Shade – 4.4

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I was being watched.

I was being watched at a time when Rain was gone, hiding, when Tattletale was in play.  We had enemies, I’d drawn attention.  These things, though, weren’t at the forefront of my attention.  It said a lot that they weren’t.

The slash on Moose’s face lingered in my mind’s eye, when I wasn’t careful about where that eye was turned.

The train was noisy as it rolled along the tracks.  With the longer train journeys, I was primed to expect that the urban would give way to the rural or the buildings on either side would stop.  It didn’t.  Like a car driving down the highway at night, the streetlights reaching into the vehicle interior and then dropping away, the sun’s light did much the same when it reached in at a low angle, extending between buildings to light up the dark train car.

It was just late enough in the morning that most students had made their way to school, but the students with classes in the afternoon block that had stopped in to check in or change were now leaving the schools.  They were heading off to work, to do light construction work, for academic clubs, study halls and to join the patrol block, and many were dressed accordingly.   They looked so young.

The train car was packed, and I was glad I’d managed to get a seat, even though it was one of the narrow, tiny ones by the door that flipped up to be flush with the wall, when a wheelchair or baby carriage needed the room.

I’d first noticed the person watching me because her face had a lot of freckles, and out of the corner of my eye, I’d thought she was someone else.  On closer look, though, I could see that her hair was jaw length and straighter, her facial structure was different, and she was wearing the clothes of a student athlete, with bare shoulders and arms, gym shorts, and a towel around her neck.

I might have dismissed her then, but she’d been looking at me, looking away when I glanced her way.  I found myself looking again a few moments later, because one look wasn’t enough to dismiss the unease I felt in response to a freckle-covered face looming in my peripheral vision, peering past the crowd.  The same thing happened the second time I looked at her.  I caught her staring, and she looked away.

There had been a time that I would have automatically assumed it was positive.  I was recognizable, I’d been a hometown celebrity in a town with a fair number of prominent people, and that had led to me getting recognized by at least one person each time I went out.  I’d reveled in it.

Now?  Traitorous instincts made that the second or even the third rank option in a list.  The first thought in my head on realizing I was being stared at was to go straight to the hospital room, to people staring at wretched me in a vain effort to try to comprehend what they were looking at.  They wondered how I even functioned, how I worked, tried to understand the configuration.  When I moved automatically, the movements caught the eye.

Even with the most polite and iron-willed of them, they struggled to find which eye or eyes they should look at to make and maintain eye contact, and in the search for that common, natural thing, they ended up staring at the rest of me.

At the rest of the wretch, the sideshow freak, the monster.

How had Byron put it, at the meeting with Foresight?  Tristan was nourished by the hardheaded struggle.  Byron was recharged by periods of rest.  It gave Tristan a natural advantage in their endless struggle over a single body.

I was closer to Byron in that.  I was recharged by attention, by adulation, encouragement, worship.  It was a natural progression of the fact that I’d been built to be a hero, because I could put on a costume and do great things and get that attention and encouragement.

Had I done things in a different way, it could have even been constructive and healthy.  But I’d been a stupid kid.  Arrogant.  A little worship was good.  I’d worshiped Dean.  He’d worshiped me.  On a level, I’d reached for the wrong things in places, prioritized certain things over others in how I handled the adulation and the public.  There were a lot of things I wished I’d done differently.

That wasn’t even the biggest part of why, much like Byron, I couldn’t go to my most natural ways of finding recharge.  Like how mental illness obscured the ability of the person in question to even see the problem at hand, my capacity to recover was distorted and damaged.  Tainted.

Tristan had remarked on it too, now that I thought about it.  Needing people.  He wanted to party, to abandon restraint.  I wanted… I supposed I wanted not to illogically, automatically, inevitably think of the wretched thing that had occupied that hospital room, anytime someone paid particular attention to me.

I wanted to not feel a deep sadness sinking in when I caught someone staring.

In the places my head went, the wretch loomed in first place, the hero celebrity in second.  The third place possibility was that this girl looking at me was something nefarious, and that the young, freckle-faced athlete was an agent of Tattletale or a hire from Cedar Point.  Not impossible, but not likely.

Then the fourth place possibility, that she thought I was attractive, not impossible.  The fifth place possibility that I had a piece of my breakfast stuck to my cheek or something in my hair.  The sixth place possibility, that she was staring off into space and I was somehow always in the way…

My thoughts were mired in something so minor, my heart ached indistinctly, and I was just making myself anxious and upset.

I checked my phone.  I could focus on the job.  The mission at hand.

You have 49 unread emails.

It was rare for me to have more than three.

Pinned Email: Houndstooth (2 hours ago)
[7 prior messages]
9:15am it is.  I’ll meet you guys at the station.

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (5 minutes ago)
oh I wanted to ask again is there any word on Rain?  you should be seeing Tristan soon and they are probably in contact

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (18 minutes ago)
thats not me trying to guilt you either

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (19 minutes ago)
it’s okay if you don’t answer

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (20 minutes ago)
but seriously who starts the day with math right?

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (20 minutes ago)
not that they give me detention anymore.

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (21 minutes ago)
I went to the bathroom to send that last stuff because we’re covering the angle stuff and oh m god is it so boring.  is worse because I’m not allowd to raise my hand more than a certain number of times now.  better to go to the bathroom n be productive than to fall asleep in class or get detention right?

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (24 minutes ago)
I’m super excited to do this

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (27 minutes ago)
I think I decided on the name Looksee.  it’s cute right?  It’s different enough from optics to work.

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (34 minutes ago)
[Attachment: costumedoodlewoo_2.i – Touch to open in a new window]

(Unread) Kenzie Martin (38 minutes ago)
I know I said I wouldn’t send you any more messages but I forgot I had these scans on my phone:
[Attachment: costumedoodlewoo_1.i – Touch to open in a new window]

[You have 39 more unread emails.  Touch to continue reading]

If they’d been texts I would have been alerted with each one, but I hadn’t, and they’d accumulated.  I was prepared to continue browsing, wrapping my head around reading through the emails in reverse order, but the train slowed, brakes squealing.

The signs above the exits changed.  Car 3: Blackrock Station.

Students departed, then more entered, but the end result was that things were far less crowded.  I got a look at the girl who was staring at me, and she glanced away, reflexively.

As people exited, seats here and there were freed up.  There was a bit of a shuffle as people hurried to claim seats.  A sixteen-ish year old boy claimed the vacated seat next to me.

In that same moment, though, Ashley moved between train cars, entering mine, spotted me, and approached. She wore sunglasses and the black dress she’d picked up at Cedar Point.  Strapless, with sheer black fabric enveloping the shoulders and arms, decorated with a lace-like pattern of feathers.  The sleeves disappeared into fingerless black gloves.  Her little black shoes looked like dancer’s shoes, which fit with the dress she wore.

I raised my hand in a little wave.

“I thought you’d be around,” she said, lifting her sunglasses.

“I messaged you when I boarded,” I said, touching my phone.  I saw her expression change.  “And you don’t like phones.”

The seat I was sitting in was positioned such that the backs of the actual booth seats were to me.  Ashley leaned against the back of one of the other seats, facing me, and the boy just beside me lifted his bag from his lap and used the room she’d given him to vacate the seat.

“Do you want my seat?” I asked him.

He glanced back, looked at me, looked at Ashley, then shook his head.  He nearly lost his balance as the train resumed moving.

Ashley took the seat, pulling it down from the side of the train and then sitting on it, crossing one knee over the other and placing her hands on top.  Posed, in a very deliberate, conscious way.  Even the angle of her head.

I looked past her to the freckled observer, who again looked away.  Was it my frame of mind, sitting with Ashley, that made it so the wretch wasn’t as close to the surface, the look not nearly as bothersome?

Or was I overthinking it?  Was it that I’d seen the look enough times and seen her reaction enough times that it didn’t feel so heavy, pressing, or potentially hostile?  Less about me and more about her, now.

“He’s sensible,” Ashley said.  “He’ll go far.”

She might have thought I was looking at the boy who’d run.

“Did you take off your sunglasses just to intimidate him into giving up his seat?” I asked.

She put her sunglasses back into place and gave me a small smile.

“You shouldn’t,” I said.

“Why not?  If there was a chance I’d see him again, maybe I shouldn’t, but I won’t.  The city is too big.”

“The little things ripple out.  If you make a positive or negative impression, people mention them to others, those people mention them or carry them forward.  You’re not just interacting with him.  You’re interacting with everyone he’s potentially going to interact with in the future.  To lesser degrees, sure, but I absolutely think it matters.”

“What’s he going to say?  I didn’t do anything, and he willingly gave up his seat.  Is he going to tell all of his friends and family that he saw a lady with scary eyes and he ran away like a stray with its tail between its legs?”

“I think it matters,” I said.

“I wanted to learn from you all.  I’ll have to take that sentiment and think on it-”

“Good,” I said.

“-because you’ve only given me sentiment.  Not one good argument yet.”

I turned my head her way, frowning.  She smiled a little more.

“Let’s say you entered the scene, you’ve gathered all your info, you have a nice costume, you’ve trained, you’re badass,” I said.

“Mm,” she made a sound.

“You have your first big job.  You make a splash, there’s some media attention, video, something like that.  It appears on TV briefly, but people talk online.  They’re the ones who create your online profile and fill in your info, they apply the labels, describe things, set the tone.  What if the guy you scared off ends up being one of them, and he ends up sitting at his keyboard, remembering you as he decides what to write?”

“I didn’t do a thing to him.”

“But did he leave with a good impression of you?”

She shrugged.

“What happens if this guy finds himself in that situation, ready to make a call about you or share his thoughts, and he describes his horrible encounter with you on the train, how you intimidated him and said odious things?”

“I said nothing.”

“And he’s a teenager, he’s a guy, you’re a girl, he’ll think about this scene again, he might be bothered, and he’ll want to resolve that feeling.  Maybe he lies and badmouths you online.”

Ashley looked like she was the very definition of unimpressed.

I shrugged.

“I hate the internet,” she said.  “Despise it.  When I become a villain, I’ll move out to a border world where the internet isn’t established and I’ll take over.  I’ll rule as a queen, without any need to concern myself with teenagers who could lie about me without fear of reprisal.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.  It was my turn to shoot her a small smile.

“Yes, yes,” she said.  She brought her head back, leaning it against the wall behind her.  “I’ve been brought low, relying on sentiment over fact.  How the tables have turned.”

