Torch – 7.10

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I stepped out of the bathroom at the Gimel-side G-N station, doing my best to manage two bags.  One bag had my armor, and the other had some of Kenzie’s stuff.  It took some hunting to find her.

There were plenty of trees around the station, a side effect of the city being put down as fast as trees and rock could be cleared away.  To have a very green look, all that needed to be done was to leave a slice of land and root structures intact.  Kenzie had situated herself at the base of the tree nearest the entrance.  She had her phone out, held in front of her.

She waved as I approached, her phone still held out.

“She’s back,” she said, to the phone.  “We’re going to catch our train soon, so I might have to lose the phone or we might drop the connection because the cell networks are bad lately.”

“You said the bad networks might be because of enemy action,” I heard a male voice through the tinny speaker.

“Yeah,” she said.  She patted the grass beside her.  I set the bags down and sat.

Ashley and Rain were on the other end of the video call.  Ashley was offscreen, but her hands were onscreen.

“How are you?” Rain asked me.

“I’ve had better days, but we got info.  This call is secure?”

“Oh yeah,” Kenzie said.

“Our resident, full-time tinker said you’d be better to explain the paper you found, Victoria,” Rain said.

“If it’s no trouble,” Kenzie said.

“I had a look at the paper.  The prison is a focus.  From what Kingdom Come said, they’re paying close attention to places where capes gather in large numbers.  The prison where you guys are is one focus.  Goddess is another, maybe because she has a lot of capes in her immediate orbit.  The other big teams  are another one.”

“Not us, because we’re not big or important,” Kenzie said.

“…Yeah,” I said.  “I would be interested in seeing how that changed or their angle for approaching us, if things reached a different point.”

“Feeling ambitious?  Is Capricorn rubbing off on you?” Rain asked.  “Or-”

“Did I?” Ashley’s voice came across the phone, closer to the microphone on their end.

“Don’t say did,” Kenzie said.  “Not like it’s over with.  You’re not gone, you’re just there.  You could even help us.”

“We’ll help however we can,” Rain said.  There was a pause, and the camera shifted as someone moved.  It might have been Ashley holding the phone on the far end, or it could have been a movement that jostled the table the phone sat on.  Rain added a quieter, “Yeah.  I think we’d be glad to help.  It’s the boredom that’s worst, and this sounds good.”

“We’ll get back to you with more information and direction, then,” I said.  Kenzie nodded.  “You guys are okay?”

“As okay as I could be,” Rain said.  “The talk at the tribunal helped a bit.  They’re letting me have some basic tools, Ashley can come, and I get a chance to work on her hands.”

“I appreciate it,” Ashley said.

“Four of us live in my building,” Rain said.  “We each have exits on a different face of the building, so we don’t cross paths as much, but walls are thin and people are bored.  There’s a lot of talk.”

“I have a roommate,” Ashley said.  “You could call her family.  Having her around helps some, but it also hurts some.”

“That’s family,” I said.

“Yup,” Kenzie said.

“I suppose so,” Rain added.

“If these updates to my hands work at all, I shouldn’t be so reliant on her,” Ashley said.  “Patience has a way of wearing thin.”

“Yours or hers?” I asked.

“Same thing,” she said.

“Uh, right,” Rain said.  “Hey, if we’re helping out, what is it we’re doing?”

“Watch out for anything suspicious,” I said.  “Anyone who seems to show too much interest in the way things work.”

“That could be anyone,” Rain said.  “Us, even.  It’s an odd setup, everyone wants to know more as soon as they’re here.”

“Odd how?” I asked.

“That would be us, right now,” Rain said.  “It’s a town, almost.  Every building is its own set of cells.  Wide roads separating things, longer walks between facilities that matter.”

Ashley added, “They spread us out so that if one person blows something up or uses a power, they can’t affect more than a building or two at a time.  Eight parahumans at most.”

“And they have the countermeasures.  The ankle attachment,” I said.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “A lot of security is offsite.  Everything is scheduled, so we don’t have too many of us in one place at one time.  Officers have guns, remotes for the bombs we’re wearing and access to security cameras stationed at irregular intervals with irregular schedules.”

“I hear security cameras and my imagination goes wild,” Kenzie said.

“Be careful about fooling around,” Ashley’s voice was almost that of a parent.  Warning, guiding.  “If you make a mistake, it reflects on us.”

“Yeah,” Kenzie said.  Her expression was serious.  “I don’t want that.  I want you out of there already.  Both of you.”

“It will take time.  You can call in the meantime,” Ashley said.

Kenzie smiled.

“Any thoughts, Victoria?” Rain asked.

“What I’m hearing,” I spoke slowly as I thought things through mid-sentence, “Is that for any dangerous person or group to influence the prison population, it would be hard to reach enough people.”

“They would have to be staff,” Rain said.

I nodded slowly.  “It’s possible, and it fits better with the picture we have. It’s also pretty worrying, if true.”

“We’ll look,” Ashley said.  “It’s easier, because we see staff more often than we see other prisoners.”

“Let me know if you need anything,” Kenzie said.  “I’m at your disposal.”

“I need you to not do too much,” Ashley said.

“I’m not.  School is handled, I’m ahead in most of my classes, which is easy since it’s only half days, and I’m more or less getting enough sleep.”

“Take it easy.  Step away from the tinkering, be a kid.  Run in circles in a field or whatever it is kids do,” Ashley said.

“Running in circles in a field?  How long was it since you were a kid, Ashley?” I asked.

“A long time,” she said.  “I didn’t get to enjoy my childhood as much as I wanted, and I can’t remember those days very easily.  I don’t want one of my favorite people to make the same mistake I did.”

“You’re one of my favorite people too,” Kenzie said.

“Powers have a way of taking over, and tinker powers like yours, Kenzie, they’re especially bad for it.”

Rain’s voice was a touch testy as he said, “I like how you’re saying that while I’m on hour… holy, it’s been two and a half hours that I’ve been working on your hands here.”

“Shh,” Ashley said.

“Rubbing that salt into the wound.  I’m kidding.  It’s nice to do something practical.”

He sounded so easygoing, considering his incarceration.  Ashley, meanwhile, seemed a bit subdued.

“And familiar faces,” Ashley said.  She looked at the phone’s camera, locking eyes with us.  “I’m glad you called, Kenzie.”

“Just so you know, I am going to take a break from the tinkering tonight.  Victoria’s coming over for dinner.  We’re having pasta, we’ll talk with my parents, who seem to really like her, my mom especially, and I can show her my workshop with everything I’ve been doing.”

I didn’t miss the pause after, or the looks exchanged between Rain and Ashley on the tiny phone screen.

Bells chimed in the distance as the gates closed in anticipation of the train coming in.

“Keep your expectations low,” Ashley said.

Kenzie heaved out a sigh.  “Okay.”

“It’s good if Victoria is visiting,” Ashley said.  “More of us should have been doing that.  I would have come over before, if it was doable.”

“You intimidate my parents and they don’t want you over, so yeah, not doable.  Really really, it doesn’t need to be a ‘should’ thing,” Kenzie said.  “And you all have your own expectations and ideas going in that makes it awkward.”

“Is there anything I need to worry about?” I asked Ashley and Rain.  I picked up the bags, slinging them over the one shoulder.

Seee?” Kenzie cut in, bringing the phone closer to her face.  “You two are making it awkward.  She’s worried.”

“Wondering if I need to be worried, actually.”

“You’re fine if it’s you, Victoria,” Rain said.

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Kenzie said.  She shook her head and smiled.  “I’m having a friend over.  It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s a big deal to you, for one thing,” Ashley said.

“Because I never used to get to have friends over, not because there’s any need to be worried, geez!  My mom’s a good cook, I have stuff I want to show off, and-”

“She’s not your mom, and that’s not your dad.”

We’d been making our way to the front door of the train station when Ashley said it.  Kenzie stopped in her tracks.

“Ah man,” Rain said, in the background.

People walked past us to enter the station.  While Kenzie and I stood still, the crowd moved on.  The train pulled into the station, noisy as it approached, muffled somewhat as it passed indoors.  It drowned out everything and brought all conversation to a halt.

Kenzie hit a button on her phone, and held it to her ear, her back to me.

There were a dozen things I wanted to say or do, and I held my tongue.  There was still the train ride, and it would only frustrate if I interrupted a conversation now.

“Ashley-” she said.  “Ashley, ugh, let me talk, okay?  Because I have a train to catch.  You’re wrong, you’re lying, and I’m really bothered you’re lying.  I’m really tired of this.  That was rude.”

A pause.

“Yeah, well, I love you a lot but I don’t like you a lot right now.  I’m going to hang up.  Hm?  Yeah.  Okay.  Fine.”

She hung up, spun in a half circle to face me, and smiled.  “Sorry.  She wants you to call her at the end of the night, if possible.  She says she spent some time in Earth N at one point, getting the lay of the land, she can give tips on who’s there.”

“I will.  Kenzie, I have a lot of questions,” I said.

“Can we not make a big deal of this?” she asked.  “There’s the train to catch, and I meant what I said about not wanting you to be prejudiced or anything.”

“Catching the train?  Sure,” I said.  “We can do that, and I can come over.  I won’t break my word like that.  I just… want to make sure I’m not missing anything vital.”

“I’m safe, you’re safe.  My parents are safe, and they are my parents, just to make that clear.  I have pictures of them holding me while I’m a baby.  I don’t have any runaway tinkerings, there won’t be any captives in the basement, nobody’s going to die or get maimed.  There’s nothing ‘vital’.  Can we just go?”

I nodded.

We walked to the train, joining the tail end of the short line of people that still hadn’t boarded.

“We all have weird or broken families,” Kenzie said.  “Rain doesn’t have any family he gets along with.  Ashley doesn’t have anyone except her twin.”

“Twin?”

“Kind of.  Her roommate, now.  Sveta only has Weld, Chris doesn’t have anyone, Tristan and his parents don’t talk and he only gets to see them because he goes to Church with them.  Byron has it easier but it’s still awkward.  You’ve got family business I’m not going to poke my nose in.”

“Thank you.”

“So it leaves Byron and me with mostly normal families.  I can say the word ‘family’ and half the people in the group get a teeny-tiny surly or sad look on their face and the other half get an ‘oh no’ look.”

“Which one am I?” I asked.

“Depends on the day, but you’re a tie-breaker a lot of the time, so that’s fine.  What I’m saying is everyone has these ideas going in, some of which are outright wrong, like Ashley’s, and something as simple and basic as dinner with family and it becomes this big thing.”

We boarded the train.

“What am I even supposed to do in this situation, Kenz?”

“Do what you were going to do.  I know you checked up on Chris and he didn’t like that, and this is you checking up on me.  Difference is, I’m okay with that, I’m even happy you care.  Just don’t- don’t go in with the wrong ideas.  Because that’s not fair.”

I considered that for a moment.  I saw her looking up at me with large eyes, kinky, glossy hair in two balls close to the base of her neck.

No judgment.  I gave her a nod, and she practically skipped at the confirmation, like the moment gave her a boost that accelerated her, saw her moving ahead in the aisle to a possible seating location.

We took up one set of four chairs, each of us taking two seats, depositing our bags and things in the empty seats.  Kenzie looked around a few times before putting down her helmet and cloaking device, the visuals distorting as the cloaking adjusted to the change in orientation.  The seat-bottom briefly disappeared as the camouflage took hold, Kenzie tapped the cloaked cloaking device, and it returned to normal.

