Torch – 7.7

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

I flew down and at an angle, to try to break away, and I felt the near-miss, a rush of air that made my hood flap and my hair fly out in disarray.

That rush was cause for me to change direction.  Evasive maneuvers.

Driving required an expanded awareness of the world.  It was a mode that I presumed could be switched on, and it was a mode that I’d never really mastered.  I’d read that the reason cell phones were so bad for driving was that they pulled the driver out of that mode, into the five by three inch world of the glowing screen.

Flying was another mode-shift, especially when it came to aerial encounters.  To be aware of the above, the below, left, right, forward, back.  Flying typically saw a person flying with their body parallel to the ground, because the ground was worth paying attention to, and because the shape of a human body meant either the ground or sky were faced.  To fly facing forward with the body upright meant flying against the air resistance.

I was too slow to flip over and look up.  I felt contact on my back, pressing against the bag I wore.  My breastplate was in two pieces in the bag, and I felt one piece slide against the other, catching me in one shoulderblade.

Then the pressure, the steady push downward.  If I were a plane, it would have been forcing me into a nosedive.

I flipped around, grabbed Crystal’s ankle, and used the rotation of my body with a yank of my arm to fling her off.  She created a forcefield to ‘land’ on, her back, hands and feet pressing against it, then launched herself at me, breaking the field in the process of the launch.

Experience told me that she’d go for something she could grab, and I hauled my knees in toward my chest to pull my ankles out of the way of her grip.  She passed close behind me, while I somersaulted once in the air.

The weight of my bag meant I had to be careful about getting back to a proper flying posture.

“You’re playing rough today,” I called out.

“I’ve always had to play rough to make a dent,” she said.  “Did that change somehow?”

“Somehow,” I said.  “Catch my bag?”

She held out her hands.  I let my bag slide down my arm and caught the strap, then slung it at her.  She caught it.

“Oof.  That’s heavy.  Somehow?  Bullet in the arm somehow?”

I tried to use my fingers to get my hair sorted out, but it was caught in clothing and tangled around my costume top, hood, and neck.

No, Crystal, not bullet in the arm somehow.

“Yeah,” was all I said.  I flipped upside down, using gravity to help get my hair to a better position, leaving me to just pluck at it where it had looped around things and let it fall ‘up’.

“Remember when my mom would make us do the flying in formation thing?  You, me, Eric, sometimes her?”

“Oh yeah,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure that was my mom’s idea.”

“Really?  Damn it, Aunt Carol.”

“It made flying so boring,” I said.  “Maintain course, fly in parallel, people on the ground might be taking pictures.”

“We had to match speed to Eric, and he was the slowest.  Flying can be so boring even when you don’t have to do that stuff.”

I didn’t feel that way at all.  I’d had issues with flying before, when a panicky feeling would start to set in and the nearest real thing was four hundred feet below me, but flying was totally amazing.

I flipped back around the other way, my hand up at my hair to help guide it.  Crystal was flying in a lazy circle around me while I floated in place.  “Having to fly to match Eric was worse for you than it was for me.”

“Little brothers are a pain,” she said.  She smiled, but it was a little melancholy.

“I meant because you’re fast.”

“But you can do that, see?  You just did this thing, you can turn upside-down and right-side up without getting dizzy.”

“I get dizzy.”

“But you can do that,” she said.  “I have to be careful about any serious flipping, or I’ll be green around the gills for five minutes.”

“I’ll remember that for next time,” I teased.

“Ha ha.  Don’t, or I’ll hurl and I’ll ruin someone’s day down there on the ground.”

“Over water then.”

“Or never.”

“Never?  Come on, you stepped on me.”

“Surfed! I used you as a surfboard.”

“Yeah, that’s so much better.”

“It kind of is.  Besides, no dirt on these feet.”

I fixed my hair and adjusted my outfit.  It was my costume, minus the metal bits, which wound up being somewhat dark, but the white trim, my belt, and the bag helped to break it up.

I reached for my bag, and she handed it over.

“Thank you.”

“You mentioned you didn’t have long before we had to go in separate directions,” Crystal said.

I pulled out my phone.  The map was the first thing that came up.

“I overshot,” I said.  “I have to fly back the way we came.”

“I’m sorry I can’t help with the move.”

I shook my head.  “Duties.  I get it.  I don’t have much anyway, and I can call dad.”

“It might be a little while before we cross paths.  Stuff’s going on.”

“I know.”

“I wish I could tell you more.”

“I know.”

“If you changed your mind and wanted to stay, you’d have my place all to yourself.”

“It’s your place,” I said.  “It’s you.  I need a place for me.  I need to do something for me.”

“That sounds good,” she said.

“Though it is technically someone else’s place.”

“Take care of yourself until I get back,” she said.  She flew a quarter-circle around me, as if flitting around and fretting were the same thing.  “I worry.”

“I worry about you,” I said.  “This classified mission to places unmentioned.”

“It’s not classified, I’m just… not supposed to talk about it.  Because of orders.”

“It’s classified.”

“They haven’t used that word.”

“Be safe,” I said.

“I’ll try.”

She gave me a hug, coming in from the side so as not to jostle or bump the sling.

We parted, and I flew backward, watching as she flew away, until she was just a speck in the distance.

I put my phone away.  Now that I wasn’t being bullied mid-flight by my big cousin, I was free to keep an eye on where I was going.  The portal slashing through Norfair was one thing – I termed it a ‘slash’ because it was thinner than some of the others.  There were more clouds in the sky on the far side.  I flew over it, giving it a wide berth to be safe.

Past the portal, the endless sea of city was harder to navigate.  I looked for landmarks.  The financial buildings with the shopping center we’d been in yesterday was a new one for me.  Kenzie’s area was a bit to the north of it.  Norwalk.

I kept an eye out for and found the Norfair community center.  I knew the location, and the yellow tarps that were still around the damaged portions of the building were very visible from the air, especially given its relative proximity to the water.  It had been one thing I’d kept an eye on on my prior flights across the Megalopolis.

The Norfair community center was the middle ground between Norwalk and Fairfield.  Play structures of painted wood and bars were a good clue I was in the right place.  The building from above resembled what I’d seen with a check online.

I landed a few blocks away and walked the rest of the way.

Kids were out and playing, many wearing hooded sweatshirts or jackets.  A handful of adults were out, spread out to see more of the play area.

I approached the fence.  Kids saw me, and an adult took notice.  An older woman, with gray hair and clothes of the super comfortable, easy sort that fit a barely mobile ninety year old, rather than what I presumed was a seventy year old.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m here about Chris Elman.”

She pointed, “Talk to her.  She knows him.”

I walked along the fence until I reached a woman who was handling some of the five to eleven year olds at the edge of the sandbox.  They looked like a pretty vicious bunch.

She was of Middle-eastern descent, with makeup I might have deemed ‘evening’ makeup for going to a club if I’d worn it – very distinct eyeliner, eyeshadow, and bold lipstick that would have stood out in dim lighting.  She made it work.  Her clothes were nice- a red dress with a leaf pattern at the hem, on the folded collar with the decorative edge, and her sleeves.

At a glance, she seemed to be the youngest adult in the yard.

“Yes?” she asked.  However young she was, by the stern tone alone I could imagine she was the one I would have wanted to cross least if I were ten years younger.

