Shadow – 5.1

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Experience told me that after waking up from a bad dream, it was better for me to move.  The emotional and mental impact of being tired for the rest of the day was far lower than if I remained in bed and stewed.  Either way, I rarely fell back into sleep.

It was one of the few things that had been easier at the hospital.  Sleep had been regular, reliable.  There hadn’t been any stretches where I’d have nightmares or insomnia for three nights in a row and the littlest things would be a grind by the third day.  The drugs had been part of my diet, to ensure I fell asleep and woke up at certain times.  They didn’t do much about the nightmares, but even waking up hadn’t ended the nightmare back then.

I was perpetually tempted to get something to help, but the degree to which I was tempted was a warning bell in the back of my mind.

Sleep, eating, having a space to retreat to, physical affection, attention, socializing, breathing.  It was always the basic, animal things that came apart in the wake of stress and crisis.  Things broke down, got twisted, or they were reminders.

I woke up and I pulled on a pair of jeans.  Red-dyed raw denim, washed with something dark that made the creases and seams very apparent.  They were a little looser fitting than my going-out jeans, and I’d settled into wearing them when I was at home and my dad was around, or now, when Crystal was around.  It felt less like I was a slob if I was wearing them at home, especially if anyone dropped in.

Dean had tried on red jeans once, while I was shopping with him.  His uncharacteristically self-conscious reaction had had me in stitches.  If I hadn’t been able to fly, I would have been on the floor laughing.  It was a good memory and a large part of why the jeans were a security-blanket level thing for me.

The memory had a nice second part, when Dean had mentioned that even the brief wearing of the jeans had turned his legs and underwear red.  His best friends and I had been there as he’d recounted how concerned he’d been before realizing, and how the redness on his underwear had been worse where it pressed against the jeans, especially at the front.  He’d described it as a clown-nose smudge on the front and his friends had been nearly falling out of their seats.

Even now, it put a smile on my face.

There were other memories too.  Some from the same trip, others from other dates.  He’d tried on a lot of jeans and to this day I could remember a pair where he had looked perfect: in profile, in the narrow waist and hips, the broad shoulders, the pert butt.  He’d lifted up his shirt so I could see the fit, and I’d seen the thin trail of body hair leading up to his navel, his flat stomach, and the bones of his hips just above the jeans.  Already warmed up by my laughing fit earlier, I’d worked myself up into a tizzy, the best words for it, and I’d maintained the tizzyness until twenty minutes later when we were cutting through the parking lot to the bus stop.  I’d pulled him aside for a make out session.

I missed him so much it hurt, but the memories were happy ones and they were a good buffer against the bad night’s sleep.  I kept my t-shirt and underwear on from yesterday and I went without a bra, pulling on a white sweater with too-long sleeves and a wide collar that left my shoulders bare.

The fit was snuggly and enveloping, as if the sweater itself was giving me a hug; kind of what I was shooting for when a not-insignificant part of me felt like I was five years old again, scared and wanting to crawl into bed with my mom and dad.

Set on putting the nightmare and the associated feelings behind me, I got some socks, underwear, sports bra, and a camisole top, stowing them in my bag where I already had my wallet.  I pulled on some sneakers, sans socks, and headed to the balcony door.  I eyed the clock in the kitchen as I passed it.  Fifteen minutes to five.

I flew toward Cedar Point.

“You’re not wrong,” Jessica Yamada said.

I stared out over the water.  There was something sinister at play with the team.

Crystal was out at the water’s edge now, leaning over the railing.  Forcefields made a kind of table or tray for her to set her food down on.  It drew the attention of bystanders, in a ‘look at that, how cool’ way.

“Double agent?  Someone under the influence of another?” I asked.

“Telling you would be telling you who,” Jessica said.  “Which, unfortunately, would be betraying confidence.”

“Can I think aloud?”

“You can.”

“I got on this track of thought because I have an ominous feeling.  I liken it to, uh, to my sister.”

“Keep in mind that hindsight might distort the picture with your sister.  It’s easy to look back and think things were better or worse than they were.”

“I- yes,” I said, conceding the point.  “Yes, but I can take key moments in isolation, scenes I remember with vivid detail, conversations down to the word, and I can use those as waypoints.  I can recall what led up to what and what happened after, because I’ve replayed it all in my head a thousand times, and I can compare that to this.”

“Don’t lose sight of how replaying events in your head to such excruciating detail might distort the picture, as will gathering all of those like memories together.”

“I’ll try not to,” I said.  “Thinking aloud… you think something’s up.  You’re equipped with all of the facts, you know people’s stories, most of the secrets.  Sveta said something about how she’s kind of unique in how she knows the most about most people, if I’m included in things.”

“I imagine she does.”

“I had no background going in, but I called you to talk because I had worries, and I’m realizing the general shape of your worries and why you brought me in.  We’re at the same conclusion, but we got here by different roads.  Something’s wrong or it’s going to go wrong.”

Jessica ate while I talked.

“You would be allowed to break confidentiality if there was a real and imminent risk of danger, or if there was a danger to a vulnerable group.  And in the event of child abuse?”

“I would if I knew there was a danger to any involved,” Jessica said.  “I would also have to disclose if required by law – a muddy thing these days, with the world hanging in suspension while the laws are being written.”

“I’ve run into that a bit,” I said, thinking of Natalie.

“And if I had to disclose to obtain payment or ensure proper care, as I would if I was giving care to someone who then had to go to the Asylum.  In either of those two cases, for law or working with other mental health professionals, I would get the patient’s permission first.”

“So it’s not that, obviously.  But you’re really worried.  It’s something that you think is likely enough that you want me there to keep an eye on things.”

“I gave some serious consideration to whether the risk, though not a certain one, was worth the cost to the patient, to my career, and to the other patients I might no longer be able to look after.”

I looked at Jessica.  She took another bite of her barbecue chicken sandwich, adjusting the wrapper to catch the drips of sauce and bits of lettuce and onion.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

With index finger and thumb still holding the sandwich, she held up some fingers to block her mouth while she chewed.  I nodded, and waited for her to finish the mouthful.

She swallowed, paused, and then said, “I mean that if I were to report, there is a chance my reasons for reporting might be seen as insufficient, unproven, or unclear.”

“Just a suspicion.  A strong one.  Not enough reason to bring authorities into it or take action against the person or people you’re worried about.”

“Yes,” she said.

“What would happen?”

“It’s hard to say.  The future of the law is unclear.  But I can say I would be tied up in proceedings as they judge whether I had merit, which could take months or even more than a year.  Even if nothing happened, the fact that it even had to happen in the first place might impact who I could work for.  I might have to take a leave from work, and I might not be able to work with the Wardens or with critical-risk, powered juveniles.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“The PRT was stringent about who they would hire and take into confidence, and there’s no reason to believe the next group to take power will be any less careful.  Even with that in mind…”

She trailed off.

“You thought about telling people.  That doesn’t seem… just.  There are a lot of people that rely on you.  Even with the group therapy kids, it’s pretty clear.  I feel like if they didn’t have you, some pretty bad stuff would happen.  And they’re, what, ten percent of your caseload?  Less?”