“That wasn’t actually what I was thinking,” I said.

I didn’t get a chance to elaborate.  The girl with freckles approached.  She looked spooked, arms close to her body as she held a notebook, but the ‘spook’ was aimed more at me.

Too petite to be the person I’d worried I’d seen out of the corner of my eye, earlier.  Years younger – fourteen, if I had to guess.  Timid, yes, fidgety, that was similar, but in other ways, she held herself differently.  This girl dressed different, sporty and confident.

“Hi,” I said.

“Are you- you’re Victoria Dallon.”

“I am.”

“I’m a fan.  I’ve been a fan for years.”

“What’s your name?”

“Presley.”

“You know, Presley, I was just thinking about how I missed the days of living in Brockton Bay, when I’d get to make connections with people.  I missed that, and you might have just made my day.”

Her smile was tentative at first and then solidified into something more confident.

“I lived in Brockton Bay for a year when I was nine.  My family was going through stuff.  That doesn’t really matter but it’s why I was there, and I saw this picture of you and I loved it.  I didn’t even know you were a real person or what your name was until a month later.  I got a poster of the same picture for my birthday.”

“Which poster?”

“Oh, it had a yellow background, and you were flying, and you had your arms out and behind you, like-”

She took a bit of a pose, chest pushed up and out, arms back with fists clenched near her butt.  Well, one fist.  She held the notebook, still.

“I know the one,” I said.  “That was a magazine cover first, I think.”

“I have the magazine too.  And a bunch of other things.  Even after I moved to Portland I did everything I could to collect each thing that came out.  But the poster was important to me.”

“I’m really glad,” I said.

“It was one of the first things I put on my wall every time we settled into a new place.  Later, whenever I was feeling lost I’d look at it.  I got into sports because I read you were an athlete before you were a hero, except it’s soccer, not basketball, because I’m too short.”

She looked disappointed as she said it.

“You’re in the athletics block,” I said.  “They don’t let just anyone in.  I’d bet you’re better at soccer than I was at basketball.”

“No,” she said, with an expression like that was impossible to fathom, even upsetting, eyes wide.

It seemed she needed me as an idol more than she needed me as a connection or someone she could relate to.

“I got a lot of extra flack and attention from the enemy team because I came from a family of heroes and a lot of people knew my name,” I said.  “Maybe that was why.”

Presley nodded very quickly.  “There’s someone on my team who’s really good, she gets something like that.  I really look up to her too.”

“Are you going to keep hugging that notebook or are you going to hand it over for her to sign?” Ashley asked.

Presley looked startled at that, afraid.  She’d been working her way up to it, and the issue had been forced.

“Be nice,” I said.

“I’m being nice,” Ashley responded.  “The way this is going, this girl-”

“Her name is Presley,” I interjected.

“She’s going to finish telling you how awesome you are, she won’t work up the nerve, and she’ll kick herself for not getting the autograph.”

I rolled my eyes slightly and turned to Presley.  “Do you want me to?”

“Please,” she breathed the word more than she said it.

I took the notebook and I took the pen.  It had been a little while since I’d done this.

“When I looked at you in the poster I told myself that was everything I wanted to be, fearless and fair and strong and poised.  Every time I entered a new part of my life or moved to a new place, I looked at it in different ways.”

I wrote my message on the inside cover, listening while the pen scratched.

“When we had to evacuate because of Gold Morning, we had to leave everything behind.”

I looked up.  “I’m sorry.”

“But we went back, after everything calmed down.  We went back to the house and it was mostly intact, except for broken windows and water damage.  We could only bring what we could fit in the car, but I made sure to bring that.  I wanted it with me for whatever comes next.”

“I can only encourage and inspire, and I’m really glad if I’ve helped with that.  The strength, the fairness, the poise, though, that comes from you.  Everything you’ve triumphed over, surviving the bad days, getting to here, then doing well enough to be part of the athletics block,” I said.  I closed the book, the pen still between the pages.  I passed it to her, and put my hands over hers as she took the book.  I met her eyes.  “That’s you.  That’s your power.  Pretty much what I wrote, but I wanted to say it too.”

As I moved my hands away from hers, she smiled and hugged the book.

A moment later, she turned to Ashley.  She lowered her voice, “Do you have powers?”

Ashley nodded.

“Can you?” Presley held out the notebook.

“No,” Ashley replied.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” Presley said, too quickly, too defensive in how she pulled her book back, how she held it.  She looked at me.  “Thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome,” I said.

But as I said it, Presley was already retreating, fleeing back to her spot by the doors, amid all the other students who were standing in the seatless area that would have bikes and prams in it at different stages of the journey.

I could have pressed, even taken issue with how Ashley had handled that.

Instead, I gathered my thoughts.  On a level, I did feel refreshed.  It had been a really nice moment, the minor issue at the end souring it slightly, but nice all the same.

I was having to get used to having the nice moments be routinely touched with those sour notes.

“I can’t hold a pen,” Ashley murmured.

I looked at her.

She moved her hands from where they rested on her knee.  She turned one over, moved a finger.  It trembled throughout the small movement.  “I’ll have my appointment after we talk to Houndstooth, get tuned up.  Until then, it hurts to move my hands and I don’t trust my power.  That’s why.”

“You could have explained.”

She gave me a look.

“You could have,” I said.

The look was maintained.  Even with the sunglasses she wore, the disdain was clear.  “Ripple effects, you said.  I wouldn’t be revealing it to her alone.  I’d be risking revealing it to everyone she meets from here on out.”

“The good things have a way of rippling out with more strength than the bad things do,” I said.

“So you say,” Ashley said, “while riding on a train through a city in the post-apocalypse.  Just one of many shattered, damaged worlds.”

“Cute.”

The train slowed.  Presley was at the door, joining the group that was ready to depart.

“I’d like to tell her,” I said, my voice quiet.  “Even if we called it an injury, so you weren’t revealing something vital.”

“You really care about this.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Don’t you?”

“I care,” she said.  “I don’t want to lie and look weak while you lie to look better.”

I tensed.

“You’re strong, yes,” she said, her voice barely audible.  She took off her sunglasses.  “Poised?  I think it’s an act.  An effective act, the kind that becomes reality after enough time.  But not enough time has passed.  Fair?  We’ll see.  But fearless?”

She made the smallest of scoffing sounds.  The train came to a stop.

I started to respond, but there was a hollow feeling in my mouth and throat, where the words were supposed to be.  I closed my mouth, then said, just as quiet, “She needs that lie.”

Ashley stared me down.

“Frankly,” I said, still quiet, angry now, “you come across worse and smaller as a person when you say no to something that costs you nothing than you do by admitting you’re disabled.”

“Temporarily disabled,” she said.  “You’re wrong.  I can’t think of anything worse than groveling before a child and telling her I’m weak when I’m the very opposite.  I could kill everyone on this train if it came down to it.  One after the other.  By the time I made my way to the next train car, they would be ready for me, and it wouldn’t matter.”

I tensed as heads turned.  They weren’t responding to the words.  Only the emotion behind them.

Had I just provoked her into another rage on a relatively crowded train?

Would my next words?  Would my silence?  Would leaving?  Staying?

“She doesn’t know that it’s only temporary,” I said.  “She just thinks there’s something wrong.  With you or with her.”

“Let her,” Ashley said.  “Do what you want, but don’t make me regret telling you anything.”

I looked over to the side.  The people had departed the train, Presley included, and the ones boarding had mostly filed in.

“It’s too late anyway,” Ashley said.  “Another face we’ll never see again, that probably won’t make any ripples.”

I stood from my seat.  “I’ll be back.”

“Whatever.”

Glancing back, making sure she wasn’t about to go on a rampage as she had threatened, I ducked and pushed past the crowd, hurrying to the door.  Tristan touched my shoulder as I passed him.

“I’ll be right back.  Can you watch my bag?” I said, turning to face him and walking backward as I said it.  I pointed in Ashley’s direction and mouthed ‘and Ashley’.

He gave me a short nod.

The doors closed behind me as I stepped onto the train platform.  I took to the air.

Why was this so important to me?

With a bird’s eye view, I could search the crowd, looking for the right hair color, the right height, the clothes, freckle-covered shoulders, chin-length hair.

Was this ego?

Was I just seeking out perverse, self-centered worship, after going without so long?  Tantalus finally getting a drink of water after centuries without?  A parasitic, sad wretch of a vampire like in those bad Maggie Holt movies, finally with a willing victim?

I’d found her and I hesitated.

But the train was getting away from me.  I had to act.

Instinct, rather than action.  I wasn’t thinking things through.  I wasn’t acting according to the mission I’d planned and set out, was I?

I landed, forward momentum becoming a brisk walk, then a slower one.  I saw the surprise on her face.  People nearby were startled.

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m in a rush.  I don’t suppose I could get your email?”

She looked around, possibly looking for Ashley, or at the crowd.

She still held her notebook, and she opened it, scribbling something down.  She tore off the corner of the page, then handed it to me.

“I’ll send you something,” I said.

She nodded, wordless.

I left the ground much as I’d landed.  The train was already pulling away.  I flew after it.

Had I made a mistake, leaving Ashley, when she was riled up?  I had no idea how well she and Tristan got along.  Were my perspectives straight?

It wasn’t even nine o’clock in the morning, and I was mired in a week’s worth of doubts and second-guesses.  That wasn’t me.  It wasn’t supposed to be.

I checked my phone as I flew.

You have 52 unread emails.

I’d had thirty nine or forty, after browsing the initial selection.

I was here for a reason.  Kenzie was one.  Ashley another.  Tristan, Chris, even Sveta… and Rain in particular.  Rain who was taking a day off from everything.

They needed help.  That was the job, the mission.  Given to me by someone I cared about, involving another someone I cared about and the team and place in the world she so desperately wanted.

I could do that.  But I didn’t want to do it at the expense of people like Presley.

The feelings and the ideas took on a different light when I framed things that way.

It played into how I carried myself, after I touched down on the back of the train, on the same kind of little platform at the rear that Rain had used to jump off.

It played into how I walked, how I organized my thoughts.

I could remember going home after my first official arrest.  Bad guy beaten, caught, delivered to authorities.  Everything official, with my mom attending.  I’d walked in the door, and my mother had told my dad that I’d had two firsts.  My first arrest, my first war wound- a cut to my forehead, already stitched up.  She’d used her fingers to move my hair, to show my dad.

He’d looked very tired as he bent down, kissed the top of my head.