“I’m looking for a kid I volunteer with.  Chris Elman?”

Her expression changed.  She pointed at one of the kids.  “Skye, don’t be a brat.  Play on your own for a bit.”

That order given, she approached the chain-link fence.

“Chris Elman?”

“He lives here, right?”

“You don’t sound sure.” She was roughly my age and it was the kind of voice that made me think ‘mama bear’.

“He’s… kind of the kind of kid who doesn’t leave you feeling very sure about anything,” I said.

She paused, then smiled.  “Yes.  He is.”

“I tried to call him, but there wasn’t a response.  I know some of the cell towers have been down, so I thought I’d check in.”

“We’ve had outages.  Not as bad as some areas.  That could be it, but you could have waited and tried again, instead of coming from…?”

“Bridgeport, for now.  I kind of wanted to-” I hesitated.  “-make sure everything was okay.”

“It’s hard to say anything that wouldn’t be construed as a breach of his trust,” she said.  “I’m one of the few adults he seems to be willing to tolerate.”

Maybe because you’re pretty, I thought.  Then I thought again.  Chris seemed like the type to prefer a hard-nosed adult he could predict and rely on over the friendly sort.  Maybe it was both.  “It’s a sensitive boundary, apparently.  I don’t want either of us to cross it.  Also, behind you.”

One of the girls was holding a boy down and spitting repeatedly in his face.  Both kids seemed to be seven or so.

“Skye!” the woman barked the word, and the kids froze, eyes going wide, with only the culprit ignoring the order, continuing to spit.  She strode over, hauled the little girl off, and pulled her away by one arm.  The little girl fought as well as she was able, not giving an inch.

All fight.  This stern teacher didn’t slow her down or make her hesitate a second.  The yard monitor wrapped the child’s own arms around the child’s stomach, forming an ‘x’, like a straightjacket without the jacket, and knelt, hugging her to secure her in that position.  The kid kicked and threw her weight around.

I had instincts that made me want to hop over the fence and help.  Still, outing myself as a cape at Chris’ home would do more harm than any good I could do here.

“Sorry,” the woman said.

“Not a problem,” I said.

Skye shrieked.

The little girl gradually stopped kicking, as she didn’t get much of a response.  I waited.

“I can send somebody to get Chris, if you like.  He should be in his room, if he didn’t go for a walk.”

“Chris?” Skye asked.

“Yes,” the woman said.  “Why don’t you go, Skye?  You’ll burn off some energy if you run.”

Skye looked between us.  “I don’t want to.”

“Well, you have to, now.  Spitting isn’t allowed, this can be your time out.  You know where his room is?”

Everyone knows,” the girl said.  She was still breathing hard from the struggle.

“Great.  Katie?  Go with Skye.  Hold her hand tight.  Tell Chris his friend is here.”

One of the older girls approached, an eleven-year old.  Skye was released from the hold, and, after hesitating, took Katie’s hand.

“Scoot!” the yard monitor said, and she might as well have cracked a whip, because the kids picked up the pace.

I watched them go into the building.  The yard monitor wiped away most of the dirt that the kneeling and kicking had deposited onto her knees and upper shins.

“They’ll be a minute.  He’s on the top floor and he’s probably in bed.”

“Got it,” I said.  “I’m Victoria, by the way.”

“Val.  We can talk until he arrives.”

“Sure,” I said.  I frowned slightly as I tried to think of how to phrase it.

“Worries, questions, or warnings?” she asked.

“Well, it’s telling that the kids are scared of him, and of the three possible topics you just mentioned, worries were one and warnings were another.”

Val smiled.  “He’s unique.”

“That’s- yeah.  He’s okay?  He’s managing?”

“I only know what I see when he’s here, and he’s mostly here to sleep.  He spends some of his time, ahem, volunteering,” Val said.  Her sharply penciled eyebrow went up.

So she knew about the cape stuff.

I nodded.

“A lot of time is spent on ‘walks’,” she added.

“You’ve brought that up twice.  The walks.”

“We talk about it, among the staff.  It’s been more of an issue lately, and it’s on my mind.  We would call his therapist, but-”

I saw her expression change.

I shook my head.

She nodded.  The fence bent slightly with her weight as she leaned back against it, her back to me while she watched the children.

“I liked her,” Val said.

“She was terrific.  I’m kind of holding out hope, but it’s a horrible mess either way,” I replied.  My voice was a bit hollow as I tried to keep from letting any emotion into it.  “I dunno.  Why is it a big deal?”

“He turned up last night at two-thirty in the morning.  That was the latest he’s ever come in.  We took away privileges, but if we take away one thing he finds other things to do.  We’re divided on whether to be stricter about curfew or to let him be.  I’m one of the only people who gets along with him in some form, which means they keep asking me for my input.  I never know what to say.”

“That’s a tough spot to be in.”

“Was he volunteering?”

“I don’t want to say anything he wouldn’t want me to say,” I said.

“Okay.  Fair.  I didn’t get the impression he was volunteering.  Should we stop the walks?  Let me know if you’re not comfortable saying.”

I wondered if he was going out to change.  “Given his situation, he might need it.  It’s hard to say- it would depend on how he’s doing here.”

Her head turned, and she looked at me with one eye.  “How do you think he’s doing?”

“The kids are scared of him, apparently.”

“He’s odd.  He celebrates being odd.”

It seemed like a tepid response, a half-answer.  “Is that it?  Or is there more?”

“A number of the other teachers and the admin are scared of him,” she admitted.  “I am, sometimes.”

“Why?”

“Because when you see him with any regularity, you notice changes day to day.  He’s had two roommates, and one asked to be moved to another room.  The second was made of sterner stuff, but he gave up after sharing a room with Chris over the late winter and spring.”

“Chris can be tough to get along with,” I said.

“He was scared,” Val said.  “He wasn’t and isn’t comfortable being in the same room as Chris.  He’s been uneasy even when Chris wasn’t present and it has been that way for two months.”

“And now he’s in a room with two beds and no roommate?”

“We’ve had lengthy debates about that too.  We decided it was best to leave him be and let him have his room, at least for now.”

“Makes sense.”

We watched the kids playing for a little bit.  Things were calmer with the spitter on her errand.  The boy had wiped his face and was now carrying on making a dirt pile like nothing had happened.

“There was something else.  We had a theft issue,” Val said.

“With Chris?”

“If this was explicitly Chris, I wouldn’t be comfortable telling you,” she said.  “We had several thefts.  Chris was cleared of wrongdoing for the biggest one.  Some of the children said they had seen him out for a walk at the time it happened.  Chris’ former roommate was one of them.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’m not sure I follow, then.  He was under suspicion?”

“He was the first many of us thought of.  Some-” she said, and she paused.  She met my eyes and continued talking at a lower volume, “-feel that he is clever enough to get away with it, and they don’t want to clear him of suspicion so easily.”

“A theft of what?” I asked.

“Things from the nurse’s office.”

I winced.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, knowing what little I did about Chris.  If it were anything else, I could feel upset about it, but if it was stuff he was trying to keep on hand for his own benefit…

Damn it, Chris.

“Mm hmm,” Val made a noise, as if my silence had confirmed something.  “He leaves you unsure about things.”