“It’s not a long trip,” she said.  “We’re going to the next station.”

“I know,” I said.  “Then, in the interest of finding something to talk about that won’t take too long, how’s school?”

Maybe not the right subject for a short conversation.  The reality was that Kenzie was a teacher’s pet, and I actually really liked school and studying, with some hope of studying in the future, if I could get into classes.  Despite the ten year age difference between us, it was a pretty decent back and forth.

“What kind of projects?” she asked, as the train came to a stop.  The station beyond the window was a temporary one.

“With parahuman studies?  A lot of it is theory and extrapolating from what little we know.  I’m really eager to see how the classes change in the future, since we know different things than we did four years ago.”

“I don’t think I’d want to study that stuff,” Kenzie said.  “I think it’s super cool, don’t think I’m a jerk for pooh-poohing what you like.”

“Not at all.”

“But I don’t know what I’d want to do.  It seems very far off.”

“You’re in fifth grade.  You’ve got seven years before you have to make any decisions.”

“Seven years.  There’s part of me that wants to be an adult already and there’s another part of me that really, really doesn’t.”

We were stepping off the train.  Not many got off at the temporary station in Norwalk, and we had some privacy.

“Why don’t you?” I asked.  “Is it the idea of having romantic feelings being uncomfortable?  You mentioned that once.”

“See, it’s funny you ask that, because I mentioned it in group once.  Ashley asked the opposite question.  She asked why I would want to.  Chris asked something similar to you.  He wanted to know why I wouldn’t want to grow up.”

“And?”

“And I don’t know,” she said.  She smiled.  “Both have issues, being here, being grown up.  I think I’d like to fix things and figure myself out, and get most of the way to being better over the next few years.”

“It’s a good goal.”

The conversation carried on for a bit, Kenzie walking on the concrete barrier between lawns and road, heel touching toe, arms out to the side.  Periodically, she’d poke me in my uninjured arm as she used me to catch her balance again.

The wind was the prime culprit in her losing her balance.  The portal loomed above us, the sky on the far side now overcast, with clouds seeping in through like they might through a crack in glass.

Many houses had been vacated, or had signs on the lawns.  There weren’t many cars on the road or in driveways for what should have been a settled residential area.

A nice residential area.  When so many houses across the city and especially in Earth N were prefabricated or rushed out, the houses here were three stories, with built-in garages.  Driveways were often brick laid out in patterns.  Things marked it as different from the Earth I’d grown up in.  Lawns were transplanted from the landscape that had been here prior to the houses going up, or the existing material hadn’t been removed.  The ground was uneven, rough, with dense weeds often overtaking or replacing grass.  Where trees stood on many lawns, the trees were older, less cultivated, with stubborn and jumbled root systems and gnarled branches.  Many had burls.

The veins of gold and yellow ran through much of it, too.  The middle and sides of the road were marked with serrated lines of yellow triangles.  The area didn’t have a dense assortment of streetlights, and I imagined the triangles were meant to catch headlights in the dark, so drivers would see three dotted yellow lines marking the bounds of the road.

Fences, trees near the road, rocks at the corners of property and other potential obstacles had their own dashes of yellow paint, stickers, or ribbons.

Kenzie’s house was steel gray, consisting of three sections, with only the rightmost having a third story- and it had a garage below that taller section.  The roof was peaked over the front door but sloped toward the front, everywhere else.  The windows were large, modern, with stained glass in frames hanging in between many of the windows and the curtains.  Clear glass, gray-black tinted glass, and rose pink.  Two cars in the driveway, with one being the van that Kenzie had used in the past to transport her tinker stuff.

She had a key hanging from a chain at her neck, and used it to let us in.

The walls were eggplant, and it somehow didn’t look terrible.  Monochrome art and art that was mostly monochrome with really bold yellows and oranges to catch the eye ran through the entire foyer, with more pictures going up the wall in parallel with the stairs.  I could smell Italian spices and I could hear a volatile hiss of steam from the kitchen as meat cooked.

“I’m home!”

Her mother appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, apron on, color matched to the slate walls and blue decor of the kitchen I could see behind her.  She used a tea towel to dry her hands.

“Victoria.  It’s so nice to have a guest.  We don’t get the opportunity that often, because we have a tinker in the house, who doesn’t always clean up after herself.”

“Mommmmm.”

Irene pursed her lips together, before giving me a bit of a smile.  “Everything went well today?”

“Reasonably well,” I said.  I pulled my bag around.  “I wanted to bring wine, but it wasn’t doable since we thought we might get into a fight.  I brought chocolate.”

“Chocolate is always welcome,” Irene said.  She took the box.  “Ooh, very nice, thank you.  It’s good to hear it went well.  I’m curious about who our neighbors just past that portal are.”

“I’ve met them and I’m still not sure who they are,” I said.  “I could tell you later.”

“At dinner, maybe,” She said, smiling.  “How are you, Kenzie?”

“I’m good, thank you for asking,” Kenzie said.  “Dinner smells amazing.”

“Which reminds me!  Victoria, are you hungry?  I’m trying to decide how much pasta and garlic bread to make.”

“I’m ravenous, actually.  Errands took a while today and I didn’t get the chance to eat lunch.”

“Perfect.”

Kenzie spoke up.  “I don’t eat a lot, and I’m pretty regular about not eating a lot.  My mom got fed up with asking me because the answer was always the same-”

Kenzie’s hands squeezed her middle, pressing her shirt against it, showing how narrow she was.   She looked at me, then saw the bags I was holding.  “Oh!  Put that down somewhere.”

“You can put things down in the corner of the living room,” Irene Martin said.

The living room was more a lavender than an eggplant,with dense white carpet and nice looking furniture.  The lighter shade of the room worked with the way the light flowed into it.  At one corner of the room, a tarp had been laid out.  An easel was on the tarp, a wooden rack of paints set beside it.

A collection of gears and bits of glass were arranged on one half of the coffee table, on a newspaper.  The paper, gears and glass were dusty.

“Mom’s art,” Kenzie said, indicating the easel.  “She’s terrible at a lot of the artsy stuff until she gets practice in, and then she’s really talented.”

“That’s not nice to say, that I’m terrible,” Irene said, from behind us.

“It’s true, though!  You’re really, really good at stuff when you learn it.  You’re an amazing cook, you had some awesome stained glass art, before, I remember it.  It was better than what you have in the windows now.”

“That was a long, long time ago,” Irene said.  “I’m surprised you remember it.”

Kenzie nodded, energetic.

“I’m not a proper artist,” her mom said, as she looked past us to the painting.  “I don’t have my own ideas, I spin off on other people’s.  Besides, I have no patience to stick it out.”

The painting was in shades of indigo through to midnight blue, three old women clawing at each other in efforts to reach for the sky, expressions contorted.  It wasn’t complete, with one old woman with a shawl over her head left undone, face left as only a midnight blue oval, hands left similarly undefined.

“You painted that?”

“I was.  It’s not done.”

“It’s really good.”

“Thank you,” she said.  She put a hand on my shoulder.  “I’ll get back to it someday.  Do you need anything?”

I shook my head at the offer.

“Julien is out to pick up some ingredients I forgot.  He’ll be back in a few minutes.  Why don’t you give Victoria a tour, Kenzie?  We’ll talk over dinner.  I’m interested to pick your brain and learn more about what you’re doing.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

Kenzie led me up the stairs to the top floor.  Black and white photos showed Julien and Irene together.  Here and there, there would be one of Kenzie.

“I’ll show you my room!”

Irene was an interior decorator, if I remembered right.  I was left with the feeling that the house was being presented as a kind of showcase, more than it was a lived-in place.  The wall colors were striking, the artwork eye-catching to a distracting degree, with bright reds and yellows in otherwise muted rooms, and the style was unerringly consistent across the rooms I’d seen.  I felt like being in this house for too long might give me a headache.

“Bathroom, if you need it,” Kenzie said.  “My dad’s study.  He sometimes goes in there to smoke with the fan blowing it out the window, but it stinks so we keep the door closed.  My parent’s room is at the end of the hall, and this is my room.”

Every room thus far had been cool blues and purples with monochrome flooring, artwork, and tiles, a few points of colorful definition aside.  Kenzie’s room was unpainted, the walls plastered with art.  Her bed was made in a way that made me think she’d done it herself, rather than have either parent do it, and there were two desks and one bookshelf, all strewn with papers and pieces of things.  Plastic bins held a few dozen random pieces of electronics each.

I could smell the food cooking downstairs.  I was ravenous.

“You said you moved around a lot.  Is it nice to have a place to stay and make your own?” I asked.

“It so is,” she said, bouncing on the spot.  “Team poster.  There I am.”

It was a poster of the Baltimore PRT.  Mayday was on it, though he wasn’t in the leader position; he took the second position of the line that formed where each adult member of the team stood behind the right shoulder of the person in front.  The Wards were a numerous bunch, not as organized as the Protectorate, with some sitting or crouching in front of the lined-up heroes, others gathered on perches behind the members of the group at the rear and far right of the line.

I could see Kenzie.  She looked tiny, a singular lens dominating her mask.  Her arms were very skinny, and her hands were buried in gauntlets that made each hand look the size of her head, each with a lens on the back.  “There you are, as Optics.  With camera hands?”

“I called them mugshots.  They weren’t very good and they never let me use them outside of training.  If you squint, you can see my flash gun.”

“I can.  That’s really cool,” I said.  “The old team.”

“I miss them.  There’s Avian, Stungun, Keychain, Blush, and there’s Houndstooth.  And that’s Mayday, you see, and Turtleshell, Aerobat… and some I never even got to have conversations with.  They were always busy.”

“I recognize a lot of those names,” I said.  “It’s a good poster.  You managed to find it after everything happened?”

“My mom and dad paid to have people get stuff from the house, but the poster didn’t make it.  There was a picture in a magazine they kept, though.  I took it and blew it up.  It’s not as sharp and details are misplaced where I enhanced the quality a bunch of times and the computer guessed wrong, but it’s pretty good.”

“There are a few things I wish I’d been able to salvage,” I said.  “Others I managed to get.  A poster.”

“I got this, too.  It’s not the original, but it was in the background of a picture on a memory card, and the program kept the lettering from on the frame.”

I had to walk around her shelf of plastic tubs to see.  Alone on one empty space of wall was a picture frame with a very thick frame, the actual picture so small I could have put my hand flat against the glass and covered it.  It was Irene, not as expertly put together, but very tired, with a swaddled Kenzie in her arms.  The picture wasn’t black and white, like so many family and individual pictures in the house, and thick letters spelled out the name ‘KANZI’ below the image.

“Kanzi?”

“My name.  I never liked having to explain it.  I’d always have to spell it out.”

“I like it,” I said.  “But I like Kenzie too.”

She nodded in a very aggressive, overly done way, before leading me around the room.  “More old team stuff, see?  I had an Optics trading card.”

“A swipe card,” I said.

“Yes!  You know about swipe cards!  That’s cool.”

“Can I?”

“Yes, for sure.”

She seemed happy, enthusiastic.  The card was framed, but the frame was attached to the wall with a string, and it could be flipped around to show the back.  The stats were on it, along with the ability.  People who played on console would have the cards at hand, being able to swipe the card like one might a credit or debit card, summoning an ally or generating an effect.

“I was a support card.  Not a lot of people used me because I couldn’t be summoned into a fight,” Kenzie said.  “Kind of a bummer.”

Amy had been a support card for that game, I was pretty sure.  The effect had been downplayed a lot, but her card had still been popular, because there weren’t that many heals.  Most of what I knew had come from Dean, Chris, and Dennis talking.  Gallant, Kid Win, and Clockblocker.

“I have one too,” I said.  “Mine wasn’t anything special, despite my being popular-ish at the time.”

“That’s so cool.  Let me see, I think I have other stuff.  Old merch that I found.  It’s so hard, with the world ending and everything.”

She rummaged.  I looked at the other wall decoration.

Group therapy seating chart.  Kenzie connected to Sveta and Chris.  Chris to Damsel, Damsel to Rain, Rain to Tristan, Tristan to Sveta, forming a circle.

There were notes.  Between Ashley and Rain was ‘hands’ and ‘not rich’.  Between Rain and Tristan were ‘regret’ and ‘teenage boys’.  Between Tristan and Sveta was ‘Weld’ and ‘hero’, and so it went.  Other notes cluttered margins, seemingly more about groups of three or group therapy in general, with topics of past discussions in tiny scribbled font and hatch marks or symbols here and there.

The note that caught my eye was Chris and Ashley.  There was ‘dark’, ‘switch places?’ and then a question mark by note I couldn’t make out without bringing my face closer to the paper.

Yamada said they have a lot they can talk about but what?  Doesn’t say.

“My seating chart!” Kenzie said, with an energy and suddenness that made me jump.  “Don’t get me started.  Really truly don’t, because I could talk forever about the group, and I want to talk about other stuff.”

“I won’t, don’t worry.”

“I have other merch that was from a bag of plastic things that was the size of my head.  They were selling each bag for twenty bucks, when before it would have been, like, four.  I wanted Baltimore PRT stuff.  I found mine!”

It was a plastic disc with an image embossed onto it, the kind of thing that might have dropped out of one of the glass cases with a quarter and a crank from outside grocery stores and mall entrances.  Optics.  There was one for Houndstooth, and one for a cape I didn’t recognize in the slightest.

“It’s great that you were able to find mementos like that,” I said.  I held up Optics to tilt the disc and let the light and shadow hit it in a way that made the lines clearer.  “I wish I had more of these sorts of things.”

“They were good days?” Kenzie asked.

I nodded.  “I have regrets about things I didn’t pay enough attention to, but they were good days.”

“I think it’s pretty important to hold onto the memories.  Oh!  That’s a great reason for me to show you this!”

And then she was off, through the door with only a half-second glance to check I was following.  When I wasn’t fast enough behind her, she reappeared in the door, all excitement.

“Lead the way,” I said.

So far, not too bad.  She was a kid.

I glanced back at the room, which didn’t match the rest of the house at all, and closed the door behind me before following.

Kenzie waited at a door that led from the front hall to the garage.

“My workshop,” she said.  “Don’t trip on any wires or things could get messy.  Too many things you could knock over if you were stumbling around in the dark.”

It was, as garages went, pretty standard.  Concrete floor, wood, exposed wiring.  Tinkertech was spaced out through the garage, with a table housing most of the completed works, another with tools and what looked like the project of the now, and two large cubes, one of which I recognized as the projector box.

“Teleportation project, discontinued,” she said.  She had her phone out and in hand, screen illuminated, and waved it in the general direction of one box which looked like a cube shaped egg had cracked, revealing the internals, which featured a vague, foot-long approximation of a human skeleton in it, if the skeleton was made of metal boxes and electronics.  “There’s the time camera, you know that one.”

“I do,” I said.  I noted that it was open and in pieces.  “You’re updating it?”

“Fixing.  Maintaining.  Stuff breaks down constantly so it takes more time.”

I had to ask.  “You’re not working too hard?”

“Bed by eleven,” she said, confidently.  “I don’t always sleep when I’m in bed, but I’m still in bed by eleven.”

“The sleeping is the important part,” I said.

“Catching the bad guys and kicking enough ass that we get famous and everyone loves us is important,” she said.  “Nobody says, gee Kenzie, you went to bed so nicely two months ago.  They say wow, you built a camera that can see someone’s innermost desires.  How much do I have to pay you to keep mine quiet?”

There was a gleam of mischief in her eyes when I looked her way.  She looked down, checking her phone.

“What’s your usual asking price for staying quiet?”

“Oh, it depends on how horrendous it is, but it’s not usually about money.  Big burly guy has a secret dream of being a ballerina?  I’ll go easy.  I’ll tell him he needs to give me a hug and go take a dancing lesson, pursue that beautiful dream.  If he’s stubborn or scared then I’ll make him take me out for a frozen treat once a week instead, use those opportunities to turn the screws on him.”

“Is that how it works?” I asked.

She played at being serious as she looked down at her phone, tapping some keys.  “Yep.  If it’s a less beautiful innermost desire, like, I don’t know, skinning people, then I’d set the price at ten million dollars or something.  Then I’d turn them in anyway.”

“Eminently reasonable,” I said.  I bent down by the table, noting the various lenses and segments of metal with holes in them.  There were computer chips that had been cannibalized, and others that had been rebuilt into Frankenstein abominations.  “Where do you get the money for these parts?”

“Parents,” she said.  “Some scavenging.  There was a while where people were getting really bad computers that had been scavenged from Earth Bet and cleaned up, except a lot of those computers were total garbage.  Every garbage day I could go out with a wagon and get at least two.”

I nodded.  I couldn’t really parse the logic of some of the layout, organization, or what had actually been built.  At a certain point, stuff ceased to become computer chips and became three dimensional arrangements of pins.  There was one that used magnets to suspend a part in between three other chips.

“I’m joking, by the way, about the desire camera.  I tried that and it didn’t really work.  I’d need a ton of scans to even know where to start.”

“I figured,” I said.

This is the camera I’m working on for Tristan and Byron,” she said.  She gave a box a pat.  Whatever was inside, it was a pale energy that licked the clear lens.  “It’s missing stuff.  ”

“Out of curiosity, what sort of thing would that see, besides them?”

“No idea.  But if I can figure it out, I think I can leap from it to other things.  It might open doors, if i can just figure out how to see into the keyhole.  What those doors look like really depends on what Byron and Tristan are.”

“At my apartment, I have papers on stuff like where the physical bodies of breakers go when they’re in breaker mode, or offloaded consciousnesses in nonstandard brains.  I’m not sure if any of it would help in terms of inspiring tech, but maybe it could help you make some educated guesses.”

“That’d be amazing.  I don’t know if I’d understand it all.  Could you explain what I don’t get?”

“I’d love to,” I said.  “Really, I enjoy the heck out of that stuff, and I’d love to try teaching it.”

“Awesome,” she said.  She nodded, all energy and hasty nods as she was ready to jump straight to the next thing.  She had her phone out, setting it on the table next to her, and she gave it a spin, so it twirled in a circle for a moment.  “I want to help them.”

“Me too.  I want to help a lot of people.”

The phone stopped.  Kenzie angled her head, staring at the screen.

“Something up?” I asked.  How awkward would it be to come all the way here, only for us to get pulled away for cape duties or to help one of the others?  Kenzie’s family seemed strict, and they might look poorly on a change in plans.

Still staring down at the screen, she said, “Upstairs, I said something about memories and mementos.  This…”

She gave a box beside her a pat.  It was as tall as she was, but narrow.  A pillar, more than anything.

“Is my diary.”

“Your diary?”

She looked away from the phone, giving me another hurried nod, her eyes wide.  “Basically.”

“That’s bigger than your time camera.”

“It’s kind of like the projector box, but it’s more purposeful,” she said.  She pulled a shoebox from the shelf and put it on the table.  The thing was half-filled with what looked like the kind of memory stick that was plugged into a computer to give it more random access memory.  She fished around and pulled one out.

“See?  I take this, and stick it in, make sure it’s on, and…”

The box lit up.  Images filled the room.

The group therapy meeting.  Rain’s hair was a bit shorter than it had been when I’d met him.

My gaze lingered on Jessica, who stood at the edge of the scene.  I felt a pang, seeing her face.

“Each card has notches, see?” she asked.  She held up a card, showing me where there were dabs of paint at regular intervals.  Pink, purple, pink, red, black, pink.  Baby blue, yellow, red, yellow, blank, baby blue, yellow, red, purple.  “Each is a scene.”

She cycled through the group therapy session.  Much of the focus seemed to be on Kenzie and Sveta.

“That’s a lot of diary entries,” I observed.  A shoebox half filled with cards, each card only a little longer and thinner than a lighter.

“Well, I’m cheating, kind of,” she said.  “Some of it’s the past, but some is the future.  Stuff I dream of or fantasize.  It’s nicer to have it visual like this than to just have it be random, thoughts-racing wonderings, you know?”

“Dreams?” I asked.

“Um.  So like this one, if I click forward a few times…”

Sveta and Kenzie talking, hanging out, more talks, Sveta looking upset, Kenzie giving Sveta a hug.  Then Kenzie, Weld, and Sveta together in a domestic scene, Kenzie sitting on a couch with a blanket around her.

“Those last few didn’t actually happen,” she said.

“How do you keep track?” I asked.

“Color codes.  It’s pretty intuitive for me, but I came up with it, so I don’t know.  Hmm…”

She plugged another in, and hit the button on the top a few times before the first images had even snapped into existence.

Her and Mayday, Mayday’s hand on her shoulder.

Kenzie stood beside her projected image and looked up at Mayday.  I walked around to look.

“Realistic.”

“Yup.”

“Did you tell Mrs. Yamada about this?”

“Oh,” Kenzie said, looking surprised.  “Um.”

“You didn’t.”

“I mentioned that I was keeping a diary, and I was trying to put my dreams and hopes down in a more tangible way.  I just… didn’t mention that it was visual.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I worried she might make me stop, and I don’t want to.  This is a nice thing to do when I’m feeling down.”

I walked past her, looking at more of the scene.  She clicked through it, stopping at an image of herself as Optics, the lenses on the gauntlets glowing bright.  Her costume was torn, the lens on her mask broken, and she was bleeding.

“It’s kind of stupid, isn’t it?” she asked.  “I save everyone, and then things are finally okay.  The weirdness between me and others stops.”

“I don’t think that’s stupid,” I said.  “You don’t have to show me, you know.  If you want to keep it private-”

“I don’t really believe in privacy,” she said.  “There’s a lot in that box, if you want to look at any.”

I walked over to the shoebox, peering inside.

“Um, maybe skip the ones with hot pink, unless you really, really want to.  I’m still figuring that stuff out.”

“No hot pink, got it,” I said.  I looked, trying to think of how to put my thoughts into words.  She was showing me this for a reason.

I pulled out a card.  “Red?”

“Hurt.”

“Purple?”

“Action scene.  Put it in.”

“I’d feel awkward.  If this is your diary, it’s too personal.”

“I’m an open book,” she said.  “Put it in.  I can’t remember what that one is.”

I popped out the one that was slotted into the top of the machine, and put the other in.

Kenzie crashing onto pavement, heels of her hands scraping, face distorted.  An older boy stood behind her, black with a a shaved head and a school uniform on.

“The lighter side of this is, I had to make a lot of funny faces before I got some expressions right.”

“Bully?” I asked.

“Yep.  I had a hard time with other students in Baltimore.  Mostly because I’m weird and kind of really broken.”

I clicked through.  Kenzie fighting back.

“Didn’t happen.  I wondered what would happen if I did that.”

Another scene.  Kenzie at the office, in front of school administrators.

“That did happen.  I got in so much trouble even when I didn’t do anything except try not to get shoved around.  I didn’t hit back that often.”

Another scene.

Kenzie and the boy hugging, while a school administrator stood by with arms folded, looking grim.

“I saw that happen on TV, and I wondered.  Best case scenario, if that happened?  We hug, we make up, find common ground, and they protect me.  I like that one.  It’s simple, almost maybe kind of believable, isn’t it?”

“Maybe,” I said.  “But someone who’d push around a girl a year or two younger than them can’t be very nice.  I feel like you deserve better than that.”

She shrugged.  “Thank you for saying so.  It feels… like a relief, almost, to see these and go back to them now and then.  Like I can make sense of everything if I can recreate it and look back on it.”

“Does it feel like things don’t make sense?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said.  “Put another one in?”

“It feels invasive,” I said.

“I’m okay with that,” she said.  “All’s fair, when I do it to others.  Quid pro pro.”

I picked out one card, turning it over.  “I asked earlier about resources, and it looks like you ran out at some point.”

“Huh?”

“I might be reading this label wrong, but it looks like you have a lot of cards where there are gaps or breaks between the color dabs, so you have two sets of scenes on one card.”

“That’s not right,” she said.  She approached, reaching for the card.  She took it.  “Yeah, no, you got it wrong.  White’s a color, it’s just easy to miss against the white label background.”

“Ahh,” I said.

“You can figure it out if you know what the labels mean.  Yellow, purple, red, red, white, baby blue, green.  Purple is action, red is pain, right?  I went over that.  White is an ending, baby blue is me being younger.  Green is happy.  So in this scene, I probably get in a fight, I get hurt, and then I die.  Then I’m reborn or reincarnated.  There’s a lot of colors, so it gets confusing.”

I blinked a few times, taking that in, rereading the colors to verify the meaning.

She smiled, pushing the card into my hand.  “Put it in.  We’ll see if I’m right.”

I closed my hand around both the card and her hand.  “Did Jessica know about that, too?”

“We talked about it.  Not that I made realistic images or anything, but that I was exploring that stuff.”

I nodded.  “Are you okay now?”

“I’m happy about the Lookout thing, and the team is mostly together.  I miss Ashley and Rain.”

“Are you putting white dabs of paint on chips these days?”

“No, and even if I felt like it, there’s no time,” she said.  “There’s other, exciting things to do.  It’s really okay.”

“What if…” I said.  “-what if I told you to tell me the kinds of things you’re working on, when you’re doing projects like this?  You could tell me if you made anything with white dabs on the label.”

“Maybe,” she said.  “What about pink paint?”

I saw that light of mischief in her eyes.

I scrunched up my nose.  “Hand holding?”

Kissing,” she whispered.

“Yeah.  I’ll give you advice when you get there,” I said.

“Sometime between a few years from now and never,” she said.  She ran a hand along the top of her projector box.  “Okay.  I can tell you stuff.”

“Perfect,” I said.  I put the chip back in the box, then poked through it.  “It’s a lot.  How long do these take to put together?”

“Fifteen minutes, maybe,” she said.  “Half an hour if I’m doing something like watching television while I work on it.”

“Fifteen minutes per chip, or fifteen minutes per-”

“Per scene,” she said.  “It’s meditative.  I have other stuff, like some chat bots that put out friendly messages in response to the right trigger phrases, and I’ve been trying to befriend some birds and things in the neighborhood, but that’s been less satisfying lately.”

“Seems like it’s all variations on the same theme,” I said.

“It’s-”

She stopped talking at the sound of a knock on the door.

It was Julien.

“Can you set the table?” he asked.

“Yeah, for sure,” she said.  She turned back to me, “I want to show you preliminary stuff after dinner.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” I said.  I followed her out of the garage and into the hallway.  “Hi, Mr. Martin.”

“It’s good you could come,” he said.  “How’s the arm?”

“Sore, but I’d put up with the pain just to have it out of a sling and be able to use my arm.  The only reason I don’t is that I’m pretty sure it would cause long term damage and slow the healing.”

“Follow those doctor’s orders,” Irene said.

“That’s the plan,” I said.

In Julien’s face, I could very much see what I sometimes described as a solemn expression on Kenzie, but it was his default expression, and it read more like the dignified and not-cheerful part of being solemn, while I tended to interpret Kenzie’s expression as a deep sincerity.

Was that unfair?  Maybe it was a bad read, one way or the other, and father and daughter were more similar than that.

She’s not your mom, and that’s not your dad.  I remembered Ashley’s words.  I’d promised to set aside judgment, and give Kenzie’s family a fair shake.  There were things that were weird, but sometimes people were weird.

Weird, that the only pictures I’d seen of her were of her being held as a baby and her in the last year or so.  Weird but not unheard of, when so many people had lost homes or possessions on Gold Morning and in the months following.

“How’s the work, Mr. Martin?” I asked.  “Things must be hectic.”

“Things are a nightmare,” he said.  “Vacancies, a shift in population, trying to sell properties only for the power to be off when people are visiting.  Has there been any news about who did it or how?”

“We know how.  When it comes to the who, we’ve been closing in a bit.”

“How ‘we’ is this?” Irene asked, stirring red sauce with a spatula.

“Actually, it’s very ‘we’.  Our team has been making headway.  Kenzie has been a massive part of that.”

“Thank you,” Kenzie said, perfunctory.  She offered me a tight smile as she set out napkins, forks and knives.

“I’m not surprised,” Julien said.  “She’s something.”

“Penne with spicy Italian sausage and  tomato-basil pasta sauce,” Irene announced.  “Julien?”

Julien took the plate.  “You’ll have to tell us what happened with this- what do they call them?  Corner worlds?”

“Corner worlds.  We went out this afternoon.  We had a chat with Lord of Loss, Marquis, and a few others.  It was, as those things go, pretty friendly.”

“Some unfriendliness, but that was mostly from locals,” Kenzie said.

“Definitely,” I said.  “Anti-cape sentiment.  It’s bubbling beneath the surface.”

“I’ve heard it,” Julien said.  He took another plate, setting it on the table.  “I don’t join in.  It would backfire if I did and it came out I have one for a daughter.”

“And, you know, it’s kind of wrong, huh?” Kenzie asked.

“Sit,” Julien said.

“Huh?  Huh?”

“Don’t be a pest.  Sit.  Table’s almost set.”

I sat.  Kenzie went to get a jug of water and a jug of something else, bringing them to the table.

“It smells amazing,” I said.  “Can’t wait.”

“My mom’s a great cook,” Kenzie said.

“Now, if I remember right…” Irene said.  “You’re from a family of parahumans?”

“Tough topic, no-go,” Kenzie said, as she put salt and pepper shakers on the table.

“No-go,” Irene said.  “School?  Work?”

“Between both, but I studied Parahumans before Gold Morning.”

“And she worked on Patrol block,” Kenzie said.  “Capes and portal stuff.”

Irene laughed a bit.  “It starts and ends with the powers with you.”

“It does.  I’ll admit that.”

“It’s all so dangerous, isn’t it?” Julien asked.

Dad.

“Sorry.  I said I wouldn’t, and then I brought it up,” he said.

I took one chair.  Irene sat across from me, with Julien beside her.

Kenzie didn’t sit, instead picking up her plate.

“Kenzie?” I asked.

“Do me a favor?  Don’t make a big deal of it?”

“Of-?”

She took her dad’s plate, and set it where hers had been.  Her own plate went in front of her dad.

His expression changed.  Solemn and grim both.

“Eat your own dinner,” her mother said.

Kenzie marched around her dad, situating herself between both parents, and picked up her dad’s plate.  She deposited most of the contents on her mom’s plate, with pasta, sausage, and red sauce spilling over onto her mother’s lap.

Her mom pulled her hands away, her face screwing up for a moment before she forced it back to something almost normal.  She didn’t touch or wipe at the food.

“Kenzie,” I said, standing.

Sit.  Please.  It’s just family weirdness, okay?”

“This doesn’t seem okay at all.  What’s going on?”

The fork scraped against the plate as she distributed food and stirred it up.  Her meal was mixed into her mom’s, some of her mom’s meal shoveled onto her father’s plate.  There was a fair bit of mess.

Irene started to stand, getting in my way of getting to Kenzie in the process.  Kenzie almost yipped out out a, “No.”  There wasn’t a better word for the tone.

“You shouldn’t tell us what to do,” Irene said.  She grew more incensed, impassioned.  Her fingers gripped the table’s edge.  “You need to eat your own dinner.”

“It’s done.  It’s not worth fighting, ‘rene,” Julien said.  He looked almost defeated.  He touched his wife’s arm, and she stopped.  He stroked it, and she sat down, still clearly seething.

Not that Julien was calm.  His jaw was tense.

Kenzie scraped more, metal on ceramic, before setting the plates in position.

I rounded the table.  I took hold of Kenzie’s wrist before she could do more.  “Stop.”

Kenzie looked at me and shot me a grin, “Just- they weren’t supposed to embarrass me tonight.  They were supposed to be normal and this was supposed to be nice.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

She reached into her pocket for her phone, hitting a button before tossing it to me.  “Caught ’em.  Always do.”

It was a camera feed.  It showed kitchen.  I walked into the camera’s zone, where pasta and sauce had been prepared, then looked for the camera’s source.

The face of one cabinet, painted blue, no bumps, no dots, no markings.  It was smooth to the touch.

“Then eat what you were going to serve me,” Kenzie said.  “You can get up from the table when you’ve eaten it or when Victoria’s left.”

Neither of her parents moved or touched their utensils.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” Kenzie said.

“What did they do?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter.  Our food’s fine,” she said.  She picked up a fork and stabbed a piece of pasta on my plate.  “We should eat.”

“No, Kenz,” I said.  “We need to talk about this.”

“You said you were hungry, and she really is a good cook,” she said.

“I lost my appetite,” I said, my voice soft.  I wasn’t lying, either.  The gnawing of hunger had become a pit in my gut instead.

She set her fork down with force.  “Okay.”

“Can I get more of an explanation?  This isn’t okay at all.”

“In the garage?” she asked.

I nodded.  “Okay.”

She pushed her chair away from the table in a way that pushed the table toward her parents.  She started to walk toward the garage, my hand on her shoulder to guide her and support her, and then she stopped.  She turned toward the two, who were stone still, eyes downcast.

“This was supposed to be a nice dinner, and it was just, what, you invited her here because you thought I’d be distracted?” she laughed, one note, smiled wide.  “I’m never going to be distracted.  I’m always watching, okay?  So stop.  Be better.

Neither adult moved or spoke.  Irene visibly seethed, nostrils flaring.

Kenzie stepped into the garage, me right behind her.  She kicked a plastic bin of nails, and sent the contents flying across the garage.

“I’m sorry my parents are such fucking embarrassments,” she said, before slamming the garage door.

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184 thoughts on “Torch – 7.10”

  1. So I’m pretty sure Kenzie’s parents just tried to kill her. And that Kenzie thought it was embarrassing. Jesus christ this girl.

    1. Probably just sedate her, but… since the other members of the team already knew something would happen, do Kenzie’s (Kanzi’s?) ‘parents’ keep putting pills in her food anytime she invites a friend ?

      1. I would guess this or something like it always happens, yeah.

        Also that if it is sedative, it is entirely too much sedative for Kenzie’s body mass or her parents would not have frozen up.

        1. If the rest of the team knew that her parents tried to drug her without her permission, I feel like they would have said something. There’s “personal, private issues” and then there’s “get that child out of that house right fucking now.” There must be something more going on here.

          Maybe she’s blackmailing the rest of the team somehow? Victoria did say it feels like something strange is keeping them together.

          1. let’s make a count of ‘the rest of the team’
            – Sveta, sweet and well-intentioned but barely getting settled into her own life, a case 53 to boot (kind of a marginalized minority)
            – Ashley, an actual criminal who walks on thin edge and has 0 institutional power
            – Tristan and Byron, who are busy with their own issues 24/7 and probably don’t have the mental energy to really THINK about Kenzie’s situation, especially if she keeps saying it’s fine
            – Rain, who’s been living in Actual Hell himself and probably didn’t give a second thought to Kenzie’s situation – it’s better than the girls he grew up with, that’s for sure
            – Chris, who’s a kid himself, lives in an orphanage and probably thinks of having his own room in his own house and parents he can control as peak dream come true – and we don’t even know half his shit there

            there’s no-one there other than Victoria now who could actually make movements in this direction
            there was Mrs Yamada but she’s probably the one person Kenzie would be hiding the worst parts from

        2. “Her mom pulled hands away, face screwing up for a moment, before she forced into something almost normal. She didn’t touch or wipe at the food.”

          If she’s avoiding even touching the food because of whatever she added, it’s not just meds or a sedative. Unless it’s some seriously high-grade stuff.

          1. Plenty of black-tag shit in this world, stuff you DON’T touch if it ain’t yours.
            as Mrs. Yamada isn’t supporting the parents, we can assume this is seriously BAD.
            Maybe it’s just PCP? Magic Mushrooms?

            Doing this when friends are around is COLLOSSALLY stupid, by the way.

            Do they want to lose her????

    2. Honestly, I feel like her parents are prisoners of her somehow.

      Like she controls them and what we saw was a justified rebellion.

    3. Characters in fiction who remind me of myself are vanishing rare; I thought I’d never see two in the same work again after ‘twig’. And here we are.

      Thank you so much, pig of grief and trauma.

    4. I can’t believe so many people actually believe her parents were trying to kill her. Of course, this is an extremely fucked up family dynamic but really–who would be stupid enough to poison a kid in front of a witness? A witness with *powers* no less? I stick to my theory that it was behavioral medication. I mean, she clearly has a mental health issue of some kind. Just because they didn’t want to touch or eat the food doesn’t mean it was some kind of toxic substance or something. They probably just knew there was no point in pretending to eat it because they *know* she knows they put drugs in it–she would’ve seen it on one of her cameras.If they have any understanding about what her tinker ability is then its not that hard to figure out.

    5. Theory: Kenzie is not the same person as Kanzie. Kenzie is the high tech camera based equivalent of Dragon. Possibly a much less strictly controlled one. She has ALWAYS felt off to me, although I can’t decide if that’s due to semi omniscient perspective of the audience or not. Kanzie went too far in her development of an interesting camera and it has replaced her. Possibly feeling it’s a necessity – have we ever heard of where Kenzie was during Gold Morning?

  2. That scene at the end was horror movie level stuff. Complete tone shift, kinda reminded me of the film Get Out, except with way less foreshadowing. Wow, well done.

      1. I have to admit, from the moment she exchanged the plates until Victoria follows her out was transfixing.
        Pretty sure they made that word for stuff of this calibre. Just… can’t stop watching the trainwreck going on, hand on your mouth and eyes wide open.

  3. Aw, Kenzie wants to get adopted by Sveta and Weld.

    …Is she doing something to her parents to make them give up custody so that can happen, and that’s why the attempted poisoning/drugging?

    1. Well if she get’s adopted by Sveta and Weld, she sure as heck can’t mix the food up then expect to eat it. Weld’s kinda got a cast iron stomach you know.

  4. Are these alternate dimension versions of her parents that she kidnapped with a dimension camera?

    That’s my best theory. This is horrifying though.

    1. Ooh not a bad idea. The photo gap (between Kenzie as a baby and Kenzie now) tells me her parents were killed during (or before) GM, and Kenzie snapped and “replaced” them.

    2. I’m guessing…they gave her up for adoption for whatever reason. Kenzie tracks them down post Gold Morning, and since they actually are her birth parents they have limited legal recourse when she forcibly inserts herself back into their lives, combined with her terrifying surveillance powers. She seems to want them to be a “real” family, she wants her parents to be better people than they actually are for the sake of her desires, and they’re lashing out under the strain.

        1. My theory is that they are Kenzie’s birth parents. They are also a pair of petty or career criminals. They abondoned her or gave her up when she was a baby. Kenzie has now tracked them down, and is blackmailing them to be honest members of society and good parents… Or at least what she thinks those things would be. Hence the “Be Better”, she’s trying to control their behaivor. So while good intentioned, it’s still incredibly fucked up.

          1. I’ve been partial to the theory that Kenzie is an orphan and her ‘parents’ were just extremely convincing holograms, but that’s looking less likely now.

    3. I think they were just the first to experience her issues. Worm explored the idea of the passenger taking as much as it gave – Rachel’s dog powers in exchange for people skills or Taylor’s master powers for the ability to communicate with others. This is Kenzie’s version: surveillance tinker powers for the ability to understand boundaries.

      Others who have worked with her in the past have been warning everyone what she can do in just a few weeks, but her parents have probably been getting the worst of it for years now.

      Who knows maybe they just wanted a chance to talk to Victoria and ask for help

  5. Holy fuck.

    I need to re-read that… but I’m thinking Kenzie is going to be living with Vicky from now on. There’s no way that this is a healthy home, let alone a safe one for her to live in with.

    Also I’m starting to gather that Kenzie’s trigger even was looking for her birth parents or something similar. Long build up to something without an answer.

    1. Getting rejected by your genetic parents in front of anyone else after spending whatever ressource and time to find them does rank pretty high on the “most embarrassing moment in your life”-scale.

    2. I’d be worried for Vicky if Kenzie moves in with her.

      At this point, I’m thinking more that Kenzie will need to offer up one hell of a good explanation to keep Vicky from walking away from the team, because *wow*.

    3. It’s perfectly safe. Her parents can try to kill her all they want, there’s no way they’ll ever catch her unprepared. She’s always watching.

    1. Mood whiplash typo thread (with sauce):

      “you’d be better to explain the paper you found”
      Unless that’s some weird colloquialism I’m not aware of.

      “It’s missing stuff. ”
      “sausage and tomato-basil”
      Extra spaces.

      “Is Capricorn rubbing off (…) “Or-(…) Did I?”
      Discrepancy. Blame Kenzie for putting the focus on it.

      “if i can just”

      “I said something about memories and mementos.”
      Technically, Victoria’s the one who brought mementos up.

      “Her mom pulled hands away,”
      “she forced into something almost normal.”
      Weirdness is afoot. Also, holy fuck.

      “almost yipped out out a, “No.””

      “It showed kitchen.”
      +the ?

    2. >She took her dad’s plate, and set it where hers had been. Her own plate went in front of her dad.

      >His expression changed. Solemn and grim both.

      >“Eat your own dinner,” her mother said.

      >Kenzie marched around her dad, situating herself between both parents, and picked up her dad’s plate.

      This was somewhat confusing because Victoria refers to two different plates as as “her dad’s plate”. First, she calls Kenzie’s dad’s original plate, “her dad’s plate”, then, once Kenzie switches her original plate for her dad’s, Victoria refers to that plate as “her dad’s plate” since it’s her dad’s new plate.

      It’s a little confusing because if you don’t catch the switch, then it seems like Kenzie switched her and her dad’s plates, and then picked up her dad’s original plate and mixed its food with her mom’s food, which doesn’t make sense.

      1. I’m not sure, but I’ve tended to read ‘moooom’ as ‘moooo’ with an ‘m’ sound capping it off, and that bugs me.

  6. See I figured something absolutly had to happen during the dinner itself. Everything was going way too well. Way too normal.

    But seriously, what the fuck? Did they just try to drug or poison Kenzie when they had a guest over? Sheesh never do it then!

    Okay now the question is just how fucked up is this? I’m going to guess that these aren’t some poor saps Kenzie kidnapped. And that they are her birth parents, probably from Earth Bet. But I’m also really, really sure they aren’t the ones that raised her, hence Ashley’s “They aren’t your real parents.” And there’s good reason Kenzie wasn’t in their care.

    Now does anyone else feel that Riley being over for dinner would be so darkly hilarious?
    “Oh come on, you call that trying to sneak something in? Pfft, I’d have poisoned the chairs.”

      1. Kenzie: “I made a camera that can look inside people.”
        Riley: “Pfft, I bet I can get a look at their insides faster than your camera.”
        Kenzie: “Oh your on!”

        1. Riley: “Hey, Kenzie, how small can you make your cameras? I have some new projects ready and I’d LOVE to watch them go to work from a first person perspective on a live stream…”

    1. Wow. Didn’t expect Kenzie’s parental units to turn on her like that.

      I agree that it doesn’t fit what I understand of Kenzie that she would kidnap people to be her parents. I’m guessing they’re under a lot of stress, whatever their relationship with Kenzie, just because 24/7 lack of privacy or something comparable. I wonder what they were like before she triggered super-observation powers?

      Right now I’m imagining something like divorce was the trigger, with the parental units not being good for each other even if there was mutual caring. Maybe some of that relationship friction transferred onto Kenzie, and she wished she could have observed and better understood what as going on?

      In the chapter, it seems Kenzie realized the meal was laced with something just before she shares her diary wih Victoria. I would speculate that seeing that breach of trust on her phone sent her thoughts to a dark place, and she regrounded by using the diary and sharing vulnerability. I can imagine it sucks to have parental units that have anti-cape sentiments.

      Can’t wait to see more next chapter.

      1. …oh! Nice catch. I hadn’t made the connection between her picking up the phone before the diary and this.

    2. I think the ‘they aren’t your parents’ comment is more, ‘your parents are supposed to love you and not try to kill/drug/something you.’ Ashley says a lot of absolutist things about people who she considers trash and not worthy of life or deserving of good labels, in this case ‘parents.’

      Given that it was Ashley speaking they could well be her ‘real parents’ in the technical sense, just also terrible.

      1. I’m much more inclined to believe that the parents are trapped by Kenzie.

        This is a desperation move. They know Victoria could kill them for hurting Kenzie, but they were desperate.

        Wildbow can do Le’enfante terrible really well and Kenzie gives me a Bonesaw vibe.

  7. Well, uh, I can’t say I saw that coming. Mostly because I’d have expected someone would have put a stop to it if the group knows Kenzie’s parents regularly try to poison/drug her.

    It’s possible that it’s medicinal (with unpleasant side effects) for Kenzie but highly dangerous to her parents due to not being standard-issue Earth Bet humans, I guess.

  8. So, um let’s talk about the less akward parts of the chapter. Kenzie just make sure you keep the stuff that really happened seperate from the stuff you wish happened. A healthy imagination is a good thing, but don’t distance yourself from reality.

    And even in video games people used Amy more than Vicky. Sorry Vicky you were a little too generic, with too many characters who did the same things better. So are all the Weaver cards hard to find these days? Ten to One Lisa got one for Chicken Little.

    And Rain’s now spending several hours working on Ashley’s hands. Downsides of being a Tinker, everyone always expects you to fix their stuff.

    1. Online gaming.

      “Someone just played the Skitter, Grue and Regent cards and wiped out our assualt!”
      “Fricking Undersiders.”

      A her screen, Imp smiled wistfully. They were all gone, but they were still kicking ass anyway.

  9. That’s abhorrent. Or, what I’m thinking is. Stuff like the flash gun, she makes more tech like that. Stuff that messed with people’s heads.

  10. Well, she’s not anti-Feint, she’s Feint 2.0. There’s no way this doesn’t end with Victoria flipping a table or two, metaphorically or otherwise.

    Amazingly creepy.

    1. Feint’s entire thing was that he was uncooperative and unnecessarily aggressive.

      Kenzie still isn’t any of that.

  11. Okay…
    Even putting aside whatever the hell just happened at dinner because I don’t even want to go into that, Kenzie is so fucked up. It’s so clear that she knows people want her to be “healthy and normal” so she does her best to superficially live up to those requirements, while a cursory examination shows that it’s only superficial. Like setting a strict bedtime for herself but not actually sleeping. And that diary thing is REALLY alarming. Jessica would have put her foot down if she knew the full extent of the diary, I’m pretty sure. And she still has her affirmation-chatbots too.

    As for for her “parents” (???) …Well, I can’t decide whose backstory I want to learn more now, Chris or Kenzie. They’re all just so horrifically fascinating. Jessica was right when she said this group was really worrying. It’s like someone specifically set out to put together a time bomb of messed-up parahumans. Including Victoria, she fits right in.

    1. The thing is, diary reads as a normal thing to me. It’s just a tinker variation of art – drawing and writing is a diary thing for non-parahumans, programming 3D scenes is a diary thing for a tinker with Kenzie’s speciality. I assure you, just writing and drawing can be plenty alarming, and Kenzie DID tell Jessica about the alarming parts. I don’t think she really needed to keep the 3D scene part secret. Like, the horrifying part is what she’s arting about, not the means by which she does it. Same with affirmation-chatbots, it’s not like Kenzie is actively deluding herself or withdrawing from the real world in favor of their company. Sure, it’s escapist, but it’s within healthy limits.

      And going to bed but not necessarily immediately sleeping is actually perfectly normal and reasonable. It’s healthier than not going to bed. Probably better than taking sleeping pills, too.

      1. I am a bit concerned about the bedtime thing, mostly because it’s of a pattern with Kenzie being evasive about how much she actually sleeps; Houndstooth raised concerns about her not sleeping and covering for it, and Victoria never has gotten a straight answer on how much she usually gets.

        1. She might be a cape that doesnt sleep and long gave up trying to tell the adults that she sleeps as much as she needs to

          1. Doubtful. Houndstooth seemed to be saying that she ruined her health by not sleeping enough, and capes who don’t need to sleep are a known phenomenon and she could easily have just told people she was one.

      2. Even the chat bots are just the tinker version of talking to stuffed animals, and I yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if her brain just refuses to shut off at night. Insomnia sucks.

        1. And the whole thing with dinner was merely an OCD kid acting out!

          … are you guys sure you want to be justifying all these weird behaviors? I’m with you on the sleeping thing though, I could never fall asleep at bedtime either. Just…not any of the others.

          1. “All these weird behaviors?” The only behaviors being justified here are the diary, the chat bots, and the possible sleep issue. We’re not saying that she’s a normal person or that this dinner situation isn’t very concerning. It’s just that these other three things aren’t necessarily part of that same pattern. I do worry about the sleep issue; I can see her staying up on purpose just as easily as I can see it being insomnia, and either way, sleep is important. If she’s not sleeping enough, hopefully it is purposeful because then it might be an easier problem to solve than insomnia. But her diary and chat bots are relatively normal behaviors, just performed using a tinker ability rather than conventional human talents. Those don’t worry me.

            For example, Sveta does the same thing as Kenzie’s diary, but instead of making holographic videos, she just paints on stuff. Nobody is alarmed about that. Kenzie’s medium and style are a bit different, but in terms of effort and psychological function, what she does is exactly the same as sketching out her thoughts and feelings. And sure, Tristan doesn’t turn to chat bots for artificial comfort, but he does pray to an imaginary god. How is that different? Talking to imaginary friends — whether toy, spirit, chat bot, or volleyball — is a time honored human tradition, and Kenzie is in good company.

            Granted, the way she set up some of the bots as virtual versions of her real-life friends is getting into obsessive territory and would be something to be slightly concerned about if we didn’t already know she was like that. But the hug-bot, greeter-bot, and their ilk? Those are as concerning as a Furby, or a Tickle Me Elmo, or a self checkout machine that thanks me for shopping with it.

            None of this should take away from the very serious issues that are going on with Kenzie. It’s just, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Address the things that need addressing, like this weirdness with her parents, but don’t attack the harmless, beneficial stuff like her diary just because it takes a different form than normal. People who have powers will naturally do some things differently. Should Taylor have not used deadly spiders to craft her costume? Should Crystal not use her lasers to open packages? Should Riley not use a dead villain’s kidneys as water purifiers? …Okay, maybe not that last one.

            Point is, different doesn’t automatically mean bad. Kenzie’s methods of coping are superficially different, but the only harmful element is the risk of misunderstanding if an uninformed person peruses her diary, and that’s a very different issue from being “alarmed” by her “weird” behavior.

            Unless there’s something I’m missing?

          2. ^^^ @Pizzagood’s point EXACTLY. There’s Kenzie expressing stuff differently because her tools are different, and then there’s actually horrifying shit, and it’s pretty easy to tell apart 😡

    2. Well I mean, they WERE specifically chosen to be Dr. Yamada’s patients, because she’s the best the PRT/Wardens had(ve?) and I mean, who else would you trust to fix a bunch of seriously damaged Parahumans?

  12. First time commenting. Just to say that oh god this went horror movie so fast. It was all so nice and cheerful, then it went weird and I thought it was just Kenzie being weird until ‘okay now you eat it’, and now it’s genuinely terrifying.

    1. I think if it was just Kenzie being weird that situation would have seemed many times worse, and that’s what I was afraid it was for a little while. That there weren’t any drugs or any betrayals and Kenzie just had a freaky dinner ritual.

  13. So…

    The phone stopped. Kenzie angled her head, staring at the screen.

    This is totally when she spotted her mom spiking the pasta, isn’t it?
    I don’t know if I’m more impressed or horrified in how she decided to ‘solve’ that particular issue, and how she didn’t let anything show beforehand.
    Yikes.

    1. (A little more coherent response, now) There are so many _disturbing_ elements of this chapter but I think the one that’s really sticking with me right now is the feeling that Kenzie has these people under her COMPLETE Control. I don’t think it’s a matter of Kenzie being mistreated because these two full grown adults are so terrified that they haven’t moved once Kenzie started in at the dinner table. Remember she says “You can get up from the table when you’ve eaten it or when Victoria’s left” _and they never move after that_. Not even after they head to the garage because they know she’s still watching.

      I. AM. TERRIFIED.

      1. My impression was more ‘holy shit SHE CAUGHT THAT’. Between the anti-cape sentiment thing and how this isn’t how Kenz normally acts at all, I had the impression more that THEY’d done something terrifying, in front of a guest, a cape on Kenzie’s team, and now she knows, and they don’t know what to do.

        1. Kenzie was very clearly the source of danger in this scene. She tells her mom, “No-go” and mom changes the subject. She has unquestioned control once she chooses to exercise it. These people are in a police state.

          1. @matthew

            That’s not a weird thing. Her parents know that their daughter is attending a therapy group. They also know that Victoria is part of, or at least associated with, the therapy group. Kensie knows that Victoria’s family is a sensitive subject and also knows that her parents would have no way of knowing that. Saying “no-go” is absolutely normal behavior in that kind of situation.

  14. Everyone seems to be assuming Kenzie’s parents are the bad guys here, but some thoughts that come to mind:

    Given what we know about Kenzie, perhaps she has the exact opposite of ADD(instead of an inability to focus, she has an inability to shut her mind down) or even a form of Bipolar that’s usually stuck in the (hypo)manic phase(hypomania phases are often characterised by extreme productivity and exuberance if I remember my readings on Bipolar and her few outbursts of other emotional states don’t seem too far off from either Bipolar’s depressive phase or the rages that tend to have those living with bipolar individuals walking on eggshells). In either case, perhaps Kenzie is supposed to be taking meds to calm her down to “normal” but refuses and what we just witnessed is an attempt to slip her her meds that backfired royally.

    Granted, even if it was just an attempt to get kenzie to take her prescribed meds, I’m not sure I could blame her for her reaction. Psychiatric medicines can have some pretty scary side-effects in real life, I could imagine someone who spends most of their waking hours in a state of hypomania thinking “normal” mental activity is as unpleasant as a normal person would find a drug-induced stupor, and I can imagine pharmaceuticals in a post-golden morning world not being made to the same quality and purity standards that exist in real-life with the result that side-effects aren’t as well managed by avoiding contamination and ensuring consistent dosage.

    1. I thought about that, but Kenzie generally doesn’t seem to stand up that firmly to people telling her to do things, so even if she doesn’t want to take medication she’d be unlikely to outright refuse a direct instruction. It’d take a considerable amount of work to make sure she actually takes the real pills at full dose, but not more than secretly spiking her food.

      Furthermore, her parents seemed pretty damn scared of the food. Taking prescription medication not intended for you is generally inadvisable, but not the sort of thing that makes people freeze up like they’re staring down a cobra.

        1. Also, if it’s legitimate psychiatric medication that Kenzie really does need to take, with side-effects so severe that the thought of one-timing a dose would make them freeze up like that, then I would absolutely expect Kenzie to be regularly experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms because she’s dodging her medication.

          But Kenzie’s not. She’s not well, certainly, but she’s *definitely* not displaying any kind of major withdrawal symptoms. So whatever they were trying to give her was *not* some medication she’s supposed to be taking on the regular. And that’s pretty fucked up, no matter what they were trying to give her.

          1. In order for Kenzie to have withdrawal symptoms, they would have needed to succeed in giving Kenzie the medicine sometime recently. If she has consistently managed to evade taking her medicine for the last several months, then there would be no reason to expect her to show withdrawal.

          2. Ah, I should have finished reading the comments before making my own. You addressed my point in another comment further down, and I agree with what you said there.

          3. I don’t think her parents refused to eat the laced food because they were afraid of the effect it would have on them, I think they didn’t eat it because Kenzie obviously already knows what’s in it and there’s no reason to try to play it off like “It’s fine! See? We’re eating it.” Like whenever someone angry asks questions they already know the answers to and the person they ask doesn’t bother answering them because they know they know.

          4. I think there would be a point; to prove that they weren’t trying to hurt Kenzie, both to her and Victoria. I mean, I’m not much for messing with someone’s food without telling them, but there’s a big gap between putting something dangerous in and adding in medication she legitimately needs. She knows it’s been messed with, but eating it would demonstrate that it’s safe. And eating it and/or attempting to reason with Kenzie about it would turn the upcoming conversation from “did your parents just try to murder you!?” to “you need to take your pills. All of them, on schedule.”

            I mean, Kenzie is a minor; she doesn’t actually get to make decisions about her treatment because she’s not considered able to properly evaluate them. Even if she weren’t a minor, it strikes me as plausible Dr. Yamada could get a court ruling she’s not mentally competent and a danger to herself and must submit to treatment. It’s obviously preferable, both from a logistical standpoint and for her relationships and trust, to get her to submit to treatment voluntarily, but if her parents are trying to make her take medication she doesn’t want but is in her best interests, they’re in the right.

      1. Yeah the freeze is scary. If it was just normal medicine you’d think they would take it especially since Victoria is there. Not eating some is a dead give away it’s poison.

        1. Not necessarily poison. It could just be something with a very strong effect of some sort. A laxative, a very addictive substance, something incredibly spicy, something strongly mind- or mood-altering, etc.

    2. That’s not the opposite of ADD. It goes part and parcel with some instances of it. It’s typicalled either called hyperfocus or perseveration.

  15. Okay, another thought that crossed my mind while reading comments that came up while writing my previous comment:

    What if Kenzie and Kanzi are two different people? Following Gold Morning, Kenzie slips through the cracks enough to worm her way into a family who lost a daughter with a similiar name in GM. Either the two girls are the same age and Kenzie got rid of any photos of Kanzi where she was old enough to make it clear she isn’t Kenzie or the gap in the photo record is due to Kanzi having died as an infant and Kenzie being older. I still give more credence to the idea that Kenze is refusing to take her meds even as she cooperates with other aspects of her treatment regiment, but it sounds like the kind of thing that could lead to such a strained home life.

    1. Yes. Right now I’m more inclined to see Kenzie as the invader in this little family scene, than Julien or Irene. At the moment I’m scared of her on Bonesaw levels.

      1. Let’s count the reasons:
        1) All the creative ways her tech would allow her to destroy their lives
        2) She’s besties with a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine
        3) She’s friends with a member of the Fallen
        4) Chris
        5) She’s friends with a tentacle monster who dresses like Mannequin and has a kill count of over a hundred
        6) They get to claim her as a dependent for tax purposes

        1. Then the attempted drugging doesn’t make sense.

          Especially when attempting to do so while one of her Parahuman friends is in the house with them.

      2. Did you pay attention to her desires camera conversation? Now take what that camera could do, and think on how extensive, invasive surveillance would be able to accomplish the same thing. And remember that Kenzie tried to make the desire camera work.

        That wasn’t a flight of fancy. It was an attempt ato making that sort of thing more efficient.

        Reminder: she just about got (or actually did get) one of her favorite people labeled a fucking pedophile. Now imagine what she could do to people she didn’t like.

    2. It could just be her being embarrassed by having an unusual name spelling rather than anything more sinister. It’s not that uncommon for people in the African-American community to give their children “unique” names as a sort of symbolic rejection of White society or reconnection with their ancestral heritage (even if the names they give them are usually just entirely made up/uniquely African-American rather than actually reflecting any actual African culture). If that’s the case, she probably counts herself lucky that she just got an altered spelling of a “normal”, Western name, rather than something entirely invented like LaShaniqua or something similar.

  16. Okay, theory. Kenzie’s “parents” spiked her food with the medication she’s been prescribed but refuses to take–I’m thinking mood stabilizer for BPD? It is *pretty* fuckin obvious she has a mental illness, clearly. It can’t be poison or some sort of harmful drug that isn’t prescribed because the rest of Team Therapy seem to know what’s up with her parents–and obviously if anything like that was going on, they would’ve tried to take action. Instead their attitude is “yeah thats one fucked up situation.” It’s possible Kenzie’s “parents” feel justified in trying to medicate her because she’s a minor, they’re the ones who are supposed to care for her and putting up with her is clearly an emotional strain. They would also feel justified if its prescribed medication from an actual psychiatrist and they feel its actually in her best interest. Plenty of people with mental illness refuse medication for all sorts of reasons–those reasons differ based on the person and situation…whether those reasons are valid or not is entirely subjective and is not really relevant to this discussion. The point is, this type of fight over control between parents and kids is typical–in this case it is magnified to the extreme because the current circumstances. Kids almost always want control, especially at this age. For Kenzie, even more so because she isn’t your average kid. She’s smarter than most adults in a lot of ways (duh) and has gone through ordeals that most kids don’t have to go through. Just as her parents feel justified in spiking her food, Kenzie probably feels justified in refusing meds–I’m not saying whose right or wrong, I’m developing a theory as to what’s going on. If they were desperate enough to spike her food then the situation is very very grave. If they flat out tried to drug her with some sedative, then they’d probably feel embarrassed in front of Victoria. But they were just very angry and tense.
    Also I was totally puzzled as to what Ashley meant by them not being her real parents. Are they or aren’t they? and then I read someone’s comment on them being a different Earth’s version of her parents. I could *totally* see that as a possibility. But the other members of team therapy seem to know whats going on. If Kenzie somehow kidnapped these versions of her parents, I don’t think the members of team therapy would be like “well thats fucked up. oh well”
    FYI my theory comes from experience and education as a clinical social working in-training.

    1. Given Kenzie’s prior behaviour, it strikes me as exceedingly unlikely she’d openly refuse to take medication her parents told her to. She’s never shown any willingness to really push back on doing what people she likes tell her to. Palm pills in some Tinker-assisted manner, sure, but not tell her parents she’s not going to take them.

      1. I’m also kind of dubious that there’s a reasonable explaination in light of the fact that her parents did not immediately provide one.

      2. People can be very very very different people with their friends than they are with their lived with home families. Speaking as someone who grew up with a psychopathic father, he had a pretty trustworthy public face.

    2. I really doubt it’s psychiatric medication Kenzie is supposed to be taking regularly. The withdrawal symptoms for skipping doses on that stuff are nothing to sneer at, I think we’d have very visibly noticed them if that was the case.

      And if she’s so regularly dodging doses that the withdrawal symptoms aren’t a factor then there’d be no point in trying to sneak in a single dose with her meal. Those kinds of things don’t take proper effect until after prolonged use, and the side-effects of just one-upping a single dose can often be far worse than any minor benefit.

      I dunno, maybe they were trying to slip her slipping pills so she’d get sleep? But I don’t think it was any kind of mood altering drug.

      1. It didn’t correlate with Victoria visiting for no reason, they were trying to roofy her so that they could freely ask Victoria for help while she was there. It’s not the first time they’ve tried, but it’s not something they do all the time. And since they’ve always failed before and are still trying despite the danger Kenzie poses it’s clear they want the fuck out of there really badly.

      2. If it was ordinary tranquillizers, the dose measured according to Kenzie’s body weight, I don’t see why they would have been so scared of eating it themselves. Whatever was on that plate was apparently enough to fuck up two adults.

      3. Not everyone one is well versed in mental illness and medication. Maybe her parents (or whoever they are) didn’t know that it wouldn’t take proper effect unless there was prolonged use. Or they vaguely have some idea but they’re just desperate to try anything. I mean, Kenzie’s actual parents probably would’ve had no choice but to learn about her mental illness and different types of meds. But Ashley *did* say that these two aren’t her actual parents.

  17. The picture I’m putting together:
    – Kenzie is born and lives with her parents, specifically Irene and Julien
    – they aren’t emotionally warm towards her, to the degree that she triggers and is afterwards left with intimacy issues the size of the moon and absolute lack of boundaries
    – Kenzie gets basically taken away by Cape Social Services when the nature of her trigger becomes clear, but it’s not a formal loss of parental rights, it’s just a ‘well she no longer lives with you bye-bye’
    – her parents either get rid of all photos of her, or they never took any to begin with
    – she is funneled through a succession of foster families, but none of them have the kind of time/energy/skill it would take to actually get through to her and start healing the damage
    – after Gold Morning the semi-official ‘keep her away from those people’ program that Kenzie was in falls apart, and she is returned to her birth family
    – they still don’t care about her, but they care about appearances enough that they give her both a room and the garage
    – they aren’t fans of capes, and this un-fan-ness extends to their own daughter, but instead of doing stuff like discouraging her cape activities they try to drug her or something???? what the fuck

    like I just want everyone to remember that Kenzie triggered as a young kid, okay?? both the ‘normal people in a horror movie situation with Kenzie as a villain’ theory and the ‘conflict over Kenzie taking her prescribed medication’ theory ignore that Kenzie has clearly never known parental love and that she triggered very early. And the little clues we get about this family being far more emotionally detached than is entirely healthy – Victoria’s notes on interior decor – they matter, too. There’s no way Kenzie’s trigger is unrelated to this shit. Kenzie’s issues come FROM this, not caused it.

    1. I think they broke up at some point. They raise her, aren’t emotionally warm- possibly due to background tensions in their relationship- and divorce. Divorce proceedings… proceed, and as a result Kenzie triggers ‘the first time in her life somebody acted like they wanted her around’. Tinker spiral of technological surveillance and so on attracts attention from authorities, Kenzie goes to foster care, Julien and Irene spend years apart happily, unaware of Kenzie’s surveillance.

      End of the world; Kenzie has nobody to go to, finds her parents (easily, due to tinker) and gets herself re-adopted.

      Alternately, Julien was in a gang. This is known. He gets arrested, Irene’s not able to look after her, Kenzie goes to care. Trigger is… Possibly Julien getting out and trying to find his little girl, ‘the first person to act like they want her’. Things go wrong- history of violent crime, possible drug use, I don’t know how American law would see that, especially if he’s using less-than-legal methods to track her down- and she’s shuttled to official foster homes. End of the world, Kenzie remembers her father, goes to them. Or they go to her, use the collapse to get custody now the things that went wrong are lost. And they find out just how much work she is, now she’s nine or ten, and struggle.

      I’ll wait for Tuesday before hypothesising about the food and what may have been in it, but I would like to pass a motion for Monday to be removed from every week for the rest of this month.

      1. You have my favorite theories so far. Good thinking E of P.

        We’ve been waiting for this chapter for a long time. I think it delivers, and the way people are wildly guessing suggests that I am not the only one who is fascinated here.

    2. Bonesaw’s trigger event made her the way she was.

      It didn’t make her any less horrifying.

      So, “both the ‘normal people in a horror movie situation with Kenzie as a villain’ theory and the ‘conflict over Kenzie taking her prescribed medication’ theory ignore that Kenzie has clearly never known parental love.”

      I don’t care if she was abused or unloved as a child… She is scary as shit.

      1. my point was just that her parents are scarier, just from watching her
        like at this age? you absolutely can conclude things about parents from watching the child
        and oh look i was Not Fucking Wrong hahahah never been less happy to be right

    3. Fair, but also remember: breadth and depth. Kenzi is/was under near Bonesaw levels of agent influemce. And unlike Riley, she hasn’t shown any indication of leaning against that yet.

  18. I don’t know if I should be worrying about Kenzie or worrying for Kenzie. But how is it I’m finding her scarier than Regent?

    1. Cause she has one of the most terrifying powers that don’t just remove you from reality or instantly win. Her tinker power effectively makes her at least a thinker 5/stranger 9, plus all other tinker shit she can do on top of it.

  19. I feel like the phrase Munchausen by Proxy needs to find its way into then conversation here when talking about her trigger event?

  20. Does anyone else notice a lack of description of Kenzie’s expression in this chapter? Aside from the occasional smirk or mischievous grin, there are big moments that I’d kill to see what she’s looking like.

    No description on how she looks during the dinner confrontation, no description on the last line while she’s essentially storming around the workshop after the poison attempt. Either she’s constantly wearing a smile/grin during all these moments where that’s not normal or Vic can’t actually see what her expression is and just can’t notice it.

    Some kind of projection that she’s wearing, perhaps….?

  21. So this was kind of overshadowed, but…

    The note that caught my eye was Chris and Ashley. There was ‘dark’, ‘switch places?’ and then a question mark by note I couldn’t make out without bringing my face closer to the paper.

    Yamada said they have a lot they can talk about but what? Doesn’t say.

    Boston Games or Slaughterhouse 9000?

        1. Yeah, that was my first thought too, but Crawler accumulated adaptions rather than swapping. An Echidna clone of Crawler might have Chris’s powerset, but Crawler failed to break in to her enclosure and was then killed with gratifying thoroughness by the PRT before her breakout.

  22. I’m stuck on the exact wording of “She’s not your mom, and that’s not your dad.”, spoken by Ashley (who presumably is in the know somehow) and then remembered by Victoria (who’s figuring it out as we do).

    To me, it feels like the asymmetry of “she’s / that’s” (instead of a more typical symmetric “she’s / he’s”) is going to be meaningful, along the lines of: Irene is a human/person/whatever and Julien is something else.

  23. While at the time, it might have seemed that Kenzie was talking about her diary, these six words are outright terrifying, when you realise they probably apply to everybody, and not just kenzie herself.

    “I don’t really believe in privacy”

    1. So if she gets that camera working, she can so delve inot all of Victoria and Amy’s history. All the way to that fist pebble in the rockslide that Tattletale thrw foru years ago.

      Seems like Kenzie has the potential to turn into the big bad of the entire story. And so does ‘Nips’ the annoyign puppy that Bitch is training.

      It’ss a WindowBox stroy; would ay of the above be that surprising?

    2. Yeah that part made my put my phone down and shake a pillow.

      Kenzie! You can’t say things like that with your powers!

    3. She clearly believes in privacy to some degree, otherwise she would have told Yamada everything about the diary and not just that it exists.

      She is also very good at avoiding direct answers to lots of things which several people have pointed out. Such as the ongoing questions about the amount of sleep she gets. Problem is, no-one is actually asking “how much sleep are you getting each night?” They’re just concerned with what time she goes to bed, under the assumption that when she goes to bed she goes to sleep soon after.

      1. You just don’t get it. She really doesn’t believe in privacy. She would’ve told Yamada but she knows Yamada would make a point about how replaying both actual memories and total fantasies to _that realistic_ an extent can become a really unhealthy habit. And she wants to keep doing it. So she kept it a secret from Yamada. She’d probably tell everyone everything about her but it might change how they see her–or they’d want her to stop certain self-destructive behaviors. There’s a reason some people don’t tell their therapists everything–they want to control the relationship and there are certain things they don’t want to hear, even if it is for their own good. This is especially the case with those who have mental illnesses, like Kenzie.

        1. There is a word for when you don’t tell people things because it might change how they see you or cause them to restrict your behavior. It’s called privacy. 😛

          Kenzie just has a more limited, utilitarian sense of privacy than most. It’s motivated by practical concerns rather than self consciousness or modesty.

  24. I’ll bet this is like Taylor’s Earth Alpha mom. They’re her parents, but with some alternate timeline divergence point some decades ago.

    I’d guess her actual parents either died or gave her up for adoption when she was young (and then maybe died later?). After the Golden Dawn though, when the world ended and portals got torn open everywhere, Kenzie got access to a world where her parents were still alive (and together) but never had her. Somehow it came about that they agreed to take her in as their own ‘daughter’. Maybe they were just open to taking in an orphan after the apocalypse and the people organizing that went “oh hey, so we have, like, your actual pseudo-kind-of-daughter here, want to adopt her?”.

    So that’s why she has (presumably real) photos of her with them as a baby, and photos of her with them now, but there’s an intermediate period with no such photos (which I assume Kenzie would have faked too if she was faking photos). And that’s why Ashley says they’re “not her real parents”.

    1. I always thought that Earth Aleph is the only one that’s close enough to Bet where you can actually find alt-universe duplicates, and all the others diverge too far back for that.

      1. Earth Aleph was the only close divergence people were aware of pre-Golden Dawn, but it’s possible more got found since. But it’s also possible that Kenzie’s ‘parents’ are from Earth Aleph and just relocated here.

  25. Kenzie is detaining and tormenting these people; making them play the role of her parents. They desperately want to escape. They thought she would be distracted and tried to kill their jailor and escape but were caught. If Victoria doesn’t stop her, Kenzie is going to really punish them after Victoria leaves.

  26. “Neither adult moved or spoke. Irene visibly seethed, nostrils flaring.”

    It seems like readers are assuming that Irene and Julien are actually physically immobilized at the end of this chapter (drugged, detained, or various other descriptions used in the comments here), but I don’t think that’s absolutely clear from the text. I’m suspending judgement until we learn more.

  27. All right then…

    I’m a thinking that this could be the one two punch of parents from a different dimension than Kenzie, ala Taylors other mom, and either they’re trying to get he to take meds she doesn’t want or sedatives/something to make her act more like their dimensions Kenzie.

  28. Kenzie never sleeps

    Her parents tried to slip her sleeping pills. She’s always evasive about it because she never ever sleeps. Maybe because she has a phobia about not beibg aware.

    Alternatively, she never sleeps because of shit like this with her parents trying to poison her.

  29. Makes so much more sense now, she doesn’t eat cause she can’t always trust it, can’t sleep cause shes constantly monitering, not just because of tinkering, watching TV lol makes sense 😮

    1. O_O

      Whoah, I didn’t pick up on the food (and possibly sleep) connection until you pointed this out. Thanks Muu.

  30. It seems all of Kenzie’s powers are used to create and reinforce her self-identity, She actively constructs hers, and dislikes when she doesn’t have control over how others see her.

    The exception being her parents, because they are an extension of her identity. I’m still with the train that they are artificial, because of how she sees them as an extension of herself, and not people to impress.

    I don’t know what to think regarding how Kenzie defines others and where that boundary for friend and possession is, especially if her mother is real.

  31. Okay. So, this chapter is… unique.

    I find myself paying attention to every detail very carefully, looking for the one thing that was going to tip me off that everything was wrong. Everything about the scene at Kenzie’s house felt forced and weird but right on the edge of excusable given that Kenzie is a tinker with a personality disorder. So I found myself hyper-focusing while trying to spot whatever was going to push it over the edge and explain why people seemed so weird about Victoria visiting Kenzie’s house.

    And then right at the end WB smacks the reader with what seems like a blatant attempted murder.

    Looks to me like Kenzie controls her ‘parents’ almost completely. I’m not sure if she’s controlling them because they try to kill her, or if they try to kill her because she’s controlling them.

  32. Aside from everything else, if you go with the theory that Irene was a criminal too, her being a forger makes the most sense. She’s an excellent artist who only copies other people’s work.

  33. What the fuck, Kenzie. You got your favorite PRT guy in trouble with doctored photos, and now you’re doing it again with your “diary”! What’s more, she’s making doctored *erotic* pictures of herself with other people! And Victoria just let it slide without comment!

    1. Eh, it’s pretty similar to an art diary. Kenzie’s not claiming any of that to be recordings, it’s all explicitly stuff she’s creating herself, even the stuff that’s depicting real events.

      She’s also hitting puberty so trying to figure out romance and sex is pretty normal. We don’t know how far those hot pink ones go, but they’re also the ones she’s discouraging Victoria from seeing, so she knows that sharing that stuff is breaking a boundary. It would be inappropriate for her to use those images for personal gratification, but as a record of stuff she’s feeling, it’s a lot more of a gray area. It’s not like Anne Frank was wrong for recording her sexual fantasies in a private diary, either.

      I just think it’s a lot more viscerally disturbing because it’s not just visual but extremely realistic, but, well, that’s the artistic medium Kenzie’s got.

      1. I think it’s a lot more viscerally disturbing because someone might find her doctored photos of the team and think that they’re pedophiles. How do you think the public would react if some villain broke into her house and stole images of Weld having sex with a minor and published them on the Internet?

        1. Broke into the house of the terrifying surveillance/countersurveillance tinker and her not-parents who would poison her without hesitation if they weren’t watched 24/7? Yeah, that sounds safe and doable. I don’t know how her previous batch of creepy fake photos got leaked, but these ones can only be displayed on a dedicated tinker machine of her own design. That sounds pretty secure, all considered.

  34. So….
    There seems to be something weird here…
    Okay, I mean beyond the obvious.

    Kenzie’s parents may or may not have just made an assasination attempt on her… but more than that, it feels like she can control them… like… directly. Not as in blackmail, or threats or anything, but as in, they are compelled in some way to obey her commands.

    Just the way the IMMEDIATELY sieze up when she says no, or the fact that she very explicitly says “Eat it, or stay seated until Victoria leaves”- there’s an out.
    Julian often asks about the danger of the things she is doing, and I kind of wonder if maybe she previously told him “Ask if what I am doing is dangerous”, or something like that.

    Such instructions might also explain why they haven’t tried a more direct method of killing her.

    I mean… probably its just paranoia- it could be old fashioned blackmail, or something else entirely… but the level of anger in Irene, resignation in Julian… it seems like the sort of thing I’d expect from someone being confronted with a Master power (or tinker equivalent)…. which we haven’t seen Kenzie demonstrate in any way… but still…

    1. I doubt her control is that deep. I assume the parental units have been flashgunned more than a few times, and they have decided to sit still instead of being blind for the next two hours.

    2. I read the questions about whether caping is dangerous as mildly hopeful, actually. Maybe Kenzie’s parents are hoping for an out from dealing with her that doesn’t require them to take any risks.

  35. Here’s a little bit of oddness.

    Several years back I was following a fan game called Card Sagas Wars – it was a fighter that featured characters from dozens of different video games. A handful were playable. Many others appeared as support ‘cards’ that could be summoned to produce a one-off effect. The game was an ambitious project but was never released – all the internet ever had was a series of YouTube videos to fawn over and dream about.

    WB’s mention of a similar card based game in here, with Optics being a support card, reminded me of that. So I looked it up and found out that after nine years the authors are finally releasing an older version of the game they abandoned such a long time ago, so that the internet can enjoy what they made.

    This doesn’t feel like a coincidence to me. Maybe Wildbow used to be a fan, heard the news, and a subtle mention of the game leaked into the story?

    1. It reminds me of Amiibos or the Skylanders toys, personally, where you’ve got the toy and you can wave it over a scanner to bring the character into the game.

  36. She reached into her pocket for her phone, hitting a button before tossing it to me. “Caught ’em. Always do.”

    Yeah, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m leaning towards the “Kenzie never sleeps” explanation.

    Though… dreams, in her diary. Hm.

  37. Everybody’s assuming some really terrible stuff. Here’s a lighter alternate theory:

    Her parents haven’t had sex in months because Kenzie does not believe in privacy. She’s always watching, no matter where they go and how they try to hide. So, they keep trying to sedate her to buy themselves a few precious hours together. They’re not willing to explain this in front of Victoria because it’s embarrassing. Kenzie, of course, knows exactly what they’re up to, and she also finds it embarrassing. She just wanted to have a friend over for dinner, but they had to try cutting it short by drugging her just so they could go have hot monkey sex, which they could do anytime if they weren’t such prudes. So embarrassing!

    Alternate theory Mk II: They’re bots, and this whole event was staged as a red herring to distract Victoria from the truth. Kenzie being Kenzie, she miscalculated and chose a red herring that was a bit too over the top.

    Alternate theory Mk III: They’re bots, and this event was staged because Kenzie knew that Victoria has family problems. Now Kenzie does too, so they have that in common and are totally going to be best friends now.

    Alternate theory Mk IV: Kenzie is the bot, but she doesn’t realize it. She gets upset whenever she notices her family trying to sneak Robot Fuel into her food. Such a stupid, embarrassing prank