“Less.  But I can’t ignore one wrong involving my patients for the sake of ensuring I can maintain care for the rest.  Thankfully, it isn’t that binary in reality.  I can act clearly and decisively when there’s a clear and decisive danger.  I can ask multiple someones that I know and respect to keep an eye out.”

“Me being one?”

“Yes, Victoria.  You’re one of several.  Some are waiting until the group is more visible, people in the Wardens will reach out and coordinate, they know where your group originated and that I’m concerned about where it may go.”

“I may not be the best choice- I know you didn’t choose me, exactly.  You wanted me to try and steer the group away from the hero thing.  I volunteered myself for this and you were…”

“Relieved to have one set of eyes on things, on a more ongoing basis.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If you need to back away from this, you can,” she said.  “Tell me and I’ll help.  Others will help to keep an eye on things, if at more of a distance.  I involved you initially and I was glad when you seemed to be interested and invested in a way that played to your strengths and that you enjoyed.  I was, again, relieved to have more eyes on things.  I do not, however, want you to suffer for it.”

I looked out over the water, which was so very dark and expansive.  The city didn’t keep many lights on at night, with the power situation being what it was.  Less lights to reflect down on the water after dark, less light reaching the clouds up above, to make the sky lighter.

Ink black darkness.

“How have you been?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“Back at the Asylum, after you had worked on your motor control, I had you keep a journal, with the attendant’s help.”

Dark, heavy feelings, to match what I saw over the water.

“Each day in the calendar started with a drawn out cross, with a  number written in each of the four quadrants.  We tracked how you were doing in various areas.”

“I didn’t make much progress.”

“You moved on to the independent care facility.”

More dark, heavy feelings.

“How would you fill it out now?  Physically, emotionally, contextually, and in the immediate picture with your personal needs.”

“I have no earthly idea,” I said.

“It might be worth paying attention to,” she said.  “Have you called the number I gave you?  The therapist?”

I shook my head.

“If you sat down with a friend or a loved one and they told you they felt as you have these past few days, their worries, wants, needs, and problems, would you want them to talk to someone qualified?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess I would.”

She took a bite of her sandwich, diplomatically avoiding saying something.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I hear you.”

I stopped in at the group’s headquarters, landing on the fire escape, and unlocking the door with my key.

Lights started to turn on, computer monitors appearing, Kenzie’s cube glowing at the corners, as her projected image appeared in the computer chair, fritzing.

“It’s fine.  Go back to sleep, Kenzie,” I said, to the room.  “I woke up early and decided to go flying.  I’m using the shower.”

There was a pause, and then the various projections, images, screens, and lights went dark, in the reverse order they had turned on.

I wondered if I’d actually woken her up, and if she’d actually heard me.

The apartment was fairly spacious, to the point it could have been a two-bedroom place if it actually had walls.  As it was, the only walls encircled the corner, where a single shallow closet and the bathroom were.  The bathroom, I couldn’t help but note, was ridiculously small for the size of the overall apartment.  Toilet, sink, and shower stall, with barely any room to squeeze in between one thing and the thing or things beside it.

I stepped into the bathroom and disrobed, leaning out past the door to hang up my jeans outside, so the humidity of the shower wouldn’t get at them.  I hung up the rest of my clothes on the inside of the door.

It was paranoia over preserving the raw denim and bringing out any dye that regular wearing hadn’t already worn away, maybe, but I’d spent a week’s pay on the jeans.  If they had been free, I still would have been attached to them, because they reminded me of Dean, and because they were getting to be the most comfortable jeans I’d ever had, after rigorous wearing.  I was going to be fussy.

I hadn’t gotten to be fussy with other things.  A year after I had gone to the hospital, my mom had donated just about all of my clothes to charity.

There had been things I’d bought with Dean, with friends, with Aunt Sarah or Crystal.  Uncle Neil had always spoiled me rotten, going to Crystal for tips on what to get me, and there had been four or five things I would have liked to have.  Some had been milestone things, dresses I’d worn to school events, clothes I’d gotten to take home from photo shoots, and small accessories I’d bought as rewards to myself, like saving my first thousand and two thousand dollars, when I’d thought I might move to another city to follow Dean, if the PRT moved him.

It hadn’t been like she’d needed the room.  Dad had moved out by then, I was gone, my sister was gone.  It had been… her ripping off her own band-aid, by giving away my treasures.

I could have turned the shower to a scalding heat to try to find a physical way to reflect what I was feeling otherwise.  I could have turned it to freezing cold, to wake myself up.

I opted for the embrace of warm water in lieu of the warm hug of the sweater I’d taken off.  I got into the shower and used my flight, bringing my knees to my chest and hugging my legs tight, closing my eyes.

I rotated in the air a few times over the course of what might have been twenty minutes, letting the water pour over me.  I didn’t open my eyes once for the duration, and I didn’t feel like I might fall asleep.

I finished my recounting of my observations of the team.  Jessica finished eating.

Rain was in a bad spot, and he’d revealed himself to be Fallen.  Kenzie and Houndstooth.  Ashley and her outbursts.  Chris and his lopsided dips into one emotion.  Sveta’s worries.  Tristan and Moonsong.

“No team name, a lot of missing cape names.  I know you don’t like the cape name thing-”

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I think it can make sense to take a hero name as an adult, but for someone younger, it can be one part of a greater issue.  It’s hard enough for a teenager to decide who they are without the icon, the mask, and the name taking so much focus.”

I wanted to argue the point so badly, and I was too tired to do it.  A passionate debate about powers, identities and costumes with Jessica, outside of the bounds of a therapy session?  It would have been great.

“There’s going to be a war,” I said.  “Rain is going to be swept up in it, if he hasn’t already.  They’re hoping to kill him in the chaos.  The others might be swept up in it.”

“We’ll try to keep that from happening.”

“If it happens, we can try to make sure it happens in the safest, most controlled way possible,” I said.  I saw the look on her face, and hurried to add, “I know you want to keep it from happening, but they want to protect each other, and they do want to stretch their wings and flex their powers.  It’s part of being a cape.”

“It is,” Jessica said.  “What about you?”

“Me?”

“Will you be swept up in it?  Do you want to stretch your wings and flex your powers?”

“I don’t want to flex my powers,” I said.  “I do want to be involved.  I… see this as a snowball rolling downhill.  It’s chaotic and it has the potential to do a lot of damage, some of it inevitable.  But for all their flaws, I think they are holding onto what you wanted to impart on them, for the most part they need… nudges.”

“Nudges?”

“To change the course of the snowball.  Reassuring Sveta.  Redirecting Ashley or giving her an excuse to do what she wants to do anyway.  Keeping Kenzie from overcommitting herself.  Tristan gets into things and needs a bit of a shake, and he’ll step back from the headlong charge.  Rain- more complicated, because it’s not him, exactly.  Self doubt, but it’s external factors pushing in on him that we need to worry about.”

“And Chris?”