Not unsure in the way she might have been picturing.  I was pretty sure he was the culprit.  When it came to blaming him, though… yeah, unsure was a good word.

“You mentioned that you get along with him,” I said.

“As much as anyone does, which isn’t a lot.”

“Some others actually get along with him in a normal-ish way, I think,” I said.  Rain, specifically.  Tristan and Byron, in a way.  Ashley, in a way.  Kenzie, in a love-hate, reaching kind of way.  I hadn’t known him to connect with Sveta.

“Do you?” she asked.

I hesitated, then said, “No.”

“I wish I could give you advice,” she said.  “I don’t think I can without betraying his trust.  There are some things I’ve picked up on that I’ve only ever mentioned to his therapist.”

“No need,” I said.  “I’m trying to find my footing and figure out where things stand before I push or do anything substantial.  Not just with Chris.  This has already been pretty helpful, I think.”

“We have three hundred children here, with some in a partial or daycare-like capacity.  I don’t see him much, I don’t want you to get me wrong.  He’s only here to sleep, play games or get things.  Others take up our attention.”

“It’s understandable.  It sounds like you’re doing the best you can.  The roommate thing is a bit of a worry, though.”

“Yes.”

“And this theft he was cleared of.”

“Yes,” she said.  “With three hundred children here, I have seen a number of types.  Angry children-”

“Skye,” I said.

“The desperate, the scared,” she said.  “I can’t give him a type.  He’s uncanny.  I wish you could solve this riddle for me.”

Uncanny was a really good word, capturing what I’d noticed about Chris when I’d first seen him in Yamada’s group therapy session.  Uncanny in every way.

“I wish I could solve this riddle for me,” I said.  “But when it comes to the volunteer work, he’s helping.  He’s doing good.  That’s something, isn’t it?”

She gave me a curious look.  “Yeah.  Can I pass that along to the staff?”

“Yeah.”

The front door of the building slammed.  Chris stood just beyond the doors, looking for me, finally spotting me.

Oh, he looked pissed.

“I don’t know if it helps with the riddle,” she said.  “But out of all the desperate, and all of the scared, I’ve never had a kid who was so desperate for something, where I couldn’t figure out what they really wanted.”

“I might have ideas,” I said.

“It’s not the obvious answer.  It’s not his health.  That’s the weirder thing.”

I shifted my stance, leaning against the fence, in my best attempt to get a good look at her face.

Chris was stalking toward us, his bag in his hand.  Other kids stared.

“I’ve never had a child to look after who had so many reasons to be scared, who wasn’t.”

“You don’t think he’s scared?” I murmured.

“I used to.  It was camouflaged desperation I saw.”

The talk of feelings and emotions and the tie-in to Chris as a cape made me wonder what that form would look like.  Camouflaged desperation.

Nothing camouflaged at the moment.  Chris marched his way toward us.  He had to dodge around two playing kids who got in his way.  Other kids got out of his way, seemingly by dint of his reputation alone.

“He really is doing good?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “In his grouchy, surly way.”

Chris caught up to us.  He huffed.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

“You didn’t answer your phone.”

“My battery died.  Email is a thing.”

“Internet dropped for this area,” I said.

“You came without being invited.  Not fucking okay!”

“Language,” Val said.  “Keep it clean with the littles around.”

“I hate that word.  Littles.”

“I won’t use it if you stop being bad.”

“You say that like I’m a dog and I crapped in the house.  ‘Bad’.  I’m trying to explain why this isn’t cool.  It’s about respect and boundaries.”

“I’m trying to respect your boundaries,” I said.

“You came here.  From another area entirely.  Without telling me first.”

“No phone, no internet.  There is, as far as I know, no telegraph or established way of transmitting smoke signals,” I said.

“You wanted an excuse to snoop,” he said, “Because you can talk about relationship pillars and trust and respect and caring and boning-”

“Chris,” Val said.

“Or whatever, and you don’t live up to your own freaking hype, Vic!  You want me to show respect and you show me none if you freaking surprise me like this.”

“Something came up.  I came to let you know.”

“Don’t lie to me!” he said.  If he were any angrier, he might have a vein standing out on his forehead.  “You wanted to snoop!  You quizzed Val!  You came to my place and you poked your nose in where it doesn’t belong!”

There were times he seemed so adult, and there were times he seemed so young.  This was the latter.

“Victoria told me you were doing a good job with volunteering-”

“Why tell Val anything!?” Chris asked, voice raised.  “It’s none of your business.”

“She also,” Val said, staying calm, her voice quieter, “Said your breaking curfew shouldn’t be a big deal.  I can tell the other teachers that.”

“I don’t give a shit!  She shouldn’t say anything and you shouldn’t have brought it up!”

“Language,” Val said.  “Break the rules and I’ll go into your room and take the save cards for your consoles.  If you really push it I won’t give them back.”

“I need those.”

“I need you to calm down and be a good example for the little ones.”

I saw as Chris worked to suppress the anger.  Seemingly only now becoming aware that the other kids existed, he looked around before identifying one.  “You.”

“That’s Sam, Chris.  His room is two doors from yours.”

“Whatever.  How long were they talking before I got here?”

“Um,” a boy of about twelve gave the answer.  Sam.  “A while?”

“A while,” Chris said, locking eyes with me.  “Yeah, that’s great.”

“Everyone’s getting together this afternoon,” I said.  “If we waited for the internet to come back or for you to turn your phone on, you might have missed it.  If you don’t like it, keep your phone charged.”

“Okay.  I’m going out, Val,” Chris said.  He stormed past her and toward the gates.  “Don’t go in my room.”

“You don’t get to set rules, Chris,” Val said.

“Don’t,” he said, giving her the evil eye.  “I’ll do my own laundry for now.”

Then he walked away.  It seemed like he expected me to have to follow.

“It was nice talking to you, Victoria,” Val said.  “Maybe we could meet for a friendly coffee sometime.”

Chis wheeled around, ready to jump right into the fray with more incensed words.

Val put her hands up in mock surrender.

It didn’t necessarily help me, but I could almost see why she’d done that.  The push, the pull, letting Chris know she could fight back.

I matched Chris’ pace, which wasn’t hard.  His legs were shorter than mine.

The area was a little spartan, the buildings either the quickly put together sort, of the type that had been most common just after Gold Morning, or the big brick edifices with zero personality.

“What did you talk about?”

“General things.  She hinted that she knows about the cape stuff.”

“Yeah, all the staff do.  It’s a pain.”

“She needed help telling what was you being a troublemaker and what was you being a cape.  I honestly wasn’t sure.  I said I figured it was more the second one.”

“It’s not your job and it’s not your place,” he said.  “You don’t need to check on me.”

“I need to check up on everyone, at least a little,” I said.  “I was too slow with Rain and Ashley.  I worry about you, I’m concerned about Sveta, Byron’s going through a tough time, and Kenzie-”

“You’re skipping Tristan?”

“I’m trying not to skip anyone,” I said.

“You need to focus on people other than me.  Figure out your priorities.  I’m stable.  I’m dealing with my shit myself, I haven’t asked for help, and I’m doing my share.  Compare that to Kenzie, the living personification of a cry for help, in so many ways.”

“I’m having dinner with Kenzie’s family tonight, her place isn’t far from the G-N portal.”