He’d offered me cookies and milk and I’d rolled my eyes, even though I’d really wanted the cookies.

I wasn’t sure at all about why or if the cookies played into things, but I did remember how I’d stood straighter, how I’d felt taller, more focused.

That was the feeling I wanted to capture, as I walked down the train car, entered the next, walked down that train car, and then entered the car I’d been in before going after my fan.

Tristan was in my seat, talking to Ashley.  Ashley was tense.  She didn’t look as if she’d calmed down in my absence.

Tristan wore a black jacket over a red t-shirt in a material that looked like it was meant to have sweat wick off of it.  He’d painted his hair again and the color reached to the roots.

He moved over from the seat as I approached, leaving the one between him and Ashley empty.  Ashley didn’t move, her eyes hidden by the sunglasses she wore.  A thin beam of light swept through the length of the train car.  Not as pronounced an effect as it had been earlier, with the train slightly lower to the ground, the train at a different angle.

“I’ve come to believe you’re more deluded than the rest of us,” Ashley said, as I took the seat.  “Thinking any of that matters.”

“Maybe,” I said.  I fiddled with my phone, typing in the email.

“Did you tell her?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  “I got her email, and I flew after the train.  Hi Tristan.”

“From what I gather, you have a fan, and you and Ashley had a disagreement,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” I said, still typing.  “Any word on Rain?”

“Scared as shit but safe.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Is he going to be okay?”

“No idea.  But if they go after him, we’re not in a position to do anything.  I’d like to ask Houndstooth for advice, see what resources we can tap.”

I nodded.

I paged through the phone, the email entered, and found myself at the home screen for the mail.

You have 55 unread emails.

I checked nobody was in earshot.  There were people in the chairs just beside Tristan’s seat, but they had headphones on.  I figured we were pretty safe.

“Kenzie might be melting down,” I said.  “Or something.  I don’t know how to interpret this.”

I showed Ashley.  I went to show Tristan, and he was already pulling his phone out of his pocket.

He showed me his.

26 unread emails

“She likes you more,” he said.

“I told her I don’t use my phone.  She was bothered at first, but she accepted it,” Ashley said.  “Now I’m glad.”

“What is this?” I asked.  “There’s a part of me that’s weirdly glad for the stream-of-consciousness insight into who she is and how she thinks, even if this isn’t good, but… this isn’t good.  It’s not healthy.”

“It isn’t,” Tristan said.  “But it could be worse.  If anything, it’s a good prelude or warm-up for our discussion with Houndstooth.  We’ll talk with him, we’ll send Kenzie a message, if she hasn’t had her phone confiscated, and we’ll see how things go from there.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m not sure of anything,” he said.  “But we all have our weaknesses, and Kenzie’s wrestling with hers.  We’ll figure it out.”

I nodded.  I took my seat between the two.  “Can I ask you two a favor?”

“What favor?” Tristan asked.

“Why not?” Ashley asked.  “I made the mistake of going along with an errand with the two most stubborn people I know.  I deserve whatever I’m subjected to.”

“Could be we’re the two most stubborn members of the group,” I said.  I found myself reaching for that part of me that stood taller, that focused on the mission and the role.  “But we’re the three most style-conscious people in this whole exercise.  We might be missing Kenzie in that.  Three of the four most style conscious.”

“I wouldn’t say Kenzie’s style-conscious,” Tristan said.  “But that’s a conversation for another day.  What’s this about style?”

“I want to take a picture.  Lean in close,” I said.  “Please.”

Ashley gave me a look.

“Please,” I said.  “And since you don’t have masks, you can use my hand, Ashley.  Tristan, cover up a bit with your hand.  Look photogenic.”

“I’ve only had my photo taken twice,” Ashley said.  “They were basically mugshots.”

“Did you look good for the mugshots?”

“Of course.”

“Then look good for this.  Come on.  This could be your equivalent to a poster.  She thought you were cool enough to ask for an autograph, let’s give her a good picture.”

“Okay,” Ashley said.

The two leaned in close, my hand in front of Ashley’s eyes, fingers parted in the middle to reveal one of her eyes.  Tristan used one hand, positioning himself so his hair wouldn’t be in the camera’s frame.

I winked and hit the button to take the picture.

“None of this matters,” Ashley said.

I applied a caption to the picture.

Thanks for coming and saying hi.  Picture just for you– keep an eye out for us in the future.

I showed the others the picture and caption.  I got an okay from both, and sent it.

I held the phone where everyone could see it.  With the first excited response, half of Ashley’s tension seemed to dissipate.  With the second and third, she smiled.

Doing this, helping, functioning in my role, I felt less like a vampire.  Less like I was serving myself, because the feelings were set aside to where they were secondary.

It felt like a good warrior monk frame of mind for my discussion with Houndstooth.

We had to walk a little ways to get to where Houndstooth waited.  He was in costume, and his appearance at the station would have risked a disruption.

All through the short walk across Greenwich, there were signs of the protests and strikes.  Crude posters had been put up, with slogans and rallies to the cause.

It was too early in the day for a real protest, though.  Just groups on street corners, some scattered people making a mess and some cleaning up.  Stasis.

Houndstooth waited on a hill overlooking the city sprawl.  He looked as he had in Kenzie’s projected image.  Anubis writ Western, with a shorter, blunter snout and a costume of mixed panels that straddled the line between being a bodysuit and being armor.

“Thank you for making the time,” Tristan said.  He shook Houndstooth’s hand.

“It was my request,” Houndstooth said.

“Hi,” I said, as he shook my hand.

“Thank you for coming, Victoria.”

He turned to Ashley.  She stood with her hands clasped behind her.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“It’s nice to meet you as well,” he said, taking the lack of a handshake in stride.

The conversation hung there.

“This is hard,” he said.

“We appreciate you helping out with Cedar Point,” Tristan said.

“We can open by talking about that,” Houndstooth said.  “You’ve visited?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Two of us.  One of us more covert.”

His snout moved more in Ashley’s direction, then he nodded.  “How bad is it, once you’re there?”

I answered, “Protection racket in full swing.  Villains moved in en masse.  People moved away when they could.  Those that couldn’t are paralyzed now, helping to maintain the very thin veneer of normalcy while paying what little they can to the villains in control.  Prancer and Velvet are some of the most prominent drug distributors right now and they’re in charge, so it’s likely serving as a hub for that.”

“Some very violent capes are active there,” Tristan said.  “A few of them we have a tenuous relationship with seem to be gathering soldiers with an intent to go to war.  It looks like that might include us, but we don’t know one hundred percent what they’re up to.”

“As expected, then,” Houndstooth said.

Ashley said, “They have rooms to rent, but they cornered that market.  They’re welcoming newcomers, but only capes, only ones who will help them out.  The businesses are struggling or closed, and nobody outside of Cedar Point is moronic enough to buy in.  Cancer at the roots, the tree will die.”

Houndstooth said, “I remember back on Bet, we had a system we used for the areas where the good guys couldn’t win, or where things were too bad to recover.  It was mostly small towns.  Evacuating, shutting off all power and water from the outside, closing down and blockading the roads, making living there as difficult as possible, perimeter blockades, regular raids, visits from big name capes.  There was serious consideration given to giving Brockton Bay that H.O.S.V. designation.”

I had to assume his attention was on me as he said that last bit.

“They said no in the end,” I said.

“What’s your feeling on that?”

“I think I would have made peace with it if they’d said yes,” I said.  “It wouldn’t be what it is now.”

“It’s a pretty mixed thing right now.”

“It is,” I said.  “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.  As it is, it has its positives, it’s meant a lot to some people that it recovered as much as it did, it was a huge part of us rebuilding after the end.  But I’m not at peace with it either.”

“What happens to Cedar Point in the end, then?”

“We weaken their hold, we leave room for more established parties to settle in and act as a counterbalance, instead of things all going the wrong way.  You mentioned Brockton Bay.  We saw what happened when the scale tipped too far one way.  Too many heroes out of the picture, myself included, not enough coming in.”

“If we uncover anything particularly bad, and we might have already found something bad, we’ll strike at them as we make our big play,” Ashley said.

Tristan and I looked at her.

She added, “With the help of other groups and forces.”

“We can be one of those other forces,” Houndstooth said.  “Kings of the Hill aren’t big or strong, but we’ve got our territory and we’re helping to keep the peace.  In exchange, we could use help when it comes to tackling some of the other problems.  Ideally, it would be you three.  Not…”

“Kenzie?” Tristan asked.

“I’d prefer to say kids,” Houndstooth said.

“You’re going to have to get around to talking about her,” Ashley said.  “You can’t dodge the subject forever.  I’ll get irritated and walk away if you try.”

He folded his arms, walking over a little.  The hill had several trees on it, and his armor panels glinted here and there as dappled light touched it.

“You said this was hard,” I said.

“Did she touch any of you before you came here?” Houndstooth asked.

“She went to school this morning.  We came here,” Tristan said.

“I suspected that would be the way it went.  It’s why I wanted to meet when she was in school.  Minimizes the chances.”

“Why does it matter?” I asked.  “We’re bugged?”

“Trackers, cameras, microphones, or-” he paused, and his mask meant that if he was making an expression or trying to convey something with the pause, it was more or less lost.  “-Sound cameras.”

“She’s a lot better than she was when you knew her,” Tristan said.

“That’s great,” Houndstooth said.  “I really do want things to work out for her.  It’s just hard.  I need to protect myself, my old teammates.  I want to protect you.  I want people in general to be safe.  All that aside, again, I do want positive outcomes for her.”

“But?” I asked.

“But the Kenzie I know didn’t allow for that,” Houndstooth said.  “So I had to prepare for this meeting, trying to figure out what to say and how to frame things while not hurting anyone.”

“She’s been in therapy for a little while,” Tristan said.  “She’s improved by leaps and bounds from even the first time I met her.  I really want to reinforce that.”

“I hear you,” Houndstooth said.  “I’m just worried you’re not going to listen, and if that’s the case, then it’s a bad replay of me, our Protectorate leader and our PRT liaison talking to her school.  It’s a replay of us having a meeting with her new foster parents.  It’s a repeat of us talking to the parents of a new friend she’s made.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“We explained, they heard us, but they didn’t listen.  They didn’t take it to heart, because she is- was nine.  She’s cute, she’s precocious, and she has a really skewed skillset where she’s really good at getting close to people and she’s really, tragically bad at staying there.  Messes follow.”