“I don’t even know.  I plan to keep a close eye on him, because I haven’t figured him out and he doesn’t seem like he wants to share any of himself, which makes me worry.  I’ll see if I can figure out what to do.”

“Nudges and keeping an eye on things,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “I think you’re on the right track.  Step back if this is wearing on you.”

I shook my head.  “Everything wears on me.  Eating and sleeping wear on me.  Stepping back wouldn’t do me any good.  I’ll call your colleague.  Do what I can.”

“Self care,” Jessica said.  “Yes.  Be kind to yourself, reach out for help if you need it.  You have friends.  Don’t lose sight of that.”

I looked over in Crystal’s direction.  She waved the foil-wrapped sandwich in the air, as if baiting me.  I found myself tempted, when I hadn’t even been hungry before.  “Yeah.  I just realized how ravenous I am.  I feel like there are a hundred more things I should tell you that you need to know, but…”

“Not enough minutes in the day, even if and when I get more with a helpful someone’s power.  I know.  Go eat.”

I stepped back from the railing.  “Sorry, I skipped breakfast and I tossed my lunch.”

“I’d have stern words for you, but I barely ate today either.  Take care of yourself, Victoria.”

She hugged me.

“We’ll talk again soon,” she said, without breaking the hug.

I nodded.

I hadn’t worked out what I was doing in regard to Rain.  A part of me had hoped for guidance.  In the end, it had been better to give Mrs. Yamada the lay of the land.  If she was suspicious, then my mention of outbursts, of backsliding, of stubbornness, confrontations or secrecy might have been the cue she needed to make a decision.

If she was okay with where things stood, then so was I.  I would nudge, I would keep an eye out, and I would look after myself.  I felt more peace than I had, having had the conversation.

“Bye,” I said, my voice not all there because I was a little choked up.  I couldn’t wholly pin down why.

I broke the hug and went straight to my steaming barbecue chicken sandwich.  Crystal too.

Shower off.  Tangled mane transformed to wet combed locks, wet locks transformed to damp braid.  Clothes on: sports bra on under sweater, sleeves rolled up around the wrists, red raw jeans, socks and sneakers.  The clothes I’d hung up on the bathroom door had been effectively steamed while I was in the shower, and my hands smoothed out the wrinkles that had accumulated from my clothes being in my bag.

Self care, to have a shower with no disturbances or worries about bothering Crystal.  To dress in things that felt right.

The computers illuminated as I walked through the main room.

“Go to sleep,” I said.  The computers went dark.

I had to fish through three coarse paper bags of groceries that we’d stowed under one of the tables to find the food supplies.  A small bag of lime and chili chips, a protein bar, some preservatives with pepperoni stick added in, more stick-shaped preservative packs with cheese in the mix, dried fruit, two bottles of vitamin water, and a large thermos of regular tap water

Breakfast.

Laptop.  I flipped it open and turned it on.  The agenda for the day was laid out in glowing words against a dark background.  More groups would walk through.

I had messages from the night prior.  Fume Hood.  Another friend and support.  Hero teams planning to patrol in Cedar Point.  Other, related things.  There was a vein of positivity running through it all.  The hero teams reaching out, expressing interest, wondering about the response they’d gotten, or expressing curiosity about villains who’d showed their faces but hadn’t been involved.  Who was that guy?  What’s her history?

It was easy to be standoffish, to draw lines in the sand when it came to jurisdictions, to make territorial noises and see the other teams as competition.

This was a balancing act, but there were benefits.  The heroes we were connecting with knew some of our names, faces, and voices.

The clock told me it was a quarter after six in the morning as I left the headquarters.

My feet left the fire escape and touched down in Cedar Point a few minutes later.  The shifting temperature and the proximity of the water cast Cedar Point in a heavy mist.  There weren’t many lights on, but the ones that were on made the surrounding mist glow.

Not many people awake.

I walked along the rooftops, flying up to the points higher than I could get with a skip or a jump.  Briefly, I turned on my forcefield.

Briefly, I saw the mist stir, as facial features and hands moved through it.  If I hadn’t known what I was looking at, I wouldn’t have been able to make much sense of the swirl here, the vaguely oval void there.

It wasn’t a good feeling, to verify that, but I’d treated my heart gently this morning, armoring it in sentiment.  I could take that much.

I sat on the edge of a random rooftop, got my laptop out, and opened it.

There wasn’t internet here, but I had files saved on my computer.  Random pictures I’d saved, old PRT documents I’d scanned and saved for printing for my collection, that I hadn’t gotten around to deleting or printing, and some things I’d typed up for the Patrol block.

One leg folded under me, the other dangling off the edge of the roof, I poised the laptop on my knee and dug for what I could find on costumes and branding.  I created seven folders, one for myself and one for each of the six members of the team, and began copying files over to each, where relevant.

The pepperoni sticks were stale, brittle and tough enough I had to gnaw on them to soften them enough to bite through.  Tasty, though.

A small truck beeped with surprising loudness as it backed into an alley.  One person got out to guide it, waving and gesturing, as the headlights of the truck illuminated him in the fog.

The truck fully backed in, he turned around.  Pausing, he looked up at me on the rooftop.  He raised an arm.

I packed up my laptop and hopped off the roof.  I landed silently behind him.  He wore a jacket with a lime green reflective vest over it, and the combination made him look much bulkier than he was.

“You’re the one who knocked Moose on his ass,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Just… hanging around with your computer?”

I shifted my bag at my shoulder.

“I saw the glow of the screen,” he said.

“Felt like I should make a stake.  It’s easy to show up during the daylight hours, but it means something else if I could be here at midnight or at six in the morning.  It’s interesting that it seems like the people who keep watch haven’t responded to me yet.”

“Yeah?” he asked.  “Huh.”

“What’s in the truck?”

“Produce,” he said.  “It’s not a good haul.  My buddy back at the depot picked up a box of melons, it was liquid.  Sloshed himself in watermelon juice, shoulder to toe.  Long day of work ahead of him.”

“Just shipping it out, leaving it to the stores to complain?”

“I guess they hope enough people won’t bother that it balances out.”

I nodded.

“What do you think?” he asked.  He extended an arm.

I drew in a deep breath.

“About Cedar Point,” he clarified.

“I think this place is going to get wrapped up in a war,” I said.

“Yeah?” he asked.  “Because of the heroes coming through?”

“Because it’s building up to something, whatever the people in charge seem to want,” I said.  “The war is going to start here or it’s going to come here.”

“Should my buddy and I get out?” he asked.

“You might want to,” I said.

“We pay a fee to do business here, our manager covers that, but we have to face down the people in costume who collect the fee and give us a hard time, too.  Boss can’t handle that.  Stuff off the boats and trains hasn’t been as good lately, profit margins are getting slimmer.  Maybe we’ll try telling the manager it’s not worth it.”

“Is it a problem?  The heroes being here?”

He had to think about it.

“Yes,” he said.

“Okay,” I responded.

“But it’s a necessary one,” he added.

It meant a lot to me, to hear that.  I held myself to the idea that if I couldn’t trust the law, I could trust what was right.  If I couldn’t trust either, I could reach out.

I couldn’t trust the law.  It was in flux.  Natalie was trying to predict it, but it was more question mark than full stop.  As for what was right, I wasn’t sure I could trust myself, and I couldn’t trust the team.  Jessica could give me some direction, tell me that I was all clear if I kept an eye out, to nudge.  The other teams could validate and suggest they liked this direction.  Collaboration, at least, felt right.

Reaching out, I could get some affirmation from this nameless guy in a reflective green vest.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You said war,” he said.  “Not a battle?”

“I think it matters more,” I said.  “There are other places.  They’ll follow suit.  The entire city might change course, depending on what happens.”

“Huh.   I’m Jerry, by the way,” he introduced himself.  He pulled off a glove to extend his hand my way.

“Victoria.”

“No hero name?”

“No hero costume,” I said.  “Yet.”

“Can I give you a nod or a wave if I see you, while you’re hanging around, then?”

“Better not.  When the villains are awake, they’ll be keeping an eye on things.  With powers.”

“No shit?”

“On everything,” I said.

“I might talk to my boss, then,” he said.  “Sounding more like I should stay clear.”

“Good,” I said.

“And you’ll be here, then?  Staking a claim?  Preparing for war?”

“Making sure that if nothing else, instead of it being fifty villains and no heroes, it’s fifty villains and one hero.  It’s me being ridiculous, but I feel like that’s important.”

“Lonely,” he said.

“Nah,” I said.  “I think I’ll have allies when it counts.”

The entire group arrived pretty much all together.  Tristan, Ashley, Sveta, Chris, and Kenzie.  The westbound train arrived at twelve-thirty, and the eastbound train was just shy of ten minutes later.  Delays and other passing trains changed things up, but it seemed if the group wanted to meet at the station and walk together, they could.

“Here already,” Ashley observed.

“Yep,” I said.  I held up a hand as Kenzie walked past, and she gave me a high-five.

“Cool jeans,” she said, without turning.

“Thank you,” I said.  She went straight to her desk, kicking the cube that sat on the ground by her chair to boot it up before falling back into her chair and hitting the lever to boost herself up.

“Did you see the emails from the other teams?” Tristan asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“No,” Ashley said.

“I’ll show you in a moment.  You’ll like it,” Tristan said.  “They were talking some and they like this.  Cedar Point was a thing that was bothering a lot of people, I think.”

“Civilians too, maybe,” I said.  “I dropped in early enough the villains weren’t really awake.  Talked to a few.  Feelings on heroic intervention range from positive to mixed.  Considering that feelings on heroes are mixed in the first place…”

“We were talking, thinking I’d pay a visit,” Chris said.  “Keep them on their toes.”

“I’d rather wait,” I said.  “Rain said his trigger group would be out of commission for a few days while repairing and healing from injuries.  It’s been a few days.  They were hiring people, and they probably won’t wait too long before they use those hires, or else those people might get caught up in other activities.”

“I’m primed to do something, and I think you guys would rather I do it there than in here,” Chris said.  “We’ve got- what, two teams coming through today?”

“Two with a third holding back.  Third one is a single cape, they want to actually do something,” Tristan said.

“We need to discuss that one,” I said.

“They’re paying,” he said.  “If we give him clear directions on how to ruin a villain’s day, he’ll pay us two hundred bucks.  It’s a good precedent.”

“People are coming through,” Chris said.  “If we need it, I’ll be a distraction.  I’m quick, I’ll be in and out.”

“Maybe,” Tristan said.  He looked at me and Ashley.

“It was the original plan,” Ashley said.  “I say let him.”

I made a so-so gesture.

“Yeah,” Tristan said.  “We’ll debate it when the time comes.  It’s anxiety?”

“Yep.  Mad Anxiety.”

“Great,” Tristan said.  “It’s not the screaming one, is it?”

“Mad is the screaming one,” Chris said.  “I wanted to make an impact and if we need me as a distraction then screaming is good.”

Tristan said something Spanish under his breath and went to his whiteboard.  Swear words, if I had to guess.

“I’ll go in,” Ashley said.  “We said I would after a few days, and if things are happening, I want to already be recognizable around there.  Will the eye camera be ready?”

“Yes,” Kenzie said.  “Oh, Victoria, I bought some energy drinks if you want them.  And I have a thermos of a coffee my dad and mom really like.”

“What coffee?” Sveta asked.  “Weld and I were trying to find one he might like, but it turned out he wants it super bitter, because that’s the only way he can taste it.  We had a bunch of things of coffee taking up space, and I took it on myself to drink it.  I even gave some away.”

“You should bring it in,” Tristan said.  “Supply the team.”

“I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me.  Except I can, because I don’t think about what I have in the cupboards unless I’m standing in front of an open cupboard.  I have other stuff.”

“How far has this food experiment with Weld gone?” I asked.

So it went, the conversation sprawling, back and forth, casual, from work to life.

I’d woken up before dawn, taken the necessary time to pull myself together, and then tentatively reached out, to make sure I wasn’t just centered in my own self, but in what I was doing.  Reaching out to make sure it seemed right and, to a slightly lesser extent, that it was within the bounds of the law.  Reaching out, too, to have more contacts.

I had a bad feeling.  No, more than that, I had bad feelings.  About the team, what lay beneath the surface, the war over Cedar Point, the Fallen, the clash between Snag’s group and the Fallen, and the danger to Rain.

But I knew why I was here.  A potential disaster lurked here.  Knowing that made everything easier, in an ironic way.  The dissonance of not feeling right about being here had eased.

There were clear, defined, acceptable enemies to face down.

“I don’t want a wig,” Ashley said, to Sveta.

“I’m saying, if you cut your hair-”

“If.”

“Then it’s an option.  It could even give you a secret identity.  Kenzie, the eye thing you were talking about, you can give Ashley eyes with irises, right?”

“I could.”

“Eye color, hair color, clothes,” Sveta said.

“Wigs get pulled off or lost in a fight,” Ashley said.  “It’s undignified.”

“You do realize I’m wearing a wig.”

“I realize you’re wearing a wig and you have the capacity to pound someone’s face in or dangle them off the side of a building.  They’ll learn to respect you if you make them,” Ashley said.

“You do realize we’re supposed to be heroes, right?” Chris said.  “Nominally?”

“Not nominally,” I said.

“What’s nominally?” Kenzie asked.  “How do you spell it?  I’ll ask the computer.”

“And I’m not about to do any of those things,” Sveta said.

Ashley ignored us.  “Me?  I can kick them, or I can turn them into a bloody smear using my power.  That’s pretty much it.  I don’t have the manual dexterity or hand strength to use a weapon, I can’t punch them without damaging my hands.  Kicks won’t do enough, using my power does too much, and the mess would be inconvenient.  I don’t want a wig.”

“You don’t want a wig.  Fine,” Sveta said.

“I have some images on my computer,” I said.  “Hair and eye makeup, some costume related.”

“Show me?” Ashley asked.

We walked over to where my computer was on a table.  I found the folder and opened it.

Sveta leaned over me, half-hugging me from behind as I clicked through the images.

“I was thinking of a name to do with swans,” Ashley said, as I clicked.

“An awful lot of the bird names are taken,” I said.  “It was a trend once.  What were you considering?”

“Swansong,” she said.  “If I go with the white costume.”

“I can check, but I’d have to go through my paper stuff,” I said.

“Isn’t that kind of a bad omen of a name?” Sveta asked  “Like, last dance or ‘I’m going to retire today’?”

“I like bad omens,” Ashley said.

“I like this one,” I said, indicating an image.  “I have a folder for you too, Sveta, just so you know.”

“I’m curious what you’re thinking.”

“All over the place,” I said.  “Lots of stuff where I might not even remember why I saved the image in your folder.”

“Guys,” Tristan said.

He had our attention.  His phone was to his ear.

“Rain’s nearby.  He wants to know if he can bring Erin.”

Just like that, the mood of the room shifted.

We exchanged looks, and there were tentative nods, some real nods, no vetoes or refusals.

Tristan gave the a-ok.  He hung up.

The silence lingered for a few seconds.

“I like Erin,” Kenzie said.  “And I’m really glad Rain’s coming back so soon.”

“Yesterday was hard on him,” Tristan said.  “And… Coño, it was his night last night.”

“His night?” I asked.

“His dream,” Tristan said.  “It’s always hard.”

“Sounds like a good dream to me,” Chris said.

Tristan picked up an eraser from by the nearest whiteboard and threw it at Chris.

“I like this one,” Ashley said.  She tapped the frame of the laptop screen.

“Elaborate,” Sveta said.  “You’d have to draw it on every time you went out in costume.”

“It could be projected,” Ashley said.

“It could,” I said.  “If it’s easy to do, we could do that.  I think the thing to do would be to make sure you look good if the projector breaks or loses power, and then build on that.”

“Like the wig idea,” Sveta said.

Ashley sighed.

Rain opened the side door of the headquarters, letting Erin in first before following.

I’d gathered myself together earlier in the day.  For the first time since the Patrol block job, I felt like I almost had my feet under me.

Tristan had said Rain had dealt with a hard night on top of a hard yesterday.  It showed.  Something hollowed out, something wounded.  He looked like I’d felt after Snag had gotten his hands on me.

When he approached the table next to his whiteboards, Erin stepped back a little to let him pass.  It was a subtle thing that I couldn’t help but notice, but it played into the second half of my observation of him.  That he seemed more dangerous.  Where I felt stronger because I’d pulled myself together some and clarified my direction with Mrs. Yamada, Rain conveyed something more in how he’d come undone.

Even yesterday, his face swollen on the one side, black eye, cuts and scabs, it had seemed that idea had held true as he’d found the strength to reveal his background.

What had he dreamed, last night, that this was what had come to the surface?  Was this the strength of desperation?  Something else?

Rain greeted Tristan first, almost falling forward in a ‘bro’ half-hug with just the one arm, the pat on the shoulder.

He gave a nod to Ashley as she was closest to him as he rounded the table.  Sveta gave him a pat on the shoulder, a smile, and a few murmured words that got Rain to nod a little, his expression relaxing a little in what might have been a smile for someone else.  She left us to go talk to Tristan.

Rain stopped a distance away from me.  He didn’t quite face me, and instead said, “We good, Kenz?”

“Yup.  I’m glad you came.  And you brought Erin.  You want to see my toys, Erin?”

Erin walked from the side door to Kenzie, but ninety-five percent of her attention was on Rain and me.  I hadn’t quite seen her like this.

I hadn’t seen Rain like this.  He almost swayed where he stood, eyebrows slightly furrowed, clearly in deep thought.

I didn’t like the Fallen.  They scared the shit out of me.  I hated everything they represented.  He’d killed people, children, and it didn’t seem right that he was standing here and that was passing without incident.

Maybe his condition, mental and physical, represented just how hard he was fighting to get free.  Maybe it suggested it wasn’t passing without incident.

I put out my hand.  When he went to shake it, I grabbed him by the wrist, instead.

He flinched at the unexpected gesture, looked to one side, and stared off into space momentarily.  There was a part of me that recognized that too. Bad dreams.

He forced his attention back to us and our exchange, looked down at our hands.  He took my wrist.  A clasp, more than a shake.

“We good?” he asked, not making eye contact.  His voice was faintly rough-edged, like he’d screamed himself hoarse.  As if a small part of Snag had found root in Rain’s throat.

“We’re good,” I said.

“Let’s get ourselves organized,” Tristan said.  “Training wheels are off, and we’ve got a few things going on today.  Ashley’s going back in, and it makes sense to insert her before things get messy.  Two hero teams are swinging through sometime after that, we’ve got Chris on standby and one hero who wants to pay us to get a chance to do something, which we’ll want to discuss.”

“There’s Prancer to account for too,” I said, releasing Rain’s wrist, approaching, “He’s had a day to think about what we’re doing and a day to get countermeasures in place.  He reassured his friends that he had a handle on this.  Let’s prove him wrong.”

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80 thoughts on “Shadow – 5.1”

    1. Typo thread, I guess.

      “in a way that played to your strengths and that you enjoyed.”

      “that you enjoyed” seems pretty weird to me.

      1. I don’t think you understand the meaning of ‘typo’.

        That you don’t like a sentence, doesn’t make it ungrammatic or wrong. That sentence is perfectly fine.

      1. Don’t worry, us Aussies will take care of it for the time being. When wibble’s no longer stuck in a rut, you can have your bestowed place back 🙂

  1. Lime and chili chips? You monster!!!!!

    This chapter didnt feel like it had any surprises (which worked fine), more like it was about shoring up plot and confirming things we saw obliquely before. It was nice, but not too nice. A kind of relaxed moment after the rough stuff last arc.

    Chris cracks me up when isnt convincing me he is a bad egg. The idea of his mad anxiety form screaming non stop is both sad at how it probably feels and hilarious in how it probably looks.

    I am glad they are pulling together a little after Rain’s relevations. Not sure if he deserves forgiveness yet, but I feel like he deserves a chance at forgiveness. I hope he tells them about Erin’s situation, somehow.

    I guess time for some cape fights. Im excited 🙂

    1. Interesting that his powered mood swings don’t seem to diminish his overall snark. I expected going Anxiety after Indulgence would affect him a lot more. Maybe he has enough emotional inertia while not transformed to remain quite functional (if sarcastic and passive-aggro).
      That’d be one less worry about him.

  2. Is the single cape Crystal, or perhaps someone else in Victoria’s pocket? There must be some reason Victoria is feeling better about the threat from inside the team.

    1. I think if the single cape were Crystal, then that fact would be toward the forefront of Victoria’s thoughts. So, no.

      I’m hoping it’s someone we don’t know at all who will show up and have an interesting look/personality/powerset, because whoever it is seems to be spoiling for a fight (that also doesn’t sound like Crystal) so I want that to be a fun/interesting read. I think that also makes it probable that the this cape is going to have to be bailed out and that will be interesting too. My guess is that we’ll get to see Chris’ Mad Anxiety and a really want to see that. Just the thought of it has Tristan swearing under his breath.

      1. Tristan called the lone hero a ‘he’. I reckon it’s Longtooth, form the Norwood Span Heroes.

        Not for any real reason, but I’d like to see him again.

        1. I hope whoever the hero is isn’t someone I like, because after the ant nest has been poked whoever goes in alone is going to get hurt.

    2. His name escapes me but I am wondering if it could be the guy with the axe? Kinda of a mover and kinda a dick. From the firat chapter with Victoria. He seemed to be really big on promoting himself, and getting in a scrap with small time villains who are a problem could be a good way to get himself publicity.

  3. Typo thread:

    “I’d maintained the tizzyness”
    > ‘tizziness’ for the sake of regularity.

    “Rain is going to be swept up in it, if he hasn’t already.”

    “and a large thermos of regular tap water”
    Missing full stop.

    1. Grammar: “ninety-five percent of her attention was on Rain and me.” should be “ninety-five percent of her attention was on Rain and I.”

    2. “Erin walked from the side door to Kenzie, but ninety-five percent of her attention was on Rain and I.”

      Should be “on Rain and me,” since it is a prepositional object.

  4. Man Wildbow is stringing along what it is Mrs. Yamada is worried about.

    And once again Vicky remembers Dean. Either we’re setting up for him to return mysteriously revived as a Cyborg, or Vicky learning to let go and move on. Personally I prefer the first one.

    So wondering who the hero who’s willing to pay is. I’d say Shadow Stalker, but I don’t think she’d bother. Also think they called them a He.

    And still not sure how comprimised Rain’s been. Sorry Vicky but it’s not just the dreams that have hit him this time.

    1. Not sure why Victoria would have to move on. It’s not like she’s obsessing over her memories or wallowing in her loss. Using fond memories as a mental crutch is pretty fine in my book.

      1. Yes well move on might not be the right words either. I’m not sure exactly what describes what I’m trying to think of here with her Dean memories.

        It is interesting comparing Victoria’s situation to Rains though.

      2. But the way she clings to her happy memories is similar to the way she clings to her bad memories. In a way, she’s living too much in the past.

        It’s perfectly excusable, given her circumstances, but to grow as a character, learning to move on will probably be a signficant part of her growth as a character. Especially if her forcefield is based on her self-perception—we’ll never get a happy moment where her forcefield is person-shaped if she never moves on.

    2. I’m not sure that Wildbow is really stringing it along. Victoria said that the thing which got her thinking about the whole “something bad is at play” was an ominous feeling which she compared to her sister.

      We know in the last chapter that she was evaluating Rain and considering his situation in light of her sister’s behavior.

      So it seems reasonable to assume that the ominous feeling she has is related to the Rain situation. It would answer a lot of questions – Yamada suspects more is at play with Rain, but there’s no overt sign of danger to the others, he definitely cares about them. She can’t determine whether he wants to be on this teams for the reason he says, or because he’s using them. He can’t tell her about Mathers because technically he can’t even *think* about Mathers without summoning her specter, letting her see what’s going on, and starting off a series of disastrous events.

      Both she and Victoria pick up on this – the story he’s telling is not complete. The one we get is more compltee, because we have the readers-eye view.

      Wildbow definitely doesn’t wrap it up explicitly, though. So there’s no clear resolution that would make us think “ah. That’s what was going on.”

    3. Just going to point out… At the end of Worm Valkrie and Bonesaw were discussing restoring the captured souls… So maybe at some point some of the would that got captured during Worm could show up again? I know Dean wasn’t one of them, but Clockblocker was.

    4. Not cyborg Dean, but maybe reconstructed-by-the-clique-of-S-class-threats-that-are-Amy-Riley-and-the-deposed-king Dean.

  5. So Rain showed up and he brought Mama. I hope this means that she can’t see everything that goes around her mind doubles.

    1. It could. All we know is that she’s the worst possible case of don’t think of the purple elephant.

      Could she see through her specters? Maybe. Could they affect the senses of her underlings? Maybe. Could they be even more powerful than both of those combined? Maybe. Frankly, any one of those three is probably strong enough to be the head of the Fallen. Not because it lets her reach out and touch people, but because having such a constant presence would be more than enough to ensure loyalty in a cult.

      The biggest question I have is if killing her ends the effect and if her specters keep her alive. If the first is true, then frankly she’s not dangerous in a fight. Prancer can tear her head off, then hunt down Rain and (try) to kill him. If the effect doesn’t end, you’re going to need to pull a 1984 to kill her influence. If her specters keep her alive though…
      Then you’re going to need to get your hands VERY bloody.

  6. Ward’s focus on character has been a pleasure to read. It’s going to be interesting to see how Erin interacts with the rest of the group.

    Thanks for the chapter.

  7. Well, I was wrong. Rain isn’t the damsel in distress Erin will have to arrange a rescue for.

    Instead, he brought Mama in. No way he can not think about her. I don’t like that one bit.

    1. Yeah, that’s a ticking clock for the rest of the team. Now the Fallen know about them, and worse, they may know they know about the Fallen. Rain can probably sell it to Mama as gathering info on his cluster-it’s even true. But I don’t know that Mama would just forget about a group of mentally vulnerable capes afterwards…

      1. This is an interesting idea but I don’t think there’s much for the Fallen to capitalize on here. Kenzie and Tristan are nonwhite so that’s a no go, Sveta is too close to the Wardens, Victoria has a number of powered relatives who’d come looking if she disappeared, and Ashley is a bad idea for at least a dozen reasons. I could see them going after Chris, though.

          1. I think that one might depend on which branch you’re talking about – Sveta mentioned that the Crowleys revered them as omens of the end times.

  8. If I hadn’t been able to fly, I would have been on the floor laughing.
    I have this mental image of Glory Girl hovering askew, laughing, while Gallant stands there blushing. And wearing red jeans. It’s even funnier if you imagine them in costume at the time.
    A bit of levity is much appreciated, since the rest of the chapter promptly dives into rather heavy material.

    “Not enough minutes in the day, even if and when I get more with a helpful someone’s power.”
    Now there’s an interesting tidbit. I wonder if Yamada’s Time-Turner (or time-distorter) buddy is going to come up again later.

    But onto the present and the immediate future. Things are heating up, both between Prancer and the Therapy Kids and between Rain, Erin, Rain’s co-triggers, and the other Fallen. I wonder how it’ll all crash together. It’ll be glorious, and probably tragic.

  9. There’s a whole bunch of heavy, ominous stuff happening this chapter, but I think my favorite part of the whole chapter was when Victoria was talking about costumes with Ashley. In their last meeting, she had seemed so adamantly against a change and now it looks like she’s definitely creating a separate hero persona. I think those two are going to better friends than I had originally thought possible.

  10. Oh hey, it’s like a reverse Undersiders; the occupying villains actually have the public against them.
    Which isn’t surprising if you remember the protection rackets and threats of violence.

    Also, I’m really curious about two things from here:

    What’s Fume Hood got to say?

    And who’s that Hero that’s itching for a fight? I hope he knows how to keep collateral to a minimum.

    1. Helps to remember that the best of the Undersiders actually ran their territories, got supplies, got medical care, took care of the people living there, and basically functioned as a combined property speculation trust/landlords/actual protection money.

      They weren’t great, but they were actually better than nothing.

    2. Gotta remember Skitter wasn’t a very reliable narrator. The picture of her we got during Sierra’s interlude showed she wasn’t exactly universally loved.
      There does seem to be a parallel, however.

      1. She had alot of supporters else Defiant would’ve gotten to her way sooner than they did.

        We don’t know as much about the other areas but even the people who didn’t like Skitter more or less conceded her area was one of the safest parts of town. She gained alot of respect when she stuck around to fend off the Slaughterhouse 9 rather than abandon roost like a more typical villain MO.

    1. I’ll admit that thought crossed my mind.

      It’d be horribly ironic if it’s Victoria’s loose lips that mess things up. I mean just because someone isn’t wearing a costume doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of Prancer’s organization.

      At the very least, let them actually do the fucking attack on the Fallen.

    2. I did not, but now you’ve said it and I’m suspicious. Still, the sentiment the guy expressed was useful to center her, and she said she met a few of them. I don’t think the villains would have orchestrated so many civilians, ones which they haven’t noticed are in the villains’ fold during all their observation, just to make Victoria feel better.

  11. “They scared the shit out of me. I hated everything they represented.” THIS! Victoria spoke for me. Its like she pulled out a fourth wall mental communication shit and gave voice to my thoughts. I just want to double hug her, first for that, second for how much she’s missing Dean. Everytime when she’s thinking at him, my heart is bleeding. Poor man, was such a good and honest and honorable and kind HERO. Unfair, total unfair! I suffer in the same time with Victoria, I understand her so much, at least she treasures her memories with him which is the best thing in this situation. All in all this chapter was very peaceful and quiet and pensive, but we know, just the quiet before the storm kind of…

  12. Yamada specifically warns that reliving memories in vivid detail can distort the picture, so Victoria does exactly that with her memories of Dean. Recalling good memories is one thing, cosplaying as a dead loved one is a little extreme.

    1. Heck most of us have done it I imagine. The good old Nostalgia Filter. I mean how often are we convinced that something was so much better than it actually was? You go back to a childhood toy and suddenly it’s a lot smaller and more fragile than it seemed back then, or your mom’s recipe isn’t the best you ever had anymore.

      1. Totally agreed, nostalgia colors perception and that isn’t even per se a bad thing. At the same time, from a narrative perspective the fact that Victoria does this the morning after her therapist warns against it seems significant.

  13. Having worked in produce, I have so much sympathy for the guy covered in watermelon juice. Rotten watermelon is in my top three worst things in produce, along with rotten potatoes and pumpkins.

    I’m also a bit jealous of Victoria here. Floating in a shower like that sounds really peaceful and relaxing. There was a lot I liked in this chapter.

  14. Ok I’m a bit weirded out. I while back I was thinking of cape ideas, and one was of a superhero pretending to be a villain (or villain pretending to be a hero)… Called Swansong. Huh.

  15. I just noticed that in the table of contents all arc titles starting with Arc 3 (Glare) are in parentheses, but Arc 0: Glow-worm to Arc 2: Flare they are separated by colons. Is that intentional?

  16. I just don’t understand Victoria’s reasons for joining/mentoring this team, and I don’t understand Ms. Yamada’s reasons for being inscrutable.

    Victoria got her body back, is mad at her mom, is ambivalent about what it means to be a hero, wants to help people and do “good,” hates Tattletale. But, she isn’t a kid any more. She’s seen how bad shit can go down with Capes. She has seen it with her family and she’s seen it with the PRT / S9 and she saw it in the Asylum.

    So, she now knows that something bad is going on, and the person who brought her in knows something bad is happening, but won’t tell her, because obscure reasons about the therapist privilege.

    So, does Victoria say , “Um, this is cray-cray, and I’m not really at 100%, so let me take a pass on this team of fucked-up people?” No. Does she say, “You know what, Tattletale that Bitch is right, I’ll get a job eventually, meanwhile, I can even start my own team, get paid a bit for the work, and since I’m connected to Mom, even though I hate her, I bet I can get hooked up somewhere…” Nope. Does she say, “OK, I’m outta here. I got no money, no future, I’m going to another world or the wilderness, where Mom and Tattletale don’t exist, and I’ll find my own way?” Nope.

    Instead, she decides to live by proxy, more or less, through a team that she knows is full of fundamentally flawed characters, half of whom are teetering on falling to the Dark Side or trying hard as they can to come back from the Dark Side. Why? What is making her do this? She isn’t acting logically, she seems to be compelled to do this by music that only she can hear. Why is she putting up with any of this shit? And, given her powers, why doesn’t she stop trying to be a therapist and start getting her team ready for real shit?

    I mean: She says she’s going to be Mentor to the Team of Broken Toys. She’s got a nazi/broken cape on the team who is about to be hunted by 30-40 capes — she has little reason to help him. She’s got the Boy with Two Faces who clearly has issues, ADHD Child Genius Hacker, and the Damsel of Distress who says she’s going to go evil any moment now, any moment now….So, what does she do? She worries and flies around and talks to Ms. Yamada, Team Therapist.

    I understood why Taylor in Worm ended up doing what she did — her personality, combined with her circumstances, made her choices explainable, and some of the times when she “got lucky” can be explained by Coil’s two-shots-at-success power in the early chapters. But right now I’m lost as to why Victoria is putting up with any of this shit. She’s a twenty–year-old hanging out with troubled kids and helping them form a gang: why? What’s in it for Victoria? Why is she doing any of this shit? Is she just a feature while we watch the world go to hell between Machines, the Fallen, alternate earths, and wilderness?? Why is she about to get involved, at least peripherally, in a fight between the Fallen and a group of mercenary capes? Why does she give a shit?

    As for Ms. Yamada….what the hell? She’s worried about trying to do group therapy with a former nazi, a mass-murdering cape with control issues who finally seems to have an iron-clad boyfriend, a cloned former member of S9 with apathy issues, a kid who is the living embodiment of classic schizophrenia, an ADHD computer hacker…and she wants to try to have therapy to keep this group out of trouble by introducing Victoria into the mix? Why does anyone trust Ms. Yamada? Why particularly does Victoria want to listen to Ms. Yamada, even when Ms. Yamada isn’t telling her the whole truth?

    Its maddening. The writing is fine, in some places it even reaches beautiful, but I’m still trying to get my mind around why Victoria is doing any of this and why Ms. Yamada doesn’t just come out and say, “Victoria, I’m worried that X and Y on your team are going to do something like “Z” which would be really, really evil. Rather than send you in blind to figure it out, I’m telling you and trying to get your opinion.” Or, alternatively, why doesn’t Ms. Yamada say, “Victoria, I brought you in to this group to try to convince them NOT to form a team and go on a rampage. And here you are, trying to get them to form a team and go on a rampage. This is bad, and I’m telling you it is unhealthy, and you need to stop and get out of there.”

    Does anyone else agree? I’m five chapters in and I still don’t know why Victoria or Ms. Yamada aren’t doing something that seems to fit the situation. I love the plot and the characters but I can’t figure out why Victoria and Yamada are doing anything that they do.

    1. Victoria knows capes. She’s invested a lot of time and energy into learning about them. Originally this was for her own benefit. But it’s still her field of expertise.

      It’s quite unpalatable to toss aside one’s expertise, particularly when said expertise is linked to a passion. So she’s strongly looking for a field where she can bring these skills she’s developed to bear, because to throw in the towel would be to deny herself one of her core passions.

      Additionly, when it comes to character motivations in the Worm-verse, it should be kept in mind that Shards heavily influence a cape’s personality and motivations. There’s the general push for the cape to get into situations of conflict, but there’s also the archetype and role specific to each Shard that’s brought to bear on the cape’s psyche.

      Taylor was consistantly irked when people weren’t working to together. Her Shard was the Queen Administrator, the Shard specialized in coordinating the efforts of other Shards.

      Victoria has revealed to us readers that she emotionally feeds off of glory. Being worshiped. Being a hero. She called herself Glory Girl. She seems to resent the pity and disgust she received more-so than anything else while she as blob-ridden. I’d say it’s safe to say that Victoria’s Shard is associated with Glory.

      So Victoria is highly motivated to be a beacon to others. That could take the form of her being a hero. But it also could take the form of being a mentor or coach. She is motivated to be the light that shines in the darkness.

      That seems reason enough to me of why she bothers with the Team on the Brink of Oblivion.

    2. Victoria got involved because she was asked by Yamada. It was already established that she is grateful to her in the first arc of this story, so thats why she is getting involved. Furthermore, given that both of them suspect that something fishy is going on, both are motivated to figure that out and hopefully stop it. I get why this might look like a paper-thin motivation to you, since Victoria isn’t getting a paycheck to defuse the situation, but she is still a hero and an altruistic person at her core. Don’t forget that Taylor was also strictly motivated by altruism.

      As for why Yamada doesn’t outright tell Victoria what she thinks its wrong, I think she actually layed out her case pretty well in this chapter. Given that the laws are still being written and there is no immidiate danger to anyone, she can’t risk breaking doctor-patience confidentiality. Doing so could very well destroy her career. The reason why she doesn’t disclose absolutely everything to Victoria is because she needs to cover her own ass.

      1. In re Yamada assuming that the laws and practices in world match real-world rules. She is legally and ethically bound to keep quiet about things revealed in session, the only exceptions being if she is compelled by law or code of ethics to (e.g. Mandatory reporting in re child abuse, or to protect the life of her patient, etc). She is stuck until something happens that penetrates that exemption or she sees a near certainty that something like that will occur. She can talk to people about things that they are mutually aware of, however.

        In re Victoria, I think one of her big motivations as she grew was a need to belong. Dean was when she felt she belonged the most, and she used to belong with her sister before in her point of view everything went to hell there. Now she’s gotten better, but been forced out of a job where she belonged, out of a family that is no longer a place for her (interectually it probably still is, but emotionall, hell no). The only place she gets that feeling of belonging she craves is the team, and until that is taken from her, regardless of any doubts she may have, she will stay with the team.

        Also, I kind of like Victoria as a cape name for her. It’s appropriate meaning wise for someone with the Alexandria package, and works symbolically as well.

    3. This isn’t meant as criticism but as a data point. Both Victoria and Yamada seem very believable to me. And I’m not the world’s most social persion. If you don’t get Victoria, that’s more likely to indicate a gap in your understanding of people generally than a gap in the characterization.

      It might be an experience thing. What age are you / what ages have you been?

    4. First, you mentioned Victoria is emotionally compromised, then you asked why she’s not acting logically. You sort of answered yourself.
      Second, she explained pretty well why just joining or building a team wouldn’t work – she tried joining, and mostly exhausted the options she was willing to try, and building is also very difficult – look what happened with Fume Hood and her team.
      Victoria already spent two years in the Asylum, being pitied and unable to really act. She’s done with that now. Then a friend she owes asks her to do something constructive, involving helping another friend (Sveta)? How does going to do that not fit?
      Third, do remember she was already on an advisory role in the junior PRT, even before this. She’s not as enamored of the idea of herself as a cape so much, even though she still wants to do good (and be adored, as has been pointed out).
      As for Ms Yamada, beyond the fact that patient confidentiality is tying her hands, there’s also the issue of not turning the group against her by actively acting against them (or what might be perceived as such), and the question of whether her intuition is right at all. She has strong suspicions, and that’s why she did argue against the formation of the team, and got others to observe them. But given her relationship with Victoria, she still wanted not to bias her, see if she comes to the same conclusions.
      Just trying to block the group, or getting Victoria to try, would have achieved little but to alienate the group.

    1. Judging by Tristan’s reaction, I’m guessing it’s a really obnoxious or annoying pain in the ass to have to deal with.

  17. I had a thought reading this chapter. Isn’t Victoria’s position right now is something like Jack Slash for the Slaughterhouse Nine? She is managing dangerous, troubled individuals, picking her words and actions to guide them in a certain direction.

    1. You mean the exact same thing anyone that leads a group of parahumans does?

      I mean, by that logic, Jack Slash is mimicking PRT Directors.

  18. Am I off my rocker, or did Yamada just insinuate that she was working with Tattletale?

    Tattletale described her own powers in Worm as “filling in missing information”. If she were to talk to Yamada, that’s probably how she would describe it, and how Yamada would also describe it, and of course Victoria would totally miss it, since she’s mistaken about TT.

  19. Now that I actually remembered his name I thinkt the hero may be Shortcut or a hero we haven’t met before. I think itching for a fight sounds like him, and he might see this as am opportunity to promote himself. He might not know the group doing Intel has Victoria as a member, and he might not care. Probably wrong, but I feel like this is my best guess, and I would kinda like to see how he interacts with Ashley.

  20. Rain is described as dangerous for the first time. So that’s what Erin sees in him!

    And are we really to believe that Chris left the “insert her before it gets messy” line alone?

  21. I have a feeling that Rain is going to win his fight against the rest of the group triggers, and the personality bleed is going to reverse, leaving him much more powerful and once again a hateful, prejudiced, violent asshole.

    1. One would hope that progress he has made since is his own, and that while defeating the group might set him back, he’d still remember what he learned since.

  22. I’m slightly amused by readers saying they don’t like the therapy-speak in this story, or wondering why anyone trusts Ms. Yamada – considering the fanon belief that Ms. Yamada could solve any problem if people just listened to her.

  23. I am worried about Rain bringing MM into the hangout spot. I love the floating in a shower ability and have made my new hoped for super power. And I love the writing about armour, emotional and physical, and the analysis of how it both represents the inside and is used to influence both one self and others.

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