Chris snorted.

“What?”

“Good luck,” he said.  “Have fun.  Come back from that and tell me again how I’m a priority on your watch list.”

“That is not what I said,” I told him.  “I’m trying to keep an eye out for everyone, because that’s what Jessica would have wanted.”

“Yeah, well, what I want is for people to leave me the fuck be.  I’m sticking to the rules-”

“Mostly,” I said.

I could see his expression change, his shoulders rising like steam was building up inside him and it was all he could do to keep it contained.

“Chris,” I said.  “I didn’t go beyond the gates.  Neither she nor I shared anything that you would have wanted kept in confidence.”

“I want everything kept in confidence,” he said.  Steam still building.

“It doesn’t work that way.  I’ve heard from multiple people now that people are scared of you and you’re bending rules.  That warrants someone asking a few mild questions to figure out if everything’s handled.”

“You literally make people afraid of you with your power,” Chris’s words could only be described as a resentful growl.  “Does that warrant someone asking some questions or making sure you’re handled?”

“That’s different.”

“Or did your sister handle you when she tightened-”

I grabbed him by the shoulder, hard, stopping him from walking.

“-the screws?” he finished, locking his eyes to mine.

Cold anger, resentment.  A twist of something that might have been triumph in his eyes.

“You don’t go there,” I whispered.

“You don’t come here!” he said, and a fleck of spit left his mouth as he shouted, to land somewhere on my top.  “I have to fucking balance everything.  I lose my heart or I lose my body.  I’ve gone to the fucking bathroom in the morning and there was blood and meat in the bowl when I was done, and there’s two people I can trust to handle the clog or leave me alone so I can handle it.  She was one of them.  You can’t fuck with that!”

“I didn’t!”

“You did!  You said stuff and you might have changed her mind about stuff and I can’t know how to balance it if I don’t know what was said!  She changes my sheets when there’s fluids on the bed that aren’t blood, semen, piss or shit, no questions asked, because Jessica said it’s under control.  Now Jessica isn’t here and you’re putting ideas in her head and she might change her mind about things!”

“What the hell is going on, Chris, that you’re dealing with stuff like that?  Powers don’t usually tear you up like that.”

I saw a flicker of something in his expression, between the outrage and the reckless madness I’d seen as he talked about fluids and Jessica.

Not his powers?

“None of your business!”

“Is it not your powers?” I asked.  “Someone else’s?  Someone did this to you?”

“None of your business and fuck you!”

“Have you shared about this with the others?”

“No!  Of course not!  Because I don’t fucking want any fucking people fucking with me!”

“Chris,” I said.  “We can’t help you if you don’t share.  I know power stuff, I studied it, I saw a lot of it at the Asylum.”

“Read my lips,” he said, panting as he said it.  Now he had the vein in his forehead.  “I.  Don’t.  Want.  Help.  Not from you.  I want to be left alone and I’m willing to do the hero thing because it works for me.  I’m fine.”

I’m fine, he said.

He stared me down and there was no waver in his eyes, no sign of anything in his face or posture besides repressed outrage.

No fear.

“Are you fine because you’re striking that balance, emotionally?” I asked.  “With the forms?”

“If I want help,” he said.  “If my body starts going screwy and there’s no way to salvage it, I’ll go down to the seven-seven building, near where the Wardens headquarters used to be.”

I shook my head.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s housing the Wardens used.  Odds are pretty good it’s where your sister’s living.”

My heart sank to roughly where my knees were, but the place it had been wasn’t left intact.  It was cold and empty and sick and painful all at once.

My heart didn’t feel like it was beating right, and my breathing wasn’t right either.

I let go of his shoulder.

I hadn’t wanted to know where she was.

“I’ll go to her for help before I go to you.  I’d go to Bonesaw, if she was still around.”

I shook my head, walking away.

He raised his voice.  “You want to push me!?  I’ll push back!”

I stopped in my tracks.

“That kind of pushing gets you killed,” I said.  “Or worse.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ve got a handle on ‘worse’,” he said.  “I have for a while.  Dying?  Meh.”

The ‘meh’ was both dismissive and an epithet at the same time.

“Fine,” I said.  “You want this?  Go for it.”

“That’s all I ever asked for.”

“But where I draw the line is scaring or hurting others.  Make nice.  Don’t give people a reason to ask questions.”

“Yeah, whatev,” he said.

“And don’t give the other members of the team a reason to grieve.  I don’t want to see Kenzie or Sveta crying over you.”

“I like how you say ‘other’.  I’m off your grieving list?” Chris asked.

“Keep mentioning my sister and you’ll get there.”

He snorted.

Man.  I could have slapped him.

“Train station’s this way,” he said.

“Walk fast.  G-N portal.  The meeting with Lord of Loss is at two.”

I left him to hike it.  I flew.

For his benefit, really.

I landed where the others had assembled.  There was a blown-up image of Tempera and two capes I didn’t recognize printed on the wall of the station.

When we’d passed out the word that the other stations were potentially being targeted, G-N had been one of the stations that had been saved.  I was heartened to see just who had managed it.

I needed a bit of heartening.

It was good to see the other members of the group happy.  Sveta was smiling, and Kenzie was bouncing around while talking to Tristan.

“Chris is on his way.  He caught the twelve-thirty train, it’ll be thirty minutes,” I said.

“Awesome,” Tristan said.  “Listen, because this just came up, and it’s a good opportunity-”

“We were talking back hair,” Kenzie said.

“Yeah,” Tristan said.

“I think if I liked anyone I could like someone with back hair,” Kenzie said.

“No, Kenzie, that’s not okay,” Sveta said.

“But you said you could be okay with it.”

“I said I feel obligated to say I’d be okay with it because my boyfriend has back forks.  And back wires.  He keeps it tidy but it is a place he sometimes has to position loose material.”

“I feel obligated because some of my favorite people in the world had back hair,” Kenzie said.

“Again, please, not okay,” Sveta said.

“Why not!?”

“Because back hair means older, and that’s skeevy.”

“Didn’t the boy Tristan liked have back hair at fourteen?  Fourteen isn’t old.  Well, it is to me, but that’s because it’s-”

“I did not like Jhett Marion!” Tristan said.  “Please.  Let me get a word in edgewise.  I can see where Byron got it wrong, but I liked Tyler Redmond.  He was a senior, he was tall, he had long hair, and he was good at art.  He had a lower back tattoo and no back hair.  I’m not down for that.”

“I’m not down for that,” I said.  “Wax, shave, deal with it somehow.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said.  “I value and appreciate your sanity.”

“I’m not changing my answer,” Kenzie said.

Kenzie and Tristan bickered.  Sveta approached me, leaning into my good arm.  “You okay?”

I shook my head.  I murmured my answer. “Spat with Chris.”

She nodded.  No commentary.

“Can we get some fresh air?” I asked.  “Wait on the other side of the portal?  At least until Chris’ train arrives?”

“I can keep an eye out,” Kenzie said, holding up her phone.  “Oh!  We need to talk about dinner.  I hope this doesn’t run late and we don’t get a mob of assassins or zombies coming after us, because my mom’s making this pasta dish- is pasta okay?”

“Pasta’s great,” I said.  “Keeping an eye out is great.  Just-”

I motioned toward the station and the portal within.

We made our way through.  There wasn’t much traffic, but there was a lot of security.  Patrol block was out in force, checking our ID twice.  I had to hand over my bag.  Kenzie unloaded all of her trinkets and things, which ended up taking a few minutes.

The pressure of the city and of accumulated stresses were weighing on me.  It was hard to breathe.

When we finally got through, it got easier.  It was a question of walking down a hallway, past a blurry area, and up a half-flight of stairs, passing through doors.

Earth N.  Fresh air, trees, birds, fields.  There wasn’t much civilization at all, beyond the standard buildings that surrounded portals in foreign worlds.  Supplies, basic needs, a small hospital, administration.  Not even a small town.

Enemy territory.

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

105 thoughts on “Torch – 7.7”

    1. Maybe, Ridtom. It depends how closely you tie yourself to Victoria’s viewpoint.

      For an angry pubescent orphan with a horror-movie power who seems to also be physically falling apart for reasons apparently beyond his control, I think he’s getting along pretty well.

      He even holds back when he kicks at Vicky’s weak points. He could certainly be pushing that button earlier, more often, or harder.

      1. There’s more to be worried about than that.

        It’s almost certain he did in fact steal the medical supplies, but multiple children gave him an alibi, including his roommate who is terrified of him.

        That suggests he scared them all into lying, and that’s NOT OK.

        1. The other possibility is that he used his power in some weird way to give himself an alibi, though I have no idea how that would work. I’m not ruling anything out though given how many unknowns there are with his power.

        2. This points to a problem of Ward.

          We have world ending threats and Wildbow’s trademark body horror going on.

          At the same time, we are watching team Therapy treat intimidation and bullying as equal threats.

          It would be like watching a documentary about bombing Nagasaki where they talk about 80,000 people dead, but also give equal air time to how George Marshall bullied Truman and that hurt his feelings.

          1. A better analogy would be a movie about the immediate aftermath of Nagasaki following the progression of radiation sickness to an inevitable death in a group of kids, one of whom is being bullied. A lot of narratives juxtapose the mundane aspects of everyday life with huge cultural or historical shifts that are out of the protagonists control. It creates the sensation of something other worldly infringing on reality.

            It’s not that the two are equal threats, it’s the fact that people usually ignore existential threats that they have no meaningful level of control over in their everyday life and fixate on what they can deal with. The team want to do what they can against bigger threats, but that means keeping the team together, which means caring about Chris and his situation.

            We, on the other hand, are essentially gods looking at everything happen from a distance. None but the most powerful in the Wormverse can have a POV even close to that.

      2. He holds back a lot. He doesn’t even mention Amy’s name.
        Also, the notion of going to either Amy or Riley for help with a medical problem is actually quite reasonable. Whatever it is that is making him secrete slime or whatever, I’m willing to bet those two could help him. And either of them likely would, if he dropped Victoria’s or Ashley’s name. And they both seem to have stopped turning people into monsters, which shouldn’t even bother Chris that much since he already turns into monsters.

        1. Amy and Riley were actually the first thing that came to mind when they mentioned that Chris’s body had issues beyond his power. That’s perfectly reasonable and I honestly expected Victoria to bring at least Riley up. She was the one taking care of Ashley, after all.

    2. And then we start talking about back hair. And back forks.

      So we’ll be having a relatively lighthearted chat with Lord of Loss, before going into the sheer promised awkwardness that is a Martin family dinner. So is it going to be awkward because people aren’t talking, or because they are?

      1. I feel we’ve been promised a great deal with respect to the Martin family… I’m so looking forward to WB delivering that visiting Earth N feels like a detour. Maybe we should expect 4 episodes of LoL, followed by a flashback from a week later with Vic rolling her eyes and sighing “Now I know what you guys were talking about! The less said about that dinner, the better!”

  1. Ooh. Chris development.

    At first it annoyed me that the capes from the Community Center event all seem so connected to the main plot. But then, I guess the apocalypse followed by the portal bombings would really have contributed to the “small world” effect.

    1. Yep.
      There weren’t that many capes to begin with, and now that there’s even less, being territorially close enough to be involved in the first arc with Vicky means being territorially close enough to be involved with everything big that happens. It’d be more weird if they just dropped off the face of the Earth (Gimel).

  2. The stuff with Chris is…. interesting. I really want to know what caused his trigger and whatever’s fucking with him now…

    1. My guess is that he’s very rapidly dying of some non-power-related causes, and his shapeshifting is the only thing that keeps him alive since it partially resets his body. His power’s working fine, and he’s using it to cheat death one day at a time.
      Is there a betting pool for this?

      1. Aren’t trigger events supposed to heal any life threatening illnesses? Or is that just use of the Cauldron vials?

          1. I don’t recall any other natural trigger events doing any sort of healing, but it would make sense if there is healing from life-threatening injuries (otherwise it’s a wasted shard) and I don’t see why Eden’s shards are special in that regard. The only example I can think of is Grue’s second trigger, where he doesn’t get healed but uses Othala’s regeneration to bring himself together.

          2. People get powers relevant to their trigger event, so if someone triggers from life-threatening injuries they’ll almost certainly get a power that heals them or renders the injury irrelevant. Closest thing to a direct example we know of is Purity, who was dying of starvation/dehydration and got the ability to feed off light.

            Caldron shards might tend to cure injuries because of their general mutagenic properties, or lacking an actual trigger might lead the shard to map to a power helpful to a chronic condition, or some combination of the teo.

          3. @guy: People TEND to get powers that are useful in the circumstance where they trigger, but it is by no means guaranteed. Every shard has its own power, and if the shard you got just can’t do anything to help you, tough luck. Zion tried to direct some of them to suitable recipients, but he wasn’t paying attention to them all.

            Taylor triggered twice, and it did nothing to the small metal box she was stuck in. Bonesaw made an offhand mention of having observed trigger events, and I think it’s a safe bet that not all of those escaped her.

          4. To be fair to the shard, Taylor’s power could easily have gotten her out of her small metal box. She just didn’t figure out how to use it quickly enough and went catatonic instead of organizing the bugs in her locker to release the lock mechanism and devour her tormentors.

        1. The healing thing was Cauldron-specific. It was a result of the Balance formula they usually mixed into their vials to reduce the chance of deviations.

  3. Having back hair is the true mark of a Villain.

    Ergo = All of the Undersiders have back hair.(Especially Tattletale)

  4. Am I the only one who doesn’t s becoming increasingly certain that the Bad Actor in this motley crew is…
    …Byron? Under the seemed to be such a nice quiet butterfly logic.

    1. Don’t know how Byron could screw it up without Tristan knowing about it. My money is on Kenzie, everyone who knows her better thinks she’s the really scary one.

      1. Nah, Kenzie is a bit too obvious.

        Personally, I think it’s going to be Sveta.

        I mean, she’s being ostracized by the other case fifty-threes and she killed Doctor. Something like that is going to make a person snap.

        Also, Tristan doesn’t know a lot about psychology. Jessica might have picked up on something subtle. He’s definitely my second pick.

        1. I think Sveta is the one that’s most likely not problem that Jessica was worried about. Her first call for someone to help was to Weld. If she was trying to address a problem with Sveta, bringing in Weld blind when he hadn’t spotted whatever it was previously seems…odd.

          Of course I could be wrong. The unknown problem could also be something to do with the way they all interact with each other instead of a single person.

      2. Personal theory on this: it’s Byron. He’s not necessarily purposefully working to screw stuff up, but there’s some quirk in his personality that works to mess everything up, based on the same logic as Jimmelad used. Tristan, being the good brother that he is, tries to minimize damages when stuff goes wrong with Reach, and ends up being blamed by Moonsong, who already hated him. He runs with it and takes all the blame to protect Byron. Only problem is, it’s still a possibility that whatever went wrong with Byron the first time will reoccur with Team Therapy.

        1. I feel it’s Byron as well. Not deliberately, but an accident borne of frustration. Remember, Byron didn’t want to do the whole team/hero thing this time. Tristan did. They can’t forcibly take control, only surrender it and force the other out. Byron may get bitter, believing that he is being forced into this by Tristan. Plus, there’s the comment made by Tristan before that makes me suspicious – their powers weren’t always water and stone, they changed when they took the name Capricorn. Both triggered at once which is why they’re a case 73. They commented on how it was strange which makes me believe that’s not standard for 73s. What if Byron’s power is actually a sort of power manipulator Trump and he just doesn’t realize it, only consciously using Tristan’s and changing it between those subconsciously? What sort of accidental damage could he do with that considering what capes he’s normally around?

  5. So it sounds like his power is slightly defective? Does he have a slightly broken trigger? Or did he get a vial power?

    1. Crazy theory: Chris is also a Case 70. He’s taken over the body and isn’t giving his twin any time, and the twin is using what little power he has to tear Chris up inside.

    2. There’s an inconsistency here; he regularly suffers dangerous complications from his transformations at the facility, but in the field he can pick a form within constraints and does not appear to be worried that he might wind up short one or more functional vital organs, at least not seriously enough to avoid unneccessary transformations. Victoria seems to suspect they’re externally induced, and that would explain why he’s not all that worried about them happening elsewhere.

      As Rain has demonstrated, there can be reasons to remain with and cover for a parahuman torturing you.

      1. At the facility, he’s asleep, at least some of the time. In the field, he’s not. It’s possible his power is self-activating, possibly triggered by emotionally-heavy dreams. In which case waking up to find slime in bed, or meat and blood in the toilet, is going to happen.

  6. Man, Chris is being a dick. I’m kinda entirely with Victoria on this- he assumes people know where his boundaries are because he never bothered to communicate them, gets pissed when she “violates” them, then proceeds to try and cross every boundary Victoria has set as retaliation. He also refuses to accept that he might be a problem because he has problems (ie, ‘what about you?’) and pretty obviously enjoys being an edgelord.

    I’d be more ok with it if I saw any attempt on his part to not piss off everyone he depends on. As it stands, he’s going to keep acting like he’s alone against the world until he actually is, then he’s going to blame everyone else for it and probably have to be dealt during or after a villianous “I’ll make them ALL pay!” rant.

    Like, JFC get over yourself and understand that you need to give empathy and respect if you want to keep getting any.

    1. I mean sure… But he’s also like a 13-14 year old boy, who’s also an orphan and has a horrific power that fucks with both his head and body.

      Honestly it could be a lot worse. I’m cutting him some slack.

      1. I’m beginning to suspect his power doesn’t actually mess with his body. The damage done to his body might be from an external cause hinted at in this chapter and his transformations seem to be a means of pulling himself back together.

      2. I was giving him slack. Until now. Now the only thing keeping me from hating this kid is I know that’s what he wants.

    2. Good point, he sure could have done with some explicitly telling Victoria to not come to his place. If you want others to help with your shit’s upkeep, there’s some work to be done on your end too 😡

    3. It seemed pretty obvious to me that Chris would take offense to Victoria showing up uninvited. Not quite to this extent, maybe, but his behavior patterns throughout the story have screamed that he does not want people digging into his personal life. Victoria’s just too oblivious to pick up on it, or to make the super obvious extrapolation that somebody who doesn’t want you digging into their life won’t like you showing up uninvited on their home and talking about them behind their back.

      Also, note that while Chris was pissed, he didn’t start poking the Amy button until, after informing Victoria of his boundaries and making clear how upset he was, she kept pushing. She wouldn’t stop, so he had to make her stop.

      To you, this might seem like Chris overreacting and being an asshole, but to Chris, this was Carol inviting Amy to the BBQ. Somebody ignorant to the history between Amy and Victoria would have thought Victoria was behaving like a raging asshole at the BBQ. We know better. We don’t know the details here, but it has the same feeling. This is not what Chris is normally like. This is Chris faced with a threat to his sanity and way of life.

      1. I mostly agree with you here, but Carol knew the entire story when she invited Amy over. Victoria doesn’t know what’s going on with Chris, so I wouldn’t rank this as that big of a betrayal. Chris overreacted a bit, but there were definitely lines crossed here.

      2. I would rank this with Victoria’s new therapist ambushing her at the trial. And while yes, she did cross a boundary, it wasn’t one he has stated, and she had a reason to be there.
        Plus, Jessica actually asked her to keep an eye on Chris.
        What Victoria did was oblivious, and has an explanation if not a justification outside prying. What Chris did was cruel.

  7. I like Val, can we adopt Val as the honorary Jessica?

    Also, I love when tiny life details about previously established characters come out, such as Weld having back forks, Crystal having issues with vertigo and Victoria using wind and turning herself upside-down to straighten her hair out like swimmers use water.

    (Also, Chris and Victoria were both in the wrong in there, kinda?)

  8. No… I don’t think Victoria was in the wrong. If Chris had ever actually communicated enough to set a boundary, maybe. What exactly did Victoria do wrong?

    She showed up to check on the living situation of a minor under her supervision who had dropped hints about being a threat to himself and others. Just because Chris wants control over his situation and everyone involved in it does not mean that others should honor that.

      1. Maybe during Dr. Yamada’s absence she started vouching for him about legal responsibilities of cape business – putting that on Tristan’s shoulders would be pretty heavy.

      2. The alternative would have been cutting him out of the meeting with LoL, which would have been a very uncool thing to do. Given the choice between “drop in unannounced” and “do this important thing without him” Vic chose the thing which gives him greater agency and less privacy.

    1. Also Victoria is totally correct that communications are down and flying over is basically the only way to get in contact with him.

      1. Well… I mean SUuuurrrreee…. BUT she HAS been looking for excuses to see that place for a long time, and she totally DID pump Val for information… just as Chris deduced.

        And sure, I guess Chris didn’t explicitly state where his boundaries were in this case… but he has kind of been going on about “boundaries” and “This is my space” kinda crap for a while, so predicting that pumping Val for information would be over the line doesn’t exactly take a Thinker 12 now does it?

        He accused Victoria of prying. She was. The fact that she waited for a legitimate excuse before prying doesn’t invalidate his argument.

        Doesn’t mean I disagree with her prying as such… but I don’t think Chris is paranoid for calling her out on it.

        1. >has kind of been going on about “boundaries” and “This is my space” kinda crap for a while

          No he hasn’t. Chris has barely, if ever, talked about himself outside of the first time they ever met.

          And it’s less Victoria pumping Val for info when she freely said she wanted to talk to Victoria.

        2. I want to comment that judging people’s actions on the basis of their internal thoughts is not okay. Victoria didn’t “pump” anyone. She talked about the importance of boundaries and said that it was valuable to her as a person that neither of the two involved in the conversation crossed them.

          Yes, Victoria wants information. If I have an acquaintance who does curious, utterly innocuous things, such as volunteering at the animal shelter when I didn’t realize they liked animals, I would want information. If they did curious, damaging, non-innocuous things, I’d be that much more curious. Without violating boundaries, the fact that I have those utterly normal curiosities shouldn’t be held against me morally. It’s my right to have my brain work like a normal brain.

          If I *did* violate boundaries, those curiosities would still not be the moral transgression. It would be the action, not the thoughts. The impact I had, the damage I did, and how much awareness I had of both. Desiring knowledge is not a sin even in the violation case.

          Also, yeah. Chris definitely hasn’t been “going on” about boundaries. He’s been pretty unclear and quiet on that front. His fears may be reflective of a correct understanding of reality – I certainly don’t think say he’s delusional – but his accusations are all escalation and distraction. They’re not legitimate and definitely nothing close to a skillful attempt at resolving the conflict.

    2. Victoria was slightly in the wrong. It isn’t that she was going to check in on him at some point and used the message delivery as an excuse to do so. Chris definitely would have wanted to go on the Team’s outing to Earth N and he was incommunicado. It was that she tried to make a weasel worded semi-denial about it after he confronted her about it. She was dodging the question and he could tell.

    3. She was pissed when the therapist ambushed her, but she ambushed Chris. Her mistake was not going over, it was talking to the lady (Val?). Probably not something to do on first visit.

  9. Wildbow, great reminder about how totally nuts barely-pubescent humans can be, especially those in adverse circumstances. I haven’t interacted with those in a while.

    1. Jesus this chapter made my blood boil. Yeah Chris is a little shit, but I’m surprised everybody else seems to be glossing over the fact that our “hero” just told a fucking child she wouldn’t be sad if he died because he floated the idea of getting medical assistance from a source she doesn’t approve of.

      1. No, she wouldn’t be sad if he died because he pressed the Amy button. And he pressed it to get back at her and hurt her, for what in her point of view was trying to help him and caring about him. Also as much as she’s talking, Victoria isn’t exactly sharing about what happened to her to others. Only Sveta, and possibly Kenzie actually know. Chris has been able to suss out enough to know she’s got issues with her sister, and maybe Bonesaw, but he doesn’t know what Victoria’s been through. She hasn’t shared and can’t bring herself to talk about it with Team Therapy, so how does she expect them to give it all up?

        I mean imagine if she had told Chris
        “Hey Chris you think this is bad? Well I’ve had worse. You want to talk body horror, boundries being violated, and nightmare shits? Well Chris let me tell you, two, three years ago I’d have *killed* to have someone who didn’t have to check on me. See I went from having a nice loving extended family, and a guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with to a blob of body parts on a hospital bed who’s surviving family kept making excuses for why they couldn’t visit. And not a cool one like your forms that can do shit. Just a mass of way to many of any body part. And that includes asses, and not everything was hooked up where it was supposed to . So I know about nightmare shits.

        But that wasn’t the worst of it. See the person who did all that to me? It was my sister. Because she loved me. Not sisterly love either. And in a moment of weakness she tried to make me love her the same way. Didn’t work at first. But them I got hurt bad. Dying in agony bad. And despite my wishes they let my sister try and fix me. Well she didn’t do anything then about the whole fucked up incest lesbian shit. She did manage to fuck up worse though, so I got to spend the next two years stuck in a bed wanting nothing more than to see the person who’d done it to me, with everyone I knew trying to avoid me.

        So come on Chris. Give it your best shot. Your worst hurtful comment. I’ve dealt with something much more horrific. I’ve dealt with every boundry you can have being violated by the person I should have been able to trust the most, and that’s just for starters.”

        Not in character for her, but still something that I feel’s interesting.

      2. She didn’t quite say that. She said if Chris didn’t stop invoking Amy she’d get to point where she didn’t care whether he lived or died (off her grieving list was the actual term). The conditional “if”is important. She’s telling Chris that he’s not there yet, but he’ll get there really quick if he keeps pushing the Amy Button.

        Now at that precise moment, Victoria may have been so upset she might have felt indifferent to Chris suffering some horrible fate, but that’s just being furious with someone in the moment. Being Victoria, she avoided saying that and withdrew from the situation before it could escalate further. She knew if she stayed, she’d say something that couldn’t be taken back. The fact she said as much as she did indicates how upset she was.

  10. Is it time for the Chris arc? I’m looking forward to the Chris arc.
    He’s being a douche here but I take that to be an indication of the fact that he’s under some kind of extreme stress, which I feel is a safe assumption given his horrific yet mysterious circumstances.
    Also doesn’t his power lock his emotional state or something? I can’t remember how that works. Maybe he just came out of his “Prickly Asshole” form.

  11. Well, I am now eagerly awaiting the revalation of what kind of fucked-up horrorshow passes for dinner at Kenzie Labs. I mean, her parents seem nice and the people warning Victoria off going seem reasonably convinced they exist.

    1. I’m pretty sure those are her birth parents. Y’know, the ones who never acted like they wanted her around?

      1. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be with her birth parents unless they’ve really come around. With how much the Wards were investing in her well-being they’d have yanked her into social services at any sign of trouble at home, and Yamada would have watched any effort to reverse that post-GM very closely. I expect these are foster parents, and either badly out of their depth or in their comfort zone for spectacular reasons.

        It’s also possible that visiting her house reveals just how much work it takes to make sure Kenzie is eating, sleeping, and not sneaking out to talk with serial killers she met on the internet.

    2. Would be funny if it just turns out they are really really boring. Like, they have some niche interest that they just won’t stop talking about no matter what or how much you try to change the subject. “Now Victoria, this coin was printed in Spain in 1987, it’s remarkable because the prime minister only held office for three months and so only a single runwas printed before they changed the design. In contrast this other coin was minted in Spain just 3 months later with a totally different fringe pattern…”

  12. I’d take Chris’s concerns more seriously(being worried about the one caretaker that covers for him without question) but him immediately opening up by yelling and swearing at her, in the middle of the courtyard, and in front of other caretakers and young ones, kind of makes me doubt it.

    1. Really? Because as far as traumatized tweens go, that was an impressive attempt at saying “hey, you showing up here has violated my personal boundaries and makes me feel attacked, please stop.” Followed by repeating that several times, then escalating to lashing out at Victoria when she kept pushing. Not to say that he’s not in the wrong for doing so, but you can really see where going to therapy has had a positive effect and given him the tools he needs.

      1. Small point that he immediately assumed the worst, she still had a message to deliver, and he had never vocally expressed that going to his place was verboten before.

  13. I really like that Victoria is making a bunch of mistakes here. A lot of team therapy is having their “disabilities” hidden, and prefer it that way because they want to be “normal”. Victoria’s prying is changing her perception of them, and how she treats them. WB has handled a lot of great themes so far, and I’m excited ableism is front and centre.

    Also, Victoria totally following in her mother’s footsteps <3

    1. I think if anyone on Team Therapy has a right to tell Chris they know what it’s like to have a screwed up body, it’s Sveta and Victoria.
      The others have learned to share – that is, the others who aren’t Victoria and Chris.
      Anyways, so what’s Chris’s reaction to Victoria blundering past the boundary he’d set, with a reason? Assume the worst, accuse her, and then weaponize what she *had* shared of her trauma.

  14. I like the situation with Chris and Victoria. She’s trying to care for the team and is basically acting as a parent who just wants what’s best for the kids. The last thing Chris, as an egocentric teenager, wants is a parent who barges into his room to check on him, well meaning or not.
    Victoria wants the team to work, so I don’t think she could have done much different, leaving Chris out of team activities would be much worse.
    I think the way Chris sees Victoria in this instance, is the same way Victoria sees Carol; manipulative, overreaching, and not respecting boundaries.
    Or maybe Chris is just on an anger change.

    1. There’s something pretty major that Victoria could have done differently, actually. She could have not talked about him behind his back, and then she could have apologized for showing up without warning. Even having made the mistake of talking behind his back (very understandable, given their radically different mindsets), she still could have apologized for that and deescalated. As opposed to ignoring his complaints and trying to pry even deeper, fully aware that she was pissing him off more and more.

      Things Victoria did right? She was careful about what she shared with Val. She stayed calm and explained herself to Chris. She was not outwardly judgmental. She left the situation when she was nearing the point of not being able to stay calm.

      She’s improved a lot since Worm. She just needs to learn how to back off and give people space when they need it.

      1. Pizzasgood,

        I agree with you about everything that Victoria could have done better. However, I don’t think any of that would have actually helped Chris to calm down. He came out of that building with a full head of steam and ready to blow. I can’t think of anything Victoria could have done to stop him for screaming at her short of immediately walking away without speakig the moment he appeared.

        1. Yeah, he was going to be doing at least a little shouting no matter what. But it could have been significantly less shouting. That civil bit after they’d left Val could have been the turning point if Victoria hadn’t refused to acknowledge Chris’s complaints, hadn’t insisted on defending her actions, and hadn’t thrown in that “Mostly” barb. Easy mistakes to make, granted. Especially when your lawyer mom drilled that kind of behavior into you from a young age. The alien parasites hooked into their brains don’t help, either.

          1. She probably took Val’s lesson of “keeping up” with Chris too well. As in, she didn’t think about how much he went through with her in order for it to be okay for her to act like that.
            Still? He came out guns blazing, determinate to hate her and decide she was there just to pry no matter what she said. Saying “sorry” would have seen him tell her sorry doesn’t cut it, or be taken as an admission of guilt.

  15. Hell yeah! I’ve finally caught up with the story. It was 2 years ago when I’ve found Worm in a russian translation. The translation ended in the middle of the Leviafan fight, so, well, I had no other options than to learn English 😀
    I’ve benefited greatly from it and Worm/Ward is definitely one of the very best books which I’ve seen so far. I just wanted to say:
    Thank you, Wildbow, for your amazing work!

  16. “I flipped around, grabbed Crystal’s ankle, and used the rotation of my body with a yank of my arm to fling her off. She created a forcefield to ‘land’ on, her back, hands and feet pressing against it, then launched herself at me, breaking the field in the process of the launch.”
    At that point I checked the previous chapter to make sure I hadn’t missed something. It was of course just a misleading chapter introduction but I had to check.

    The more I learn about Chris the less I want to learn anything more about Chris.

    1. The more I learn about Chris the less I want to learn anything more about Chris.

      To quote Ashley, “that’s because you’re weak!”

  17. Oh boy, hot take: both Victoria and Chris are in the wrong. You don’t show up at someone’s house unannounced, but you also CERTAINLY don’t intentionally poke at someone’s traumas just to get back at them. Vic’s making mistakes, and I don’t think there’s really much excuse for hers–they’re justified but still mistakes. Chris has the justification of being young (and I was a dick at that age too) but there’s certain things you just…don’t say. I shouldn’t hate Chris for it but I’ve known too many raging assholes who’ve triggered me just to be vindictive and at this point I can’t not dislike him.

    1. The thing is, Chris wasn’t poking Victoria out of vindictiveness. He did take some pleasure in hurting her after she’d hurt him, but that’s not what his attack was about. It was self defense. He kept telling her, shouting at her, screaming at her to leave him alone. She refused, so he hit back. He made it clear where his boundaries were and that continuing to violate them would result in pain. Where his demands failed to get through to her, his counterattack succeeded, and she finally let up.

      1. Except it was Chris’s idea to take the walk, and he didn’t once tell her to actually leave.

        And he went for he trauma really early in the conversation, right after she says he can’t keep literally everything about himself in confidence.

        1. Of course he didn’t tell her to leave. The issue wasn’t her being in his presence. The issue was her digging into his life and her interaction with Val. He cut the latter short by initiating their departure and trip toward the meeting point, which got Victoria away from Val and allowed him to speak freely without messing up that balance thing or getting himself punished for profanity.

          And yes, you are 100% correct that Victoria’s continued refusal to accept his extreme need for privacy was what provoked him into bringing up her own trauma. Which is what I was saying. 😛

          Victoria’s stance is totally reasonable. But the problem is that this isn’t a matter of rationality, it’s a matter of emotions and trauma. Chris needs his privacy the same way Victoria needs to not be around Amy. She’s upset that he poked her wound, but she seems oblivious to the fact that she was prodding at his wound the entire time. Calm, methodical, unapologetic, relentless prodding.

          1. So she prodded a boundary she didn’t know was there, and he retaliated by prodding one he did know was there? Great.
            That’s one of the issues with the secrecy. If someone blunders past a boundary you’ve never expressed, that’s on you, not them.
            Plus, he came out assuming the worst, guns blazing. If a person who doesn’t know mentions Amy, Victoria doesn’t just explode on them.

          2. Victoria is 21 years old. Chris is 13. Not surprising that she has better control over her issues than he does. She has more experience, her brain’s more fully developed, and her body isn’t as flooded with hormones.

  18. With her mom’s helping people pick out decorations, just imagine what her talking on and on about it would be like…
    “Now let’s take this painting Victoria. To some people this evokes a spidery, arachnid impression. Others simply see a giant hairy wang. The artist in fact was so high when they painted it they don’t even know what it’s supposed to be.”
    Or it’s actually a perfectly normal dinner. Everyone else is so messed up they don’t realize that and freak out because it’s so strange to them.

  19. So, I guess that this is what Victoria was talking about when she said that when things start going poorly, little things that shouldn’t be ignored start sliding and snowballing.

  20. Not sure about the mystery fluids, but the blood and meat things sounds like he hunted and ate something while transformed.

  21. Oh, Chris. The only reason I don’t want to hate him is I wouldn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
    Yes, Victoria crossed a line. But she did not know how serious a line it was, because he’d never said anything about it.
    Still he comes out, assumes the worst, accuses her and yells at her; she never loses composure and tries to bring the conversation back. So he deliberately crosses the worst boundary she had set.
    I don’t know if I can forgive him. Let’s see what Wildbow brings.

  22. Bloody stool and fluids, stealing medical supplies… my bet is something really fucking bad. Colon Cancer, maybe?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *