “needs to breathe” system detects CO2 rather than oxygen, and inert gases let you exhale CO2 just fine … which means that you’d get a bit lightheaded and then pass out and die, without ever feeling like you need to breathe. This is actually a known hazard for inert gas leaks – people die one-by-one, as they run in after the people who’ve already collapsed, and don’t realize there’s anything wrong until they pass out themselves.

    (If they’re supposed to be using poison gas or CO2 here, feel free to ignore this.)

    1. It could be chlorine or mustard gas, which kills by attacking mucus membranes and causing burns and the overproduction of mucus that causes you to drown yourself in your own blood and snot.

      Or it could be some Tinker-tech chemical weapon that doesn’t directly map to any normal chemical weapon.

    2. Well, that’s what happened, isn’t it? People started collapsing, and by the time anyone figured out why, it was too late. I’d go with ethane, a common component of natural gas with no smell that likes to fill basements, or carbon tetrachloride, which has a faintly sweet smell.

  5. “I’ll help you with your anger if you help me with mine.”

    This statement is either reassuring (if it fits the overall mood of the story so far) or very, VERY concerning.

    1. I was feeling very “OH NO” when Dot described her vengeance plan, but it went away when Amy talked to her, AND THEN IT CAME BACK AT THE END.

      Maybe it will be the other interpretation, where they help each other with their anger in a healthy, positive sense. I am so glad that you raised that possibility. BUT MAYBE IT WON’T.

      1. I doubt there’ll be anger being dealt with in a positive and healthy sense, but I’m reasonably sure that Amy would oppose a plan to release and unstoppable army of Van Neumann (sp?) machines on humanity, if only because she doesn’t want to die. However, if Amy is doing something out of anger, the results might be worse. Rinke wasn’t wrong when he talked about how powerful she was. She has the potential to be everything Nilbog was and more.

        1. Between Amy and Scion… Pick your poison. Amy could probably wipe everyone without anyone noticing just by mutating an airborne virus.

          1. Dragon is about the only character who’d be able to do much if Amy went bad, because she’s about the only one Amy can’t just create a pathogen to wipe out and will have to start being creative with.

          2. Weld is quite possibly also immune to Amy. Other case 53s (and that may at least kind of include all cauldron capes, based on the discussion of Alexandria) may also have varying degrees of immunity. I guess the Ash Beast would probably be immune too, but he’s dead.

      2. For a moment, I thought gung guvf jnf tbvat gb or gur rdhvinyrag bs gur cevzbeqvny Vagreyhqr onpx va Gjvt. But then Amy came in and forestalled that particular potential problem…while incidentally opening the door for a new one.

  6. I certainly would not mind seeing more of Ratcatcher in the future. She’s been great fun in her appearances so far.

      1. The rats are almost definitely hers (Dot’s inner monologue notes that “Ratcatcher had friends,” and that “they smelled like Ratcatcher’s pocket had,” and Ratcatcher whistles just before they confront Dot), but I am not sure whether she’s a Thinker/Master combination, or whether she just trained them.

  7. So this is what’s going on with Nilbog’s creations. It’s rather concerning that they’re able to get through the human defenses so easily, and that seeding something onto the trains is so feasible. Speaking of which, I wonder what’s going on with Nilbog’s other creation – his contingency plague, the one for in case his kingdom was nuked or otherwise conquered. Is it still contained in the ruins of Ellisburg, just waiting for the right trigger to set it off? Or is it even now spreading, seeding itself into the earth and water and air, transforming humans into monsters scarcely distinguishable from the rest?

    (Regarding quarantine zones, I’m also really looking forward to seeing what’s going on with the Pastor … )

    Also, are Nilbog’s creations capable of triggering? We know from Valkyrie’s epilogue that there’s something going on related to them and powers, and with their fallen kingdom and post-apocalyptic wasteland they’re certainly in the right sort of situations …

    1. IIRC there’s WOG that the whole point of Nilbog (and why his shed was fine with him just staying in one town instead of expanding) was to essentially be a backup for shards if humans got wiped out. That, plus Dot’s almost human-level intelligence, makes me pretty sure that at least some of them could trigger.

      1. Almost human-level? I think the only reason why she has trouble speaking is because she never learned it. Her plan there at the end is simple, but not something I would have come up with.

    2. I just assumed she got through that easily because they weren’t trying super hard to keep her out.

      In a building full of supers, Ratcatcher makes a call and Moonsong or a tinker takes her out once they spot her. It’s not like there’s a question about where she’s going.

      1. Both times she has appeared, Ratcatcher has seemed not to have the total respect and admiration of her colleagues. One could imagine her making the call, and the people on the other end being all “false alarm; it’s Ratcatcher again.” Humans are assholes, and parahumans are super-assholes.

        1. I think Parahumans are actually easier to deal with if you know what you’re doing, though. Their powers give large hints about their issues and coping mechanisms, while normal people tend to have subtler tells.
          On that note, if Rain’s primary power really is that ‘make things fragile’ ranged attack, he’s probably a Lasher profile who tries to weaken anyone who sets him off. That makes the case against him more convincing.

          1. Horatio… I _think_ I get most of what you’re saying with your different categorizatiobs of powers, but it’s hard to keep track. Maybe have a simple web page with the list, (& descriptions, correspondences to Official Wildbow WOG categories, example capes), and link to it when you reference them? Thanks!

    1. I imagine once the Amypocalypse begins everyone’s going to be all like-

      “GODDAMNIT VICTORIA ALL SHE WANTED WAS A FAMILY DINNER! BUT NOOO, YOU COULDN’T EVEN GIVE HER THAT! I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY!”

        1. Victoria, I would never normally say this. But you have to reconcile with your sister.

          I know what she did. I know you have every right to stay mad at her, and telling a victim how to deal with their trauma goes utterly against all that is right and sane.

          But her power is beyond what is right or sane. Amy can kill us all. Her plague can spread across every world. She must not choose to make them. It trumps your rights, or any person’s rights. To save us all we need this sacrifice.

          Killing her is no out. We need her and Bonesaw, heck maybe even Nilblog, just to keep ourselves alive in this hostile world. She must cooperate. Her demands must be met.

          I’m so sorry.

          1. I think Amy suffers from co dependency and has some serious problems forming emotional bonds. If you look at her relationships with the people in her life it seems like she keeps everyone but Victoria at arms length – she says she loves her adoptive parents but honestly doesn’t act as though she likes them, her father Marquis has been nothing but kind to her and she doesn’t really like him either, and she’s been working with side by side with Riley for two years and still seems to have trouble interacting with her. I don’t think she had any friends back in Brockton Bay either; it seems like she just followed Victoria around like a stalker.

            Amy’s new friendship reminds me of Bonesaw and Eli’s, two screwed up people who can relate to one another because they have something in common.

          2. Take your shipping goggles off. Amy’s not gonna snap. Not yet, anyway. I give it another two disasters before she goes crazy.
            Anyway, she and Riley are perfectly capable of growing their own Victoria clone for her to fuck if she really needs one. There’s no need for the real Victoria to get involved.

  8. A sinister horde of bolts. I swear, propping up the little bits of paper from the cans proves that this is the dumbest and smartest artificial intelligence I’ve seen. Current theory – Some tinker’s idea for a trap that failed to turn off after X generations.

    1. While the Machine Army seems to obviously be a product of tinker technology, I wonder how they got around the problem that tinker creations are notoriously high maintenance. “High maintenance” meaning that the tinker him/herself needs to be involved. I realize that these things are tendencies, not hard and fast rules (see Masamune) , but it’s divergence that bears paying attention to.

      1. A Tinker who specialises in ‘forever’, maybe? Or simply the fact that the robots being built now are not Tinker-tech, and therefore capable of self-repair.

        1. Special maintenance robots, I believe. Or they just are conservated for the most of the time and therefore last longer, and are recycled when they accumulate enough problems, with new machines made out of the material.

      2. Sounds like a Tinker whose specialty might be in self-replicating machines. In which case it isn’t really much of a divergence.

      3. Tinker tech is usually high maintenance, true. But that would not hinder robots able to “infect” an area and reproduce from just raw materials. So what if everything breaks down after a month? The parts of the now broken robots will be still there. It could just get infected anew. Granted, there is a limit to that, but a robot “civilization” like that wouldn’t hit that particular snag before at least a few centuries have passed…

    2. It doesn’t look like AI in the Dragon sense. They don’t really behave intelligently, they just replicate and spread. They do lay traps, but in a way that looks more instinctive than clever, at least in this chapter. There’s obviously a tinker involved somewhere, but I have no idea whether the robot plague has gone rogue or whether it was always meant to do this. Maybe it was someone who specialized in self-replicating systems and this is what happens when he tries to build robot to do his shopping, or maybe it was a normal robotics tinker working very hard and really pushing his limits to fuck everyone over.

      Maybe this is Kenzie’s dark secret? A little factory that installs itself into terrain and starts spitting out robots seems like an “emplacement” to me. 😛

      1. It’s something that was mentioned in passing way back in Worm, as something which had been quarantined some time ago. Kenzie would have been seven or eight when Worm started, so unless Kenzie triggered extremely early, started a robot apocalypse, survived, and second-triggered to make her tinker power into something completely unrelated to robots, this is utter BS.

  9. Soooo, with all the various jokes in the fandom that Alice is totally Riley’s Persona, we get a literal aclnowledgement? Except the Riley here is no longer in a state where she can ask some to “Please die for me?”, right? RIGHT?

    This was a fun chapter, and I take it that the commotion that helped Dot slip by and the reason Amy ended up sitting on the atairs was because this segment happened concurrently with the last chapter?

  10. My favourite interlude so far! The beginning felt like watching a Black Mirror episode. This chapter also changed my perspective on Nilbog’s creation, I hadn’t thought that they were able to think and have feelings like that, it made me root for the little monster until Amy showed up. Here I thought Vicky worried for nothing when she warned Miss Yamada.
    Using Amy to double check Riley’s work is fine but they should maybe get someone to do the same to Amy. Even if it was only once, what she did to Victoria was as fucked up as any of Bonesaw’s creation. But what we saw in this chapter could be an exception and maybe she usually is monitored by someone, we’ll have to wait and see.

    1. >what she did to Victoria was as fucked up as any of Bonesaw’s creation

      Cherish was made to live forever in a small jar in the bottom of the ocean, feeling every negative emotion in Brockton Bay. Blasto was enslaved to serve Bonesaw as she worked to destroy everything, repeatedly operated on without anesthesia, and occasionally forgotten in a side room to sing the “Love Bug Love Hug” song for several hours until the strain of the repeated motions left him crippled on the floor, still trying to dance. Those are the only two cases where we got to see what Bonesaw did when she had time to work, Grue and Battery were more like side notes, but I’d guess Blasto’s a fairly representative example of what many of her victims got. Victoria really didn’t have it that bad. She was left with a highly inconvenient body, and an obsession with Amy implanted in her mind, and that was pretty much it. That’s not a fate worse than death. That’s not even a fate as bad as death. She’s just a wimp who can’t get over one mind rape and a few years of having no mouth and needing to scream.

      1. Okay I’m going to explain exactly what your biggest thing you got wrong there is. Victoria did not have no mouth. She had a bunch of mouths. She just couldn’t figure out how to get them to all work right. And she’d mostly be using them to ask where Amy is.

        1. “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” is a reference to an infamous Harlan Ellison story. All that’s left on earth is an angry robot (I think?, it’s been a while. Some inhuman intelligence, anyway) and a few humans as playthings. The robot-or-whatever can manipulate the forms of the humans, thus leading to the title.

  11. What a wonderful interlude!

    Since the person who usually says this apparently missed an update, vote for Ward here: topwebfiction.com, or your King may not want you!

  12. Those robots and their implications were terrifying. Like just a step removed from nanobot plague terrifying.

    They basically convert man made structures into death traps, and their utility function is apparently restricted to “spread, infiltrate, and kill trespassers”. The originating Tinker kinda did a picture perfect job of creating an existential replicating threat.

    With so many of the Earths being post apocalyptic urban wastelands there’s potential for them to convert entire cities. Depending on how they spread (Dot’s plan implies they can function somewhat like dandelion seeds) it makes sense that the heroes would be forced to just straight quarantine their place of origin.

    The super strict immigration policies are starting to make a lot more sense.

      1. Why to I feel like this coming for there Bohu is left. Just slowly working its way out till the world is just one big death trap.

  13. Ratcatcher! Riley!! Amy!!!

    This interlude was just full of my favorite characters!!!

    I’m so glad to finally get to see Amy again, but I really hope her anger isn’t towards Victoria… Hmmmm…

    “I’m… I think if I’m here, it’s because I’ve been checkmated by her. She implied she’d waste my time if I didn’t go along with this.”

    That’s definitely not Victoria she’s referring to- maybe their mom? Maybe Valkyrie? Whoever that is, it seems like they’re the more likely source of her anger than Victoria.

    Also, finally, I can’t help but wonder if the machine plague isn’t somehow related to Kenzie…

    1. If Kenzie made the killbots, she wouldn’t be going to therapy with the others. She’d be on as tight a leash as Riley, while they try to get her to make a way to shut them down.

      Sneaky Killbots and posibility of Amy going Goblin Queen. Where’s Dragon when you need her?

      1. “If Kenzie made the killbots, she wouldn’t be going to therapy with the others. She’d be on as tight a leash as Riley, while they try to get her to make a way to shut them down.”

        Or she hasn’t told anyone. Might explain why she is insistent that she isn’t an S-class threat.

        That said, I don’t think the tech fits her. Small stuff that can turn into a self-replicating pile? No illusions? The little machines? The apparent lack of motion sensors? Just doesn’t feel like her. I suppose its possible she radically shifted her style. Another possibility is it was some form of group project. Or perhaps it got accidentally made on Gold Morning.

        1. Quite Possibly a Cat has very good points. But then, Dragon’s shard is a splinter of Andrew Richter’s, and her tech has a very different flavour- Andrew specialised in AI; Dragon in adapting other tinker’s tech.

          Combined with the theory her father is a robot (chatbot-with-a-body), and the fact her mother hasn’t even shown up for that, well. Maybe she’s a second or third-gen cape, and we’re seeing what her ancestors have done.

        2. The problem with keeping it secret then becomes Thinkers. I’m pretty sure they’d have put some on trying to figure things out with the killbots, and the right Thinker power could lead them back to Kenzie if she was the creator.

    2. That would be a bit of a twist, seeing as the Machine Army’s been around since before Kenzie was born …

      (The PRT quarantine sites doc mentions that the Machine Army happened before Nilbog, which was in 2001. Kenzie was born around 2003, since she’s twelve years old in 2015.)

  14. Clever juxtaposition of the reproducing but slowly fading class S threat of Nilbolg’s spawn, and the aggressive reproducing Machine Army.

    But we feel empathy for the small cute naive Dot, and fear of the mindless crushing inhumanity of the Machine Army. I look forward to the interlude from the small cute drone desperately tracking radiation readings through a storm to try and find the nucelar power plants the Machine Army was created to quarantine 🙂

    Everyone gets second chances. And we as the audience are shamed for our earlier blood lust. All those deaths were all of thinking, inhuman sophonts. Who are the real monsters?

    1. “Who are the real monsters?”
      Well Jack Slash and Grey Boy for starters.

      And yes I’d have taken Nilbog and his creations over the robots. At least he’ll eventually die, and then they’d die off, or once they ran out of resources they’d die. The machines could potentially stay waiting for a lot longer. Also you can at least try to convince them not to kill you. It might not work, but there’s a chance.

  15. What a great chapter, Wildbow!

    Love Ward so far, despite not finding the main character as relatable and interesting as Worm protagonist.

  16. Well shit. Old Nilbog’s creations are a lot more aware and intelligent than I ever thought. Actually a pretty sad chapter. At least Amy made a new friend. That said I have to wonder if Victoria isn’t going to fuck everyone with her no Amy’s attitude.

    Oh and the machines are very dangerous indeed. The biggest part of the threat really is that they are… Not smart really, but subtle.

    And Ratcatcher again, which is good. So she’s also got a master power with rats? Useful.

  17. “Even when the hand stopped moving, and rested on Dot’s shoulder, when Dot stared at the missing fingertips, she felt a little more okay.”

    Amy is missing her fingertips?

    1. Siberian bit off her fingers (Prey 14.2) and Amy cannot heal herself.

      “Amy Dallon ran for her life. It wasn’t the kind of run one saw in marathons or anything like that. It was mindless, panicked, like a herd animal in a stampede. She took the easiest and most obvious paths available to her, stumbling as often as not, her sole and all-consuming purpose being to put distance between herself and her pursuer. Her left hand was cradled against her chest, the very ends of her pinky, ring and middle fingers missing. Was that intentional? Harming the healing hands?”

        1. Maybe Amy asked her not to? Could be Amy wants to keep the reminders like those and her prison tats for good or ill.

        2. They need Amy to check Riley’s work, and Amy can’t use her power on herself. There would be no reliable way to tell whether Riley had laced the new fingers with subtle mind control devices, and if it was later determined she had, there would be no way to get them out.

          She should be able to find another healer to fix her if she really tried, though. There should be ONE alive. Hell, even a good muggle doctor might be able to fix it.

          1. Grow back body parts without superpowers or tinkertech? No. But I agree with you about why Riley hasn’t grown back Amy’s fingertips yet. Amy simply can’t afford to put that much trust in Riley. I mean, she has tea parties with Nilbog…for fun!

  18. “I guess I’ll be at my father’s side while talking to some of the most powerful people in all the known worlds”
    Curious what this is referring to. Marquis is going to some kind of super-dude meeting? He’s still a villain, right? I’m not really clear on what Amy’s hero status is right now if she’s still hanging around with him…

    1. Amy’s situation is pretty unique if you think about it. First off there’s her power. She’s one of the top 1%. Even if it’d just been healing a lot of people would have a vested interest in keeping her safe due to her ability to keep them from dying. The only one who matches her is Riley, and she’s under lock and key with the Wardens. But it’s not just healing. Amy is by herself one of the most powerful people in the world just because of her power. If she decided to wipe everyone out, about the only thing I think could really oppose her is Dragon.

      And then we’ve got her family situation. Marquis is definitly a big name in the Supervillain community. He was after all a block leader in the birdcage, and it looks like he’s done very well for himself post golden morning. On the other end her adoptive family were prominent in the Super Hero community. So right now she’s well suited for running back and forth and being connected everywhere.

      Now as we’ve seen there’s still S class threats. Killbots are a threat to everyone. Wardens, Marquis, some asshole warlords, etc. So as much as it may gall the Wardens they benefit from having some sort of channel to the not so nice guys.

      Amy is in a posistion where every side wants to keep on her good side for one reason or another, and where she can be an emissery, or just expected to be there because she’s so powerful.

  19. Ratcatther’s lithp thpelling is inconsithtent; not all thibliantth are re-thpelt ath ‘th’ (e.g. ‘Not so fatht’), ethpethially when they would be normally thpelt with a ‘c’ (e.g. ‘Nice’). The altho theemth to mithpronounce pothtalveolarth, whith doethn’t make muth thenthe (e.g. ‘Burnith’).

    (Cointhidentally, I wath looking up Life of Brian‘th Pilate/Bigguth Dickuth thene the previouth day…)

  20. This can only spell disaster. I hope Yamada did end up sending someone Amy’s way. And while Victoria wanting space makes sense from her perspective, Amy needs some form of closure before something goes wrong.

    That said, I did like Dot’s characterization, though I am concerned about her plan to destroy civilization. Hopefully being near Amy will lead her to grow an attachment so she can move past Nilbog.

    Looking forward to future encounters with this duo.

  21. I FINALLY CAUGHT UP! Its been weeks since I started reading Ward, which I did when I finally finished Worm months after I started reading that, which I finally did after months of reading Anathema, not including the many months I stopped reading due to the device I was using to read at the time, which happened weeks after I started reading, way back in late 2016 or early 2017. I avoided comments until I finished the serials with the exception of Glow-worm/Ward out of fear for spoilers. I have so much I want to say but I don’t know where to say it. One thing I think I should ask is now that I’ve caught up, how do I recieve updates when new chapters release? I saw the FAQ and whatever and theres a lot more to this Worm fan thing than I realized so what are some things I can do now that I don’t have to worry about spoilers?

    Also I don’t like to read more than one thing at a time so I don’t want to start reading Twig which I also hear is good but Ward is still new and who knows how long it will be before I start Twig if I wait for Ward to end?

    1. If Ward is the same length as Worm or Twig it could take wildbow 2-3 years to finish so I’d recommend you read Twig or Pact and then you’ll have a nice back log of Ward to read when you’re done.

  22. Say, is there a discordapp.com channel concerning Ward? I really want to be able to talk to somebody about this story in real time.

  23. I understand that Panacea can’t heal herself, but does that extend to indirect methods too? I feel like she could easily create some fingertips capable of attaching themselves.

    1. Not the first time she’s done that. I guess eventually she learned that her modifications to Taylor saved the world, but that wasn’t clear for some time.

      1. When she mucked with Taylor’s brain, she was actually trying to save humanity. The fact that it worked was a miracle, but Amy was trying to help her power up to fight Scion.

      2. She should know what happened During Golden Morning, she was there for it. Damn I can’t remember how it went, but didn’t Taylor portal in and Amy was all expecting to be grabbed and accepting it, and then Taylor grabbed whoever was next to her?

        1. Sure, but that was after TT was sure that Taylor was broken and Amy and her entourage fled from Khepri, and quite a while before the multiverse actually got saved.

          1. Yeah going to have to go back and read the chapters again, I’m hazy on some things. Seems like khepri would be dropping people next to her to be fixed. Or someone would fill her in. Though if it was Lisa filling her in she might guilt trip her some.

  24. this chapter was really good, my favorite of Ward so far. I definitively was rooting for dot to sucess even if i knew that her efforts where in vain…

  25. I think Victoria’s hatred of Amy has less to do with being wretched and more to do with the 2 years she spent obsessively in love with her.

  26. Distinct notes of Black Mirror s04e05, with the added terror of self-replication!

    (Not insinuating copying of any sort, just acknowledging similarity.)

    Totally dig this interlude.

    1. The idea of self replicating killbots who’ve disguised themselves isn’t new. Remember the movie Screamers? I can’t remember the name of the story it was based on, but it’s been around for a while. Even the idea of them being disguised as ordinary inanimate objects has been around for a while. There was even a Decepticon in one Transformers comic that disguised himself as the tripod for a rocket launcher. Well it’s possible he was the rocket launcher itself. But considering the ammount of guys who were cassette tapes… Yeah not a new idea.

      1. Screamers was based on “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dicks. It was first published in 1953. It has indeed been around for some time. =)
        Short summary: During some global conflict, a type of terror-weapon named “claws” was invented. It started out as spherical drones with blades and reproduced and evolved itself independently in underground facilities. It is incapable of recognizing friends or foes. The only way to be from safe from the earliest versions is to wear a special radiation-emitting wrist tab. The humanoid looking robots don’t react to the wrist tabs anymore. It is known that there are three varieties to date: The first type that takes the shape of a wounded soldier and is marked I-V. The third version, which looks like an orphan boy with a teddy bear, calling himself David, has the designation III-V. The model with the designation II-V has not been identified as of the start of the story. The main character discovers its identity AFTER he sent one specimen with a spaceship to the moon base which houses the remnants of humanity.

        Personally, I am amazed that there was a guy who thought of these kinds of apocalytic scenarios as early as the 1950’s. I would have expected something like this in the late 80’s or later…

        1. Thank you! Yes Phillip K. Dick was quite the trailblazer. And don’t be surprised that someone in the 1950’s would be thinking of doomsday scenarios and if people would build weapons that ended up destroying all of humanity. I’m not sure, but that may go back even further, and in this case the 1950’s is the Cold War and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction.

  27. Ok Red Queen is such a perfect name for Amy. I really cant wait until she becomes a more active part of the story. And its very interesting that she’s straddling the line between the wardens and Marquise’s heir. Also, dot is adorable and very sad. She makes me think of some of the characters in twig, practically the Fairytales, though she loves her creator. (I wonder what Nilbog would make of Ferres’s Fairytale show?)

  28. Once again, we see that fucking Tinkers are much, much worse than fucking time manipulators.
    Step your game up, Victoria.

        1. Nope. Phir Se wasn’t a tinker. His power was creating portals where something goes in one in the future and comes out the other in the past. He set of a loop with two portals and a beam of light, letting it run a few days and thus build a gigantic ammount of energy. When he would alter it so the light actually hit something, and that energy go released, that’s when the boom happens.

  29. As scary as the idea of Dot placing a machine seed on a train is, I don’t think it would have worked. That kind of thing is *exactly* why they have Thinkers watching the portals.

    1. It might have worked depending on which Thinkers were on duty that day. Those guys aren’t perfect. They each have different special abilities that are good at finding different things. Plus most of them will have occasional lapses in their attention. I’m not saying that it definitely would have worked. It might have even had a poor chance of totally destroying humanity But it was a “good” idea and perhaps Dot’s best chance of pulling it off. Which is scary.

      We have so not seen the last of the Machine Army.

        1. Contessa or Dina or one of the other precogs. A doomsday event isn’t going to take them off guard; even if the source is shielded against precog Dinah at least can sense an outline.

    2. It almost certainly wouldn’t have wiped out Megalopolis, just because of how many capes Megalopolis has. The machines are winning because they spread fast and are prohibitively difficult to root out, but they aren’t indestructible. Defending a single point would be much, much easier than trying to curtail their spread over the entire American continent. It would massively suck for everyone living along the train line, and probably kill a whole lot of people, but it wouldn’t end humanity.

      It might even be a good thing to have a reason to blow the dust off the old Endbringer Truce. Either that or it’d trigger a civil war as every two-bit villain made a bid for power in the chaos, but one can hope.

      1. Actually I thought of something. Bitch and her dogs might be a good counter for the seed stage. If the dogs can smell the bots in the ground, then they can destroy them before the infiltration takes hold.

  30. I read Worm after it was finished, and I see a lot of “Bonus Donation Interludes” and such. Does WinterBreath have a specific amount of money to get a bonus interlude, a certain goal per an arc, per week, etc.? How do I know when I should send some money to get those sweet interludes?

    1. Bonuses aren’t specifically interludes these days. If you click the Support Wildbow link at the top you can see how bonuses work – basically, there are donation thresholds that give extra updates. Normally he updates on tuesday and saturday, but with a donation bonus he’ll also update on thursday (like this update).

  31. Personally, I think this was the best and most interesting chapter so far; certainly the most engaging. Really enjoyed Dot and her unabashed, inhuman behaviours (sticking her tongue up her nose to pick it), and even managed some sympathetic interest for Nilbog and Amy. The characters — even those we’ve seen previously — were more convincing here, emotionally and mentally satisfying to read about, and spoke (and thought) realistically, with an effective tempo and rhythym (of course, realism = grimdark superhero sci-fi realism, so YMMV).

    For the first time while reading ‘Ward’, I didn’t feel the need to skip ahead to something interesting each time I hit an extended passage of ‘narration.’

  32. What does the MachineArmy want with humans?

    Is it trapping them deliberately in its faux “Wal-Mart” stores, or are the encounters accidental? And if the “stores” are deliberate traps, to what end? To use the bodies as raw materials? To kill the humans off? To conduct a campaign of terror? Could this all be emergent behaviour or corrupted operating code, mutating from some self-repairing, self-replicating “base”?

    1. From their behaviors, it seemed to me like they are trying to keep things tidy. They may be some sort of deranged cleaning robots.

  33. As shitty as what Carol is doing to Vicky is, this chapter makes me feel a little better that she’s doing it. It seems like Carol might be the only one really trying to reincorporate Amy into some semblance of normalcy and support on the side of the good guys.

    “Yeah,” the Queen said. “I worry because the only people willing to talk to me say similar things, but I’m not sure they’re people I should listen to.”

    If the only support Amy receives comes from villains then the path she chooses might not be the ones the heroes want. Reminds me of another Queen……

    1. Yeah well Amy’s issues… We could talk a lot about things there. Even if Carol hadn’t been projecting her issues onto Amy, Mark hadn’t had depression, Vicky wasn’t running the forcefield and Amy wasn’t in love with her, we’ve still got a girl who lost both birth parents at a young age and a power that’s going to put huge strain on her. She’s going to have to deal with the fact that there’s always going to be people who want or need her to heal them, for example. We know there were pressures there. Combine that with the rigid black and white worldview she developed something was going to break. Oh and then the S9 come to town…

    2. Right now it’s just spooking me out that Carol might be the only one actually trying to treat Amy like Amy instead of “Super Powerful Cape that we really need on our side although we think she’s a monster for the shit she got up to after the S9 came and wrecked her life”.

          1. I think you’re being too pessimistic. Amy is pretty good at self control, and doesn’t have much reason to attack lots of people. The situation is probably at least as stable as the real-life global nuclear standoff, which has lasted for seventy years.

          2. I don’t think my worry is that Amy will snap and cause the plague that ultimately is the next big threat to Humanity. My worry is that she’s going to embrace the criminal “Red Queen” persona that is being suggested by the only support system that seems to be accepting of Amy, namely folks like Marquis and Bonesaw and freaking NILBOG.

            Folks are going to claim that she was always gonna be her Father’s daughter and not really give consideration to the fact that the only folks willing to treat her as a person were the Villains.

  34. Oh this is amazingly great.

    Nilbog situation is very much like a captive royalty from an enemy kingdom.
    Even though everyone was supposed to get a second chance, some still remain under vigilance.

    It’s interesting because Nilbog could be a good counter against the Machine Army. But the Wardens “kingdom” still considers him as a potential enemy kingdom.

    Could they really release the enemy king, with only his words to believe they are allies?

    Truth serums and thinkers might help. But only for the short term. Who is to say that in the future he will not return to being a rival kingdom.

    This is an interesting kind of politics.
    Letting Nilbog go, could help foster good relation.

    Also:
    Dot might not have been able to save her King. But she was able to find someone else that could help.
    Another human that could help, will put Dot revange plan on hold.
    And THIS human isn’t locked up. This human, can help in a very different way.

  35. This looks… awesome…

    Some thoughts, maybe someone already said them.

    One, can Vicky’s shard sense Amy? The last two times they were in proximity Vicky seemed to see Amy without using her eyes. In the house, ok, she knew that Amy was there. In the warden’s HQ? She feels like Amy is there but brushes it off, and Amy is really there!

    Second, YAY! Amy got a friend! Someone that doesn’t really fit into hero or villain mode. Someone that can give Amy what she truly wants, to be unconditionally loved. I can totally see Amy as the Red Queen. Such adventures Dot and Amy can get into, and hopefully they’ll be eventually able to heal each other.

    Third. One of the biggest problems with Amy in a story sense is that she’s unbelievably overpowered. Against any Organic enemy at least. Now, we have an entire army of Von Numen Machines that are by their very nature immune to her power and a serous enough threat to challenge her.

    I’m really hopefully as to where this is going. In a story about second chances I’m looking forward to both Amy and Vicky getting theirs.

  36. Thought on Amy’s fingertips and how to grow them back without Bonesaw (who I’m sure could manage regeneration). Amy has manufactured lifeforms to fulfill specific goals before. She’s made Atlas, relay bugs, a cure the agnosia bioweapon, probably other things. It is possible she could produce a substance/lifeform that would promote regeneration? It’s not something that she normally has to do as that’s more work for her than just directly producing the required healing, but it might let her get around the limitation of not affecting herself. Of course she also might end up looking like Victoria did for two years if she mucked it up, so I can see why she might not have done even if it was possible.

  37. So… I’ve seen some discussion of Kenzie being the creator of the Machine army… And then various people counter along the lines of “Machine army showed up around the time Kenzie was Born” according to some WOG or other.

    So…. What if Kenzie and the Machine army came from the same source (probably a Tinker)?

    I mean the Machine army watches things, acts neat, is made of “Seeds” and creates disguises.
    Kenzie… watches EVERYTHING, acts neat, makes emplacments and… creates illusions.

    Machine army might not be Kenzie’s creation… it might just be her long lost half-brother/sister/???.

    Also: Dot is great, Nilbog is super chill. Riley is still terrifying, and Amy seems pretty damn sane (all things considered). Good to hear her dad is still on the job.
    I get the feeling that currently Marquis ability acts as something of a “lower bound” to Amy’s- she wouldn’t do anything that her Dad would flinch at, and probably would avoid many things he would be okay with.
    The world seems to be in safe hands on that front.

    Also: Seriously, where are D&D?
    We have heard reference to pretty much EVERYONE except Dragon, Defiant, and Contessa. I feel like something has gone very very wrong.

    1. A lot of capes have been noted. Some that haven’t are the Chicago Wards, Theo especially.
      Where are Dragon and Defiant? They were last seen when Defiant freed Dragon once and for all.
      And Lung’s around somewhere too.

    2. A commenter earlier noted that the Parahumans Online forums – and, by extension, probably the whole post-GM internet – seems to have Dragon tinkering directly with it somehow. It’s in Glow-Worm, wherever exactly there’s an admin post talking about how they got PO back up… the admin’s name is suspiciously analogous to Dragon’s. Of course, it’s all theorycrafting, but worth noting.

      Contessa’ll most likely come up whenever we’re confronted with Teacher’s plot. Probably not for a while. Contessa’s modus operandi has always been one where people don’t really notice her, either way.

  38. I want Amy and Riley to start dating. I bet between the two of them they body mod the crap out of each other and their new daughter Dot. They make those mutations contagious and Dot goes back and her rat brother and sisters rise up to fight the machines with Amy and Riley ruling over an Earth.

    Also he says ‘a queen who has not claimed her power yet’. Is he talking about Taylor?

      1. “Take that as advice from a king who has lost his kingdom to a Queen who has yet to claim hers”-
        Couldn’t it be Taylor though? Nilbog didn’t lose his kingdom to Amy.

  39. One possibility occurs to me while reading the idea that Vicky and Amy’s shards can sense each other. The Shards main goal in connecting with humanity is to drive them into conflict in order to stress test and improve the shard’s capabilities. What if their respective shards are constantly trying to bring them into contact because of the deep trauma and conflict between the two?

  40. This interlude is the first chapter since the start of Ward, that actually got me this much longed for Worm-felling!
    Maybe it’s the familiar characters, maybe it’s because there is happening a lot in a short period of time/you go through a lot of emotions with the characters, …
    For whatever reason: I enjoyed this immensely!

  41. Okay so, I’m a bit late to the game, but I’ve had an interesting idea. The nukes have all been used by Taylor against Scion apparently, but what became of Bakuda’s “best” bomb that was taken by the PRT ?
    As I remember it, it had the power of a nuke but its most important feature was a giant EMP, its range spanning more or less all of North America. If that was to be used against the Machine Army, it could surely stop them.
    Any ideas of where it could be though, in the event of it not having been used by Khepri against Scion ?

  42. Perhaps it’s out of left field, but could Ratcatcher be a cloned Murder Rat? She thanked CrystalClear for not flinching at her actual face, which, if I recall correctly, was still very Bonesawed! Plus it keeps with the rat theme. Also, increased mobility. But also the powered is different… Could come from cloning? Or perhaps I’m completely off base.

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