“She’s moving in a more measured way as she relates to the people around her now,” Tristan said.  “She’s more easygoing.  And so far, staying close?  She’s doing okay.  Fingers crossed.”

Houndstooth’s hand moved, thumb tapping against the side of his finger, and it looked like he was going to say something.

“Capricorn, was it?”

“Or Tristan.”

“Tristan.  I hear you.  I’m listening.  She’s in therapy, she’s better.  She’s made strides.  If you had to give her a number, how much better is she?  Throw a number at me.  Eighty percent?”

“Ninety five,” Tristan said.

“Ninety,” Ashley said.

“Okay,” Houndstooth said.  “Five or ten percent of what I saw?  Still pretty fucking bad.  I’d like to give you some advice and double check some things.  As the person who’s been there and crossed his fingers before.”

“That’s not fair, you’re-” Tristan said.

“Tristan,” I said, cutting him off.

I was focused on Houndstooth.  I was pretty sure I’d beaten him by a hair in responding.

“I asked you to have this chat as my side of our mutual agreement,” Houndstooth said.  “I’m asking you to let me convey this to you.  A lot of it is pretty mild.  Give me a chance to say my piece, and you decide what to do with the knowledge.”

I glanced at Tristan.

“I’ll shut up,” he said.  “Sorry.”

“I’m here to listen,” Ashley said.  “Then I’ll say my piece.”

She had a piece to say?  I hadn’t known this when she’d invited herself along as one of the group’s ‘leaders’.

“Please,” I said, to Houndstooth.

“I’ll give you some of the same advice my bosses gave to us and the people who interacted with Kenzie.  Minimize the homework she does.  That includes work-homework.  Cape homework, if you want to call it that.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she’s so eager to please she’ll hurt herself in the process.  She had an art project in fourth grade, it was supposed to be done over the course of a month, following the instructions from regular handouts the teacher gave.  Eight or ten handouts, I think it was.  She asked kids a grade older than her what they’d done for the same project, and she pulled two consecutive all-nighters to do it.  Her foster parents didn’t even realize she was doing it, because it turns out a surveillance-countersurveillance tinker is really good at sneaking out to the garage and being quiet.”

“Surveillance-countersurveillance,” I said.

“She went that far because she wanted to wow her teacher and see the expressions on their face,” Houndstooth said.

“It wasn’t good,” Tristan said.  “Their reactions.”

“Shocked, almost horrified,” Houndstooth said.  “And Kenzie was devastated to the point of being broken when it didn’t get the reaction she wanted it to.  She was so stressed out over it in the days after that that she threw up in class, which- it didn’t win points with her classmates, and it led to her being transferred to another class.  Devastating on both fronts, because she had classmates she liked and she loved her teacher.”

“How do you get ahead of that?” I asked.  “What do you do to balance it?”

“Treat it like a full-time job?” Houndstooth asked.  “Preventative measures, like the ones I’m recommending.  She’ll go the extra mile unless you set up a roadblock to disallow that progress.  So you have to stay ahead of that.  She’s a headache in that.”

“She mentioned she has a slip for study hall that gets her out of homework.  It sounds like they’re letting her use it,” I said.

“Great.  I’m glad that’s there.  It goes beyond just school.  She’s working on this job of yours at Cedar Point?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What limits did you set on that?  On her schedule?”

“She needs to do her schoolwork, she doesn’t let it impact her grades or attendance.  Standard rules of conduct for Wards, carried forward.”

“That’s one step, but it’s not enough.  She’s ninety-five percent better?  That five percent says she’s losing sleep, sitting in her bedroom or bunk in the dark, checking cameras and feeds or searching old footage.  She’ll work herself to the bone trying to uncover that gem that she can turn in to earn your affection.”

I looked at Tristan, then Ashley.

I looked at Houndstooth.  “You think this is likely?  Even with her doing better?”

“I would bet you real money.  And I’d be thrilled to, because my team is in a bad spot for funding, and it’d help.”

“Fuck,” Tristan said.  “We can narrow the window, set time restrictions.”

“Or we have her keep the majority of the tinker stuff at our place,” I said.

“Do both,” Houndstooth said.  “She’ll be working on other projects, possibly surprise projects, very similar to her art project in intent and execution.”

“She’s working on some side projects,” I said.  “The eye camera.  A teleporter.”

“You do realize she doesn’t build teleporters, right?” Houndstooth asked.

“She doesn’t lie,” Ashley said, stern.  “Don’t imply she does.”

“I wasn’t implying,” Houndstooth said.  His voice softened, “I framed that wrong.  I think she can build Teleporters.  But she doesn’t.  For the same reason she doesn’t build guns, mechs, A.I., chemicals, bio-stuff.  She can do that stuff, but she’ll make half a percent of progress in the time it takes her to complete a whole project in her skillset.  She’ll spend hundreds of dollars in materials to get that half a percent.”

“And the way you describe this-” I started.  “She’ll actually, genuinely try to complete the teleporter project, even at a glacial pace, at a massive cost to her well-being?”

“Exactly,” Houndstooth said.  “At least as far as I understand it.  She’ll try to finish the project, she’ll believe it and make others believe she can do it, but I’d bet she’d self-destruct before getting a fifth of the way.”

“For all this talk of self-destruction and sacrificing health and sleep, she seems to be doing okay,” I said.  “Freaked out after her call with you, weirdness, but… nothing that can’t be handled, I don’t think.”

“After the art project thing?  When she threw up in class?  Didn’t cry before, didn’t cry after.  Not that we saw.  I saw her cry once, and we were all crying then.  Somewhere along the line, she learned that being troubled means people pulling away or pushing her away.”

“She’s gotten better at showing it,” Ashley said.  “The bag.  That was positive.”

“That’s really, really good, then.  Because before?  It took the world ending to crack her.  Outside of that, you’d have a nine- she’s eleven now?”

“Yeah,” Tristan said.  “Thereabouts.”

“You’d have an eleven year old, then, who’s internalizing so much that she loses hair in patches or makes herself sick.  She didn’t ever cry, she didn’t signal how upset she was.  Even if she’s doing better, you have to pay attention.”

“For ten percent of what you dealt with?” I asked.

“Victoria,” Houndstooth said.  “The school stuff, the Wards stuff was structured.  There was natural pushback when she stepped over lines.  Punishments, rules for the classroom, rules for the Wards, oversight, teams of people having hours-long meetings about her.  The art project, moving classes, her being bullied because of her behavior and her visceral reactions to that, the bullying in school, all of that was the easy stuff.”

“Can I ask about the hard stuff?”

“You can ask, but I don’t know if I can summarize it.  We had a nine year old girl with no stopping points when it came to anything social.  No brakes, a practically nonexistent sense of boundaries, and zero emotional defenses.”

“An acquaintance of ours described her as a bull in a china shop with a profound love for dishware,” Tristan said.

“Don’t joke,” Ashley said.

“It’s pretty apt,” Houndstooth said.  “And I don’t think anyone’s laughing.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“One of her classmates’ families moved away, in large part because of her.    One or two other families were seriously considering it.  At least one of her teachers from the training camps was being investigated with a job and career on the line.  Most people who were involved knew what the reality of Kenzie was, but procedures had to be followed, and when you have someone as vulnerable as she is, you can’t ever be one hundred percent sure.  We had a similar thing with our Wards team leader, early on, but we were more proactive in anticipating it, and they were allegations of a different tint.  I wish I could convey the trail of destruction.”

“No,” Ashley said.

“No?” Houndstooth asked.

“She’s not a bull in a china shop.  She’s not a headache, she’s not a bringer of destruction, a tinker, or Ward, a nine year old, or an eleven year old.  You keep reducing her down, you make her small, and you make the problem big.”

“The problems were big,” Houndstooth said.  “The problems threatened to end several careers, derailed others, and uprooted a family from their lives and hometown.  She likes and falls in love with everyone and it’s only because of us being attentive that she didn’t actively let herself be the prey of a villain group or dangerous lunatic in some desperate hope of finding a connection with them.”

“She’s not prey either,” Ashley said, more heated.  “She’s Kenzie Martin.  She’s a person.  You may have only seen her cry once but I’ve seen her cry more times than I can count.”

“Really?” Tristan asked.  “When?”

“During the meetings.  After.  During private conversations.”

“Crying is good,” Houndstooth said.  “It’s a step forward.  It’s very possible she’s made a lot of steps forward.   It’s clear you guys care about her and believe in her.  But I’ve met and interacted with Kenzie Martin, and I have a really hard time envisioning a Kenzie that’s fixed.”

“Like she’s a broken machine,” Ashley said.

“I don’t want to say better because better can mean partway.  What I’m saying is that I can’t see a Kenzie that was that badly off, who’s… normal now.  Or ever.”

“I hate that word,” Ashley said.

“I don’t think there are any good words for something that hard to encapsulate,” Houndstooth said.

“What do you advise?” I asked.  “About the non-school, non-Ward stuff?”

“Pay attention when she talks about new friends or people in particular, get ahead of that, introduce yourself, keep a close eye on things.  Talk to her teachers.  Talk to her foster parents, or the people at whatever institution she’s at.  They’re probably pretty overloaded, but make them pay attention.  Get everyone on the same page.  Same rules for everyone, boundaries, sticking to those boundaries, limit physical contact and gestures of affection unless okayed by the therapist.”

My eyebrows drew together.  I glanced at Tristan, and he gestured, hand moving as if to dismiss, urging me to move on.  I was pretty sure Houndstooth saw it too.

He didn’t speak up or act on it, though.

I made a mental note about the emphasis on foster parents.  I’d need to have a conversation with others and pay more attention to Julien and his wife.

“Frankly, I’d really lock down the school thing.  See if you can have her rotate classes or do something non-classroom.  Discourage friendships with classmates, because that’s not going to go well.  If she starts showing true romantic interest in anyone, shut it down hard.  I wouldn’t advise her being on your team, frankly.”

“That’s extreme,” I said.

“It’s dehumanizing and disgusting,” Ashley said.  “Until she’s better, no human contact or relationships.  Nobody can get close to her, nobody can show kindness, nobody can help her or accept help from her?  Just a breath or two away from you saying you don’t ever think she’ll be normal.  You’re disgusting.”

She was starting to walk away, toward the path that had led us up the hill.

“Ashley,” I said.  “I get what you’re saying, but we did agree to hear him out as a favor.”

“You hear him out then,” she said.  “Tell me what you think I need to hear when you tell the others.  But I’m not going to stay here and listen to this degenerate imbecile reduce her to a problem that can be solved like that.  She’s human.”

“Can I tell an anecdote?”

“Could I stop you without killing you?” Ashley asked.

“Can you wait for us at the station, Ashley?” Tristan asked.

She stalked off, and we were left with Houndstooth.

Houndstooth looked toward me and Tristan.  “There was a time, about a year back, where I was talking to a teammate.  He said a food addiction was the only addiction that you couldn’t go cold turkey on.  You can’t not eat, and that’s hard, when the addiction makes dealing with food in moderation next to impossible.  Immediately, I thought of Kenzie.  I thought, within a second or two of him saying that, he was wrong, there was another addiction like that.  You say she’s human, but she’s a people addict.  She’s addicted to humans.  You can’t expect a young girl to not interact with people, and you can’t expect her to deal with people in moderation.”

“And you think the way to solve that is to… minimize that interaction to the barest bones?” I asked.

“Over months and years, gradually loosen that belt.  If the therapist okays it.”

I sighed.

“She’s doing exceptionally well,” Tristan said.

“You could hold a gun to my head, and I wouldn’t say she lacked a work ethic,” Houndstooth said.  “She’s brilliant for her age, she’s good-hearted in her way, and she doesn’t deserve a thousandth of what she’s gone through.  It’s heartbreaking and worrying.”

Kenzie had named Houndstooth’s team as her second big heartbreak.

“Fuck the agents.”

“Powers and agents don’t even really play into this,” Houndstooth said. “If you took away her powers and the influence of her agent today, I’d give you all the same warnings tomorrow.”

We let ourselves into the headquarters.

Sveta was on her way.  Chris was taking the day off for more Indulgence, not Wan, and that last part was supposed to be important.

Rain’s absence in particular was very much felt, now that his situation had been painted in stark relief.  Everyone was a little bit worried, now.

Ashley had her appointment.  Tristan had to give Byron his turn.

Kenzie sat in her chair at the table-turned desk, the projector showing the camera’s image of Cedar Point.

“Did you skip class to get here as quick as you did?” I asked.

“No,” Kenzie said, not turning around.  “I went to class, I stopped in at study hall at the start of lunch and asked if I could go early.  They said okay.  You can call if you need to check.”

“I don’t need to check,” I said.  “You’re honest.”

“Sorry for all the emails.  Sveta yelled at me.  Well, she didn’t yell, but she came close.  I sent her almost as many as I sent you.”

“Did you eat lunch?”

“It’s in my bag, in case I get hungry.”

“Too nervous?” I asked.

She turned around in her computer chair and smiled.  “Yeah.”

“Houndstooth wanted to make sure you were okay first.  Making sure you weren’t getting too much homework,” I said.  “He had some tips about how we should make sure you aren’t tinkering yourself to the bone after hours.”

“It helps sometimes.  Distracting myself with it.”

“We should figure out a balance.  He was suspicious you were staying up late, watching and rewatching camera feeds.”

“When I can’t sleep it’s nice to be able to watch that stuff with my laptop beside me in the dark room.  I doze off.”

I nodded.

“Did he say the embarrassing stuff?”

“I don’t know what qualifies as embarrassing,” I said.  “Problems with teachers, school.  Tristan and Ashley defended you pretty fiercely.”

“And you?”

“I just want to figure out what needs to be figured out,” I said.  “So everyone’s happy and healthy, and the team stays together and positive overall.  I shared some of the good stuff I know of.”

“Did he mention the old lady?”

“I’m not sure.”

“She was on the internet and she wanted a replacement for her dead daughter and I almost went with her, and then later we started thinking she killed her daughter.  Embarrassing.”

“That did come up.”

“And how I fell asleep watching TV on my friend’s couch?”

“That didn’t, I don’t think.”

“Super embarrassing,” she said.  “And my foster parents?”

“Very briefly.”

She nodded.  She smiled.  “Thanks for telling me.”

I put my hand on the back of her chair and spun her in circles, my arm passing over her head on each rotation.  “Sveta’s on her way.  I think the others are mostly getting sorted out.  With Rain hiding out, they’re resting up and getting prepped.  Did you get the email?”

“I had my phone taken away.  I’m supposed to go to the principal’s office with my mom or dad tomorrow if I want it back.”

“I suspected it was something like that,” I said.  I smiled.  “Less emails, and no using your phone in school unless it’s an emergency.  Houndstooth is going to make a move late this afternoon.”

Kenzie put her hand out and stopped herself from spinning.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“He doesn’t want to see me or say hi?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“He probably had a good excuse.  He’s good at those.  It took me a while to figure out.”

“He doesn’t want to tip off the villains about his relationship to us.”

“It makes sense,” Kenzie said.

“Do you want help with homework while we wait?  And you can eat your lunch?” I asked.  “If that nervousness has eased up.”

“I’ll eat,” she said.  “Help with homework would be a good way to kill the time, too.”

“Perfect,” I said.

I stepped away to look at the whiteboards while Kenzie got ready.

Her voice small and quiet, I heard Kenzie remark, “At least I get to see him on camera.”

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172 thoughts on “Shade – 4.4”

  1. Ohh man, poor Houndstooth. It can’t have been easy being Kenzie’s boss. On another note Ashley and Kenzie makes a lot of sense considering one loves giving full attention and another needs it.

    1. There’s something else I’m wondering about with Ashley’s reactions to Houndstooth. She really didn’t like it when she felt she felt he was dehumanizing Kenzie. Now part of it’s her friendship. But something else I realized. Ashley’s probably been dehumanzed herself. Being a clone, being part of the S9000, heck depending on how forced the original’s membership in the S9 is… I can see that as being a thing with her now.

      1. Something like that crossed my mind. Ashley also has some problems interacting with other people
        in a “normal” way.

        Evidently she does empathize with or get protective of people under the right circumstances. Also, (hooray?) she didn’t go off on Houndstooth half as much as I feared.

    2. Also ironic, considering Houndstooth’s worry about her getting attached to a villain, though it seems like Ashley is more of a grey area when it comes to labels.

    3. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kenzie had stalked Houndstooth at some point judging by “At least I get to see him on camera”. Also his suspicions of being bugged and unwillingness to let things go.

  2. Seems like HT assumed K was still eavesdropping and tried to warm Vic as much as possible while phrasing things as concern for K.

    Also Looksee is a terrible codename.

          1. Sadly, Bioshock probably doesn’t exist in this universe. (Also, didn’t Houndtooth point out that she can’t build robots very efficiently?)

          2. Big Daddies aren’t robots, so she’ll do just fine.
            A big suit is like a kind of box, right? It just has to be able to be moved from someone within. I’m sure Riley could give her a few pointers…

          1. Well, once she grows up she can change it to Big Sister!

            (Now I’m curious – what would Kid Win have changed his name to if he’d survived? Win Man?)

      1. I approve of Looksee. As well as Look-see, Look-See, Look! See? and a great number of its possible permutations. Great in an awful way, awful in a great way, it fits her.

    1. Looksee is terrible, yes, but it’s terrible in a charming way like Cockblocker, not in a terrible way like Skidmark.

    1. Or at least, it seems like it the first time. I get where it’s trying to go (not being able to recharge your preferred way), but the explanation as to why is so long that it makes the claim seem like it is backwards since her preferred way is like Tristan.

    2. She’s saying it’s difficult to get what she needs to recharge. Byron can’t get time alone, she can’t get into a situation where she feels cherished without being reminded of the hospital.

      1. I thought it was because like Byron she is strongest after a period of rest. Ie. She needs a minute to reactivate her force field after it’s downed.

    3. Ok, houndstooth is being very cryptic but I could see several possibilities of what he’s talking about

      1. She made people assume her bosses were peodphiles by how clingy she was

      2. She got people in trouble when they were about to get promoted or reassigned in a desparate attempt to keep them around

      3. She was putting the people she likes under constant surveillance, and the tech was found by other tinkers

      Houndstooth might also be exaggerating if he nearly lost his career over her.

      1. 1. Kenzie gets inappropriately attached to Houndstooth/teacher/friend’s parent etc.
        2. Kenzie uses a hard light projection of some sort to appear older and attractive to said adult to engineer a rom-com style meet cute.
        3. ????
        4. Houndstooth is now a registered sex offender.

        1. Judging from how freaking scared he is of/about her I’m going with “All of the Above”.

          And she needs to learn to tone down the E-Mails. Otherwise if she ever has to send an important one it’ll be lost in the flood.

      2. 1. She made people assume her bosses were peodphiles by how clingy she was

        She mentioned falling asleep on the couch of a “friend,” which by itself doesn’t strike me as all that embarrassing. Perhaps she’s talking about the fallout.

        3. She was putting the people she likes under constant surveillance,

        This seems like a given. H was pretty clear on this point.

          1. She’s a surveillance thinker. She didn’t just fall asleep on the sofa- she fell asleep watching TV on somebody else’s sofa.

            What was she watching?

    4. “Why not?” Ashley asked. “I made the mistake of going along with an errand with the two most stubborn people I know. I deserve whatever I’m subjected to.”

      with an errand -> on an errand?

      1. No, “along with” is fine. It means she let herself be convinced about the plan. Yes, she’s also going along ON the errand, but that’s not what she’s griping about.

  3. Oh man. We get a sense here but really just a sense. There are so many stories HT could have told but didn’t. I have mixed feelings about that stylisticly. It does create a sense of worry, but it also feels a bit of tell don’t show. Like play out a real story of how someone’s life was ruined. Why the neighbors had to move. Just saying it happened without any real examples feels cheap.

    1. I think it makes more sense to do it this way. Our narrator is getting second hand information and has to work off of that, and WB isn’t trying to give us foreshadowing/extra information she doesn’t have access to this time, unlike with Rain. I’d imagine later interludes might go into the specific examples, but this isn’t the part of the story for that.

    1. She really is the Kenziest Kenzie I’ve ever seen commit a Kenzie. And that’s saying something. Professor You-Know-Who once told me it was my fate to know all the Kenzies. Sort of like how the Dutchman knew all the Lolas (and all the Drews.)

  4. “She likes and falls in love with everyone and it’s only because of us being attentive that she didn’t actively let herself be the prey of a villain group or dangerous lunatic in some desperate hope of finding a connection with them.”

    Sort of describes her possible future as Ashley’s minion. No wonder Ashley took offense.

    “If she starts showing true romantic interest in anyone, shut it down hard.”

    Really interesting that Chris already figured this out on his own in Glow-worm.

    1. Kenzie seems like the sort of person who could accidentally join the Slaughterhouse Nine.

      I bet they’d have loved to have her, too … she could have been just like a psychological version of Bonesaw. Plus the advantages of city-wide surveillance, confusing/manipulating attempts to track them (I could definitely see her tricking Dragon into slaughtering innocent civilians, via false information and sensor interference), and projecting essentially arbitrary illusions. Hide the Nine, blind the heroes, alter appearances and locations so that the heroes kill each other, rearrange the terrain, and so on … and once they’ve caught you, there’s the things she can do armed with illusionmaking and full knowledge of all your greatest fears and secrets …

  5. Another brilliant bit of character building. Even the backstories feel revealing, well structured.

    Truly another interesting insight into how much agents/passengers/shards affect their hosts, and how powers would define so much of our lives beyond the obvious.

  6. Finally a closer look into Kenzie’s personality. And she’s… just about as scary as expected. Fun.

    And a Pact reference. Good ole Maggie Holt.

  7. You know what? I think there’s actually one couple who would make the perfect foster parents for Kenzie.

    I wonder if Dragon and Defiant have any plans to adopt a kid.

      1. Pale blue (back in Worm interlude 25) in normal circumstances.
        Also she probably mastered lethal glares like no other.

    1. Pretty sure he’s talking about being bugged. Like, if Kensie touched any of them she might have left cameras, sound cameras, etc. on them.

      1. It’s not like Kenzie has any cameras which could be easily slipped onto someone without being visible, maybe being only partly in our universe or something.

        1. It occurs to me… What if Kenzie makes a camera that can do aura photography… And see’s what Vicky’s force field looks like nowdays?

          1. Just the other day I was musing with horror about the idea of Kenzie making a thought-camera for this very reason…

    2. …I don’t think Kenzie has all of the required anatomy for that to be possible. Or the muscle mass for that to be plausible.

  8. I’m really interested in how Houndtooth’s description of Kenzie struck a nerve with Ashley. Was that an act, designed to get her in the good graces of Kenzie (whom she might have predicted would be watching)? Or was that genuinely how she felt? And if so, what does that say about her?

    The counter-surveillance specialty is kinda of disturbing, given that Kenzie hasn’t brought it up before now. *Especially* in the context that they’re working on a mission for which counter-surveillance tech could be very useful. It says to me that Kenzie might be making progress, but she’s unwilling to give up information which might prevent people from preventing her from backsliding.

    1. Actually … I’m starting to wonder to what extent the whole “I’m gonna be a villain” thing is a defense mechanism for Ashley. She’s prone to violence and outbursts which make it hard for her to be a hero. Maybe she really does want to be a hero, or at least be loved, but she thinks she won’t be able to do it. She thinks she’s doomed to failure. So she keeps up the whole “this is temporary, I’m going to be a villain” thing so that when she does inevitably fail (as she thinks she will) it won’t hurt as much. It could be a defense mechanism against committing too deeply, in an emotional sense, to a life she doesn’t think she can actually have.

      1. She’s got this thing going one where she’s amazingly inept at some things in life, like how utilities work, and yet amazingly world wise in others.

      2. Well, if the hero/villain thing ends up working like it did in Worm, where heroes aim to defend status quo and villains aim to disrupt, I think it’s very likely she will end up going villain. She’s clearly got (fairly valid) issues about the way society normally handles issues of disability.

    2. “I’m really interested in how Houndtooth’s description of Kenzie struck a nerve with Ashley. ”

      Ashley used to be a member of the S9. He said someone as bad as Kenzie, who isn’t even close to S9 levels of bad, can never be good. What does that say about Ashley?

      Some other comments he made might as well have been directed at Ashley:
      “She likes and falls in love with everyone and it’s only because of us being attentive that she didn’t actively let herself be the prey of a villain group or dangerous lunatic in some desperate hope of finding a connection with them.” That’s his go to proof she can’t be fixed?

      So I safe to say its how she genuinely felt.

      1. I think Kenzie is probably not as far away from S9 levels of badness as you think. I mean, her current (and past) behaviors are (mostly) nowhere near as bad as the things the S9 did. But I don’t think it would take much of a push at all to turn her into a surveillance oriented version of Bonesaw.

        Sure, her powers aren’t as implicitly horrifying as Bonesaw’s, but with her personality… she can more than make up for the difference by using them wrong. (See also: how terrifying and traumatizing Tattletale winds up being to her victims.)

    3. Surely they know she does the counter-surveillance thing, after that incident with the visitor’s pass when they visited the Warden HQ?

      1. They knew about that specific thing, but Kenzie tried to write it off as a minor side-effect of a project she was working on, and Victoria seemed surprised that part of Kenzie’s specialty was counter-surveillance.

    4. I don’t think Ashley *does* deceit, or at least any deceit beyond the self-deception necessary to maintain her aloof cynicism.

      She seems to pride herself on being a straight shooter, tells it like it is, I alone have the correct interpretation of how the world works kind of person. If she’s sticking up for Kenzie, its going to be for a to-her genuine reason.

    5. To me, at least some of it is likely the implication that one of her very small number of friends, who she seems to be closest with from their interactions, is only her friend because she is somehow “broken.” I mean, Ashley is a clone of an already broken and psychotic person with all of the fuzzy memories scrubbed off. She’s making her good memories right now, and if you invalidate those? I’d be pissed too and to my knowledge I don’t have any space whales influencing my behavior.

    6. The counter-surveillance hadn’t come up, but it does make sense. What do her big boxes do? Project images, so spy devices don’t see what’s there. Neither do people, for that matter. Also, at least some of them have cameras inside so they can record images, too.

      I bet they can do other stuff, if Kenzie wanted/needed them to. Dampen sound waves in an area, maybe block radio transmissions, etc.

  9. I really appreciated the Victoria-Presley-Ashley interactions in this chapter. There was real tension when I wondered if Victoria would sell out Ashley for her own and Presley’s sake, but that made it all the more heartwarming when she found a solution that included Ashley.

  10. Wow. Ashley is so much more insightful than I had realized. That and she actually seems to be trying. I can only imagine being as status conscious as she is and still admitting a weakness like she did. That kinda floored me. I especially loved the line about killing him to make him stop. I literally laughed out loud for that one.

    It was really nice seeing her team defend kenzie. Especially Ashley. I am feeling better and better about this team. Will they crash and burn? They very well could, but they appear to be willing to support each other all the way down. That definitely makes it a compelling story.

    Victoria’s internal conflict felt very real. It was nice to see her have some success that actually touched her own heart. Though I did end the train section with a question… if the train was already moving up to speed, she would have needed to fly fairly fast to catch it. Yet no hint of her forcefield throwing off her flight pattern, so I assume she didnt use it… but she didnt act cold either. At those speeds even a warm day can get cold fast. It’s fine as-is, just something I found myself musing about.

    Kenzie… poor kid. I know what it is like to want desperately to reach out, but having it always go badly. To then have kenzie pretty much confirm every one of HT’s worries is well founded, that was a stark moment. Up until then I was largely convinced by Capricorn and Ashley.

    Also, great cliffhanger with the loaded statement! Left my mind trying to fill in the next part from like 3 different angles, with lots of speculation to leave me wanting more 🙂

  11. … As someone who’s been the focus of folks with borderline personality disorder, I actually found myself trembling a little at Houndstooth’s attempts at being circumspect about Kenzie’s behavior.

    I know this isn’t exactly that? But it’s close enough for me to assert this stuff can get *REALLY* bad. Really, *really* goddamn bad.

    It can be mitigated, especially when the person you’re working with knows that there’s problems to work through/around, but holy shit. And she’s *eleven* and has the *worst powerset* for managing her issues.

    She is now officially the person on the team who terrifies me most for potential to ruin people. And through good intentions, at that.

    1. Does she have the worst powerset for managing her issues? Or did the issue give the powerset? 🙂

      That’s the issue with powers they’re designed to bring out the worst in people.

      1. I don’t think it’s so much that they want to bring out the worst in people, and more that the kinds of things they want people to do involves making them embrace what’s bad for them. (“Hm, this girl could do a lot if I let her watch others closely…”)

  12. “Frankly, I’d really lock down the school thing. See if you can have her rotate classes or do something non-classroom. Discourage friendships with classmates, because that’s not going to go well. If she starts showing true romantic interest in anyone, shut it down hard. I wouldn’t advise her being on your team, frankly.”

    Oh Houndstooth. No, just no.

    I do something similar to what Kenzie does. What she’s doing is looking for love, affection, and affirmation. She’s just doing with superpowers which brings it to pathological levels.

    The problem is that it’s ultimately rooted in insecurity. Kenzie fundamentally doesn’t feel loved and included so she’s trying to get that affirmation any way she can.

    The absolute worst thing to do with someone like that is to try to limit them like how Houndstooth is saying. He’s suggesting they try to mitigate the effects without addressing the underlying cause. All his advice is going to do is to make Kenzie even more insecure, which means she’s going to try even harder to get people approval, which makes people try to isolate her more, ect. Vicious circle.

    Thinking about it, Kenzie is basically the emotional equivalent of Sveata. Whenever she’s stressed she grabs, and doesn’t let go.

    At least we get an idea why she refused Victoria’s hug. She’s aware of what she does and is trying to cut back.

    1. the necessary thing is providing a framework for constructive feedback. positive reinforcement for demonstrated self-control, non-damaging methods of asking for distance when self-control is lacking.

      this is hard to do. people get very irrational when they feel crowded, and behavior patterns like kenzie is clearly prone to will normally result in people being polite in the white-lie fashion (failing to be honest about the way they are feeling about her behavior in an instinctive but misguided attempt to maintain social harmony) until they snap, giving no opportunity to learn how to avoid repeating the problem.

      that this is a bunch of people who are already kinda immersed in group support mechanisms makes it much more feasible than it would be for most groups; they’re already used to working around the fact they’re all busted to some degree or other, and have social cues already established for mitigating these problems.

      of course, transitioning from “group therapy” to “functional team” is going to be a hell of a challenge, as has been noted before.

    2. “At least we get an idea why she refused Victoria’s hug. She’s aware of what she does and is trying to cut back.”
      There’s also the possibility she is pushing herself and is a wreck physically… But you can’t tell because she’s got an image inducer hiding that she’s gone bald, the bags under her eyes have bags. and her teeth are a British dentistry joke.

      But I’m pretty sure Mrs. Yamada’s got a better idea of how to treat Kenzie than Houndstooth.

        1. Oh I remember she didn’t support the team idea. But she’s also not advising isolation from everyone else for Kenzie, so that’s my point. Mrs. Yamada’s better at determining how to help Kenzie than Houndstooth.

      1. Indeed. Also, by saying they should isolate her until her therapist says otherwise, he’s insulting the judgement of literally every other person whose authority she accepts, and to a lesser degree, everyone else she hangs out with. I suspect he’s really bad at empathizing with people, and compensates by following the book and paying lots of attention to people’s behaviors.
        Woo, looking at that and remembering that Kenzie is a horrible judge of character, I wonder if he’s actually a high-functioning psychopath who doesn’t like Kenzie because she makes shady behaviors difficult for him. That’s an interesting possibility.

  13. I have to say Ashley was rather on point throughout this chapter. When Presley described Victoria as “fearless, fair, strong, and poised” my reaction was “well, one out of four ain’t bad…” to be echoed by Ashley shortly after. More notably, while it’s not described in a way that suggests this was Ashley’s thought process, does Presley *really* want a Damsel of Distress autograph? Obviously, Presley didn’t know who Ashley was, but Ashley (and Victoria) would be able to predict the potential for regret from Presley.

  14. Sooo…. Kenzie is using her tech to project a false image of herself and cover-up when she cries. I had my suspicions from a couple posts ago, but this is a big give away.

    ““She’s not prey either,” Ashley said, more heated. “She’s Kenzie Martin. She’s a person. You may have only seen her cry once but I’ve seen her cry more times than I can count.”

    “Really?” Tristan asked. “When?”

    “During the meetings. After. During private conversations.””

    Wait, during meetings? And Tristan didn’t notice? Of course now we must wonder if this is because Ashley has a minor thinker power, or she’s just more observant and empathetic.

    This probably explains Kenzie’s distorted appearance on camera. If she was protecting herself from having her picture taken, I don’t think she would have forgotten.

    I suspect Ashley’s comments about how she can kill everyone is her agent talking, or her way of placating it. Her agent wants her to assert her superiority. This is a reasonably harmless way of doing it. Ashley is pretty on point when she says she’s not the worst off member of the group. I think that Kenzie and Rain are pretty clearly out-ranking her. Maybe Chris and Cap too. Sveta’s pretty well balanced, but she’s cheating since she has a cauldron agent. Vicky is also reasonably on point.

    1. My interpretation of “During the meetings. After. During private conversations.” was that “After. During private conversations.” was a clarification of “During the meetings.” That is, she was adding precision after realizing the first sentence was ambiguous.

      That said, Kenzie using her counter-surveillance tech to hide her true reactions was not an idea I had considered, but it seems completely plausible. If this is accurate, I don’t think Ashley has any special abilities to see through it. I just think that, for whatever reason, Kenzie presented herself as crying to Ashley when they were alone. There’s a possibility that this is also a facade for Ashley. By this I more mean that she reveals different facets of herself to different people than that she is “manufacturing” a persona. (Revealing different aspects to different people is completely normal. Kenzie may just be accomplishing this in an unusual way and with more control than people normally have.) That said, the choice of which facets to reveal to whom is likely strategic based on what she believes will be best received. This would suggest that the “improvement” in Kenzie might be more a result of increased social intelligence rather than a healthier mindset necessarily. Either way, she’s clearly won over Ashley to a non-trivial extent.

      I don’t think this was the case, but maybe Kenzie refused Victoria’s hug because it may have interfered with her tech, and revealed something she didn’t want to reveal. (Or maybe, knowing what Houndstooth was likely to tell Victoria in the near future, she thought it presented a better image.)

      1. Damn it. That’s probably right and it makes more sense. I still think she’s covering up her true appearance though.

  15. While i understand Houndstooth thoughts, it’s a terrible idea for someone like Kenzie with her power.

    The clossest comparison to Houndstooth plan i can think of, is to place someone in a desert, let them have just enough water to survive, place a drinkable ocean infront of them and tell them that they can’t drink it, because it will hurt others. Yeah, maybe that person will learn to live on just that water, but you know that’s not gonna happen.

    Yes, they will have to do something to help her. But, like Ashley said she’s human, and they have think about that, as they find out what to do.

    1. Actually, it would be more like saying the water is potentially dangerous to drink. (Houndtooth sounded more concerned about the effects on Kenzie’s health, sanity, etc than others’ privacy.) Which wouldn’t work very well on Kenzie, since the reason for that danger is how she puts others’ approval before her own needs…

    1. Me either. It seems to happen when they modify the webpage code or something. Normally I’ll just check if it’s on Saturday or Tuesday.

  16. I just realized that Kenzie classified a women who likely murdered her daughter trying to adopt Kenzie as a pseudo-daughter as ’embarrassing’. Kenzie … has a fucked up definition of embarrassing. And priorities. She’s more concerned with how people viewed her desperate need for attachment (fulfilled by this dangerous woman) than she is concerned with the threat that was posed to her.

      1. … well I think I got a disturbing insight into the mind of this one Ayn Rand fan I interacted with in college. I’m not sure what to do with that insight though.

  17. This is a really strongly thematic chapter: Ashley, Kenzie and Vicky all grappling with issues of requiring validation and connection from other people. Well done, ‘bow.

    Houndstooth… Is not the best at advice. I kinda marked out for Ashley sticking up for Kenzie. I’m absolutely down for the Damsel and Looksee spin-off series where they go on a road trip investigating/obliterating mysteries and cryptids.

    1. I’m surprised no one has commented on the line where Victoria calls it “MY meeting with Houndstooth.” I got the impression that was a line that needed reading into.

  18. “After the art project thing? When she threw up in class? Didn’t cry before, didn’t cry after. Not that we saw. I saw her cry once, and we were all crying then.”

    …oh Ziz, Kenzie was at Golden Morning, wasn’t she? Was she ever on record as being one of the capes Khepri possessed to create the ‘garden of flesh’ projections?

      1. Yeah, Kenzie is an extradimensional / observation specialist. There is absolutely no way she wasn’t one of the tinkers involved in the gestalt project that was trying to locate and access Scion’s core.

  19. Well, this was interesting. We get to see Kenzie’s big secret laid out, we see Ashley being nice (in her not-nice way), and of course there’s the Glory Girl fangirl.

    I wonder if Presley’s going to show up again. She and Victoria have each others’ e-mail addresses.
    Houndtooth’s advice is…extreme, but Kenzie’s a cape, so that might be warranted. I hope Victoria discusses it with Yamada; being a cape psychiatrist who’s worked with Kenzie for a while, I imagine she’d have a good idea of how close to stick to that advice.
    That last line caught my eye. I wonder what’s going on there. Were Houndtooth and Kenzie more than teammates, like mentor/mentee? Did Kenzie develop a crush, which may have influenced how bad Houndtooth perceived her issues? Does Kenzie just miss the old days really, really badly?

    1. The main problem with Houndstooth advice (besides the whole “isolate the person who desperately wants social contact” aspect, which other people already covered,) is that Kenzie is never going to learn healthy boundaries under those recommendations.

      People learn by looking at what other people do and copying them, especially with social stuff. It’s how fashion trends work, it’s part of why children act like their parents, it’s why so many advertisements feature people using the thing they want you to buy.

      HT’s idea here doesn’t let Kenzie have any boundaries. At all. Ever. Have a friend? Cape Leader introduces himself, chaperones everything. You like a class? a teacher? Cape Leader is there to make sure that you’re not too attached. For your own good, of course. Have a hobby? Cape Leader examines it to make sure your not hurting yourself of using it as a cover to do unauthorized tinkering. Your own space? Private time? Of course not, what if you stay up late to spy on people.

      To be honest, if Kenzie were any less social she might have wound up murdering someone and going villain out of pure self defense, but as it is those policies probably did nothing but make her problems worse. After all, if the nice, kind, true blue hero Houndstooth thinks that it’s okay to monitor people 24/7 then who is Kenzie to argue? It’s not like she can pluck standard morality out of thin air.

      1. If Houndstooth’s policies are actively detrimental, that could explain his negative view of her. He helped her to her worst then, inadvertently.

  20. And my earlier realization that ways to make Feint tolerable work suspiciously well to provide what Kenzie needs melds into a remark I saw on SB that Kenzie is literally nega-Feint: also makes projections, but can show even something that’s not there and never was. Wants to be a villain because she wants to cape, not for the gains. Reacts well to praise and respect, but instead of pushing all comers away, clings to them to a destructive degree.

    I wonder if Houndstooth is as severe in hisnopinions of her because he got put under investigation over something she did as well?

    Excellent chapter, WB.

  21. Everyone else has said the things that need to be said better than I could have ever said them, so I’m not gonna say that.

    But goddamn, this chapter was fricking amazing! Full-out ‘Subarashi!!!!’. I’m finally starting to roll with Ward, in a matter on speaking. I’m at immersion point.

    Also, was that a ************* MAGGIE HOLT reference?! I’m reading Pact right now, but I realize I’ve been seeing these since good ol’ Worm. The ‘bow really has his act together.

    Kudos to you as always, John McCrae.

    1. “Also, was that a ************* MAGGIE HOLT reference?! I’m reading Pact right now, but I realize I’ve been seeing these since good ol’ Worm. The ‘bow really has his act together.”

      I think its a reference to Pat actually.

      1. I think you meant “Pact?” But that still doesn’t make sense. Maybe you’ve forgotten that Taylor mentioned the Maggie Holt books in Worm? I guess the series has expanded to movies too since then.

  22. The counter-surveillance bit is pretty eerie, and it could lead to some serious backsliding; hopefully someone in the team will call Mrs Yamada when they have trouble addressing Kenzie’s behavior.

    Ashley’s defensive reaction to Houndstooth’s criticisms toward Kenzie seemed genuine, though. It’s possible Ashley assumed Kenzie would be watching and tailored her reactions to curry favour with her, but what we’ve seen so far is that even when Ashley is being sneaky, she isn’t really acting like anything but herself. She seemed genuinely upset that he was badmouthing her. I don’t think she’d have to do much to get Kenzie as her minion, though. Someone in the earlier comments said that Ashley needs attention and Kenzie loves to give it, which has potential to become a shitstorm!

    Damsel of Distress died with S9, and Tristan mentioned that when Bonesaw “resurrected” her as a clone, all she got for her memory bank was how good violence felt: there was no reason to give her the happier, exsanguine memories. Maybe Kenzie actually does matter to Ashley as a person, not just in how useful she is or how easily she could be manipulated. Plus, Ashley has technically only been alive for two years or so?
    I hate to think of Ashley taking Kenzie with her to her nefarious Queendom! Especially since she’s still determined to go villain if the team falls through! *waiting on tenterhooks!*

  23. First time commenter here.

    Damn! Just a little too late to get in my suggestion for Panopticon as a codename for Kenzie. Though maybe that would have been a little too self-aware, given her tendencies…

    1. Panopticon! As a dweller in the same city as one of the original panopticons, the Babcock Building (1858) originally part of the South Carolina State Hospital, I know a bit about this thing. For those who don’t, it’s a building constructed so that each room gets a certain amount of natural sunlight every day. This style of emplacement was originally intended for prisons and madhouses for therapeutic purposes.

      The concept was originated by Jeremy Bentham (1747-1832) who after his death at a ripe old age, had himself publicly dissected and stuffed. Dressed in his own clothes and favorite hat, he watches over the students of University College London to this day. As recently as 2013, he was brought out to preside over a meeting, listed as “Present, but not voting.”

      Not surprisingly, along with Jefferson, Mozart and Einstein, he’s one of those historical figures most closely linked with Asperger’s.

      Needless to say, I approve.

      1. He doesn’t, actually. He can’t watch, because his skull is kept in a safe. There’s a waxwork head mounted on his skeleton, because that’s easier to replace if it gets stolen by students from a rival university again.

        I’ve actually seen him on a trip to London. I think it was worth it. Didn’t know about his association with Asperger’s, though. My favourite historical maybe-Asperger’s is King Gustav the Great of Sweden.

        1. You don’t think that he himself or had someone like Kenzie build dark matter etheric broadcasting cameras into the wax head, knowing that his original meat & jelly eyes would no longer be useful in death even if the mummification process had been a complete success?

          1. Well, he’s dead. Even if he did, I don’t think it would work.

            Besides, he was an Architect Tinker, wasn’t he? He designed buildings, not cameras. That’s way outside his speciality.

        2. This is Gustav II Adolf (1594-1632) The Father of Modern Warfare? I see he sported an indulgent mustache along with Poirot and myself. And then there’s the fuckulism… ….what other Aspie traits did he evidence?

          1. I would assume so. Honestly, I can’t remember. I saw his name on a list of ‘possible historic Asperger’s people’ on Wikipedia (I assume) about ten years ago. I can’t find the page on Wikipedia any more. His name and inclusion on the list lodged in the recesses of my brain.

            I have also just remembered that, somewhat ironically, Hans Asperger himself was on the list, but besides Einstein, I can’t remember any more names. Jeremy Bentham may have been, but I saw him five years ago, so this was before I was familiar with him.

        3. Like Kenzie, I expect he probably thought of the world as one big camera and death as just a transition to another observational level.

  24. Now i’m starting to fully realise why Kenzie was part of a therapy group. Her acting definitely had me fooled up to this point.

  25. I have the utmost sympathy for Kenzie, not the least of which because I have the complementary addiction to hers — I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t be able to refuse her need for attention. Where Kenzie sacrifices her own well-being in order to try to get approval from other people, I’m the type that will sacrifice his own well-being in order to protect other people.

    Actually it makes this chapter kinda hard to read, because it hits pretty close.

  26. Chaps, I really cannot find it in myself to agree that Team Therapy is a good idea. The superhero team as a sort of small business thing sounds neat? But…if someone said ‘Hey, we’re forming a sort of Good Guys For Hire supers mercenary group. It’s going to involve running up against other people with powers who really are willing to kill people. Also, the primary recruitment criterion is that we’re forming the group from the members of our therapy unit, some of whom have truly serious issues along the lines of really wild borderline personality disorder. Also, a third of the group are minors. Good idea?’ I would respond by asking that person what it is that they are smoking.

    1. Well, it’s probably NOT the best idea. But it’s better than giving up on that support network and it gives the group a point of cohesion.

  27. It makes me wonder how bad Yamada’s other patients are if she can no longer spare an hour or two a week to meet with this group.

    1. It makes me wonder how bad they were when they met, if Yamada thinks they’re improved enough they don’t need her.

    2. It must be admitted that none of the group members are former serial killers presiding over a legion of superpowered ghosts culled in large part from a supermax prison.

  28. Now imagine if Greg veder made it here and kenzie glomped onto him like he was big brother.
    So few social filters they’d Armsmaster (sic) look well adjsuted socially…

    Also, ashley gots on road trip, runs inot what’s left of shadow stalker.. *Points and laughs. A lot.*

  29. Now all I can think about is Kenzie’s Glow-Worm interlude and all the AI friends she had because nobody real wants to get close to her and NOW I CAN’T STOP CRYING…..

  30. I’m FINALLY caught up to read these as they come out!
    I just finished Worm last year and haven’t had time to read Twig or Pact (planning to) but I’m so happy to read these as they come out!
    Even if now I’m sitting in horrified anticipation to see what happens next

    Hello Kenzie, good to see you there surrounded by all those computer screens showing me at every hour of the day…..

  31. Actually, it seems like she has Histrionic Personality Disorder.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histrionic_personality_disorder

    It looks like the defining mark of DSED is lack of discrimination. Like, the person just seems to lack the awareness that they shouldn’t be attaching to person X.

    The defining mark of Histrionic personality disorder is raw and overpowering need for the acceptance and approval of others. Seems to me that it’s more a matter of emphasis than anything else, though. Kenzie seems to me like she is aware. But it seems to me like her raw need to be approved of overrides that.

    1. Of course, she can’t be diagnosed with either one of those until she hits 18. Until that time, she’s just a weird little girl with terrifying powers.

      1. No, DSED is a childhood attachment disorder. She can definitely be diagnosed with that. She can’t be diagnosed with a personality disorder because her personality hasn’t settled yet (technically you shouldn’t even be diagnosed with one until you’re 24-25 ish, when your brain’s fully developed).

        1. While this makes a lot of sense, I can’t find any reading about making diagnoses on someone under 18 (or under 25 for that matter). Any suggestions?

          Presumably some disorders are safer to diagnose at earlier ages than others? We all know about elementary schoolers being diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD, as one example. While lots of people think it’s over-diagnosed (I don’t have an opinion), it’s clearly legit at least some of the time, and historical over-diagnosis of a problem is not an argument for future under-diagnosis.

          It seems to me like extra caution should be used when diagnosing any patient under 25, but I’m not seeing a good reason you can’t or shouldn’t.

          1. My Asperger’s was recognised (I don’t like saying it’s a diagnosis; that has too many negative connotations for my taste) when I was ten. For Asperger’s, this is earlier than average; for the whole spectrum of Autism, it is late.

            I’m not sure if that counts as a ‘personality disorder’, however. It depends on your definition, I suppose.

  32. Houndstooth’s stance on Kenzie kind of disturbs me.

    On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense, in a self-serving way. It seems like Kenzie needs a lot, and nobody can really give her that, and she has to learn to live with that. Houndstooth’s discussion with Victoria and Ashley and Tristan sounds very much like someone who had to deal with the crushing guilt and the constant sense of intrusion that comes with having to handle a person who is pathologically needy.

    At the same time, it’s reflexive, and it’s meant to protect him. Not help Kenzie. You don’t help someone with a disorder like that by depriving them. The only way that works (if they’ve recognized that they need to change) is by taking away some of the fear of deprivation and then giving them a chance to learn normalcy. To use Houndstooth’s metaphor, it would be like taking someone with a food addiction and locking them in a room, starving, where they have nothing else to do but imagine food. And then you cross your fingers and hope that, from that position of starvation, you can train them to be normal by throwing them bread crumbs at first and then working up to a normal diet.

    Probably won’t work. You’d just be adding trauma to dysfunction.

    1. Hence the emphasis on the therapist. I kinda assume Yamada has more understanding of Kenzie’s progress than the guy who hasn’t seen her since Gold Morning.

    2. What you do to solve a food addiction shares a lot in common with solving any other addiction: get proper food, exercise, sleep, and healthy social contact, and do so every day. Those are the things that boost willpower, and they also tend to reduce or eliminate the stresses that addictions are developed in response to. Granted, in the case of food addiction one should be extra careful to make sure the addict is getting all the nutrients they need – they might actually be treating a vitamin deficiency. But Kenzie’s biggest issue seems to be her agent, which encourages addiction spirals as a matter of course.

  33. I can’t even imagine caring about that many people as friends and yet we got a character that pretty much loves everyone she knows.
    I couldn’t even dream of imagining that sort of person, kudos.

    1. Huh? She isn’t all that unusual, especially considering there’s a real world description of her issues.

      I think most people have experienced small samples of her issue. I remember in college one time looking at my phone and realizing I had the numbers of over 100 friends in there. I realized that it’s absolutely impractical to maintain friendships with that many people, and that I needed to pick the best of them and focus on a smaller number. So Kenzie is like me with a pathological block preventing that kind of self-awareness, among other things. Or at least preventing her from acting on that awareness, which is about 100x worse

      1. I think it depends on how you classify ‘friendships’. I probably see a hundred people in church every week, and I remember almost all of their names by now, and I generally enjoy talking to them if I have the chance. But I don’t think there’s more than twenty or so who I talk to regularly. Kenzie just seems to need to interact with people, or at least pay attention to them, far more of the time than I do.

      2. We have capacity for about 15 close friends though imagine all 100 friends of yours mattering to you almost as much as your sister.

        I don’t know maybe im too socially inept that i find her so alien and fascinating, that’s also a possiblity 🙂

  34. Kenzie being far too trusting reminds me of Williams Syndrome. It doesn’t really fit because of the absence of any of the other common symptoms (difficulty with visual-spatial tasks, distinct facial features, learning disabilities, etc.) – but that’s the only example that jumps to mind where people are too trusting to a degree which seems pathologic…

    1. Williams Syndrome doesn’t apply (as far as we know) because of its physical components, but I suppose it’s always a possibility that the agent “fixed” the physical components upon triggering.

  35. Wow. Anyone else think that keeping a girl who gets overly attached on the same team with the woman whose aura has already caused/magnified one infatuation is a terrible idea? Victoria has much better control now, and Kenzie has less contact than Amy did. But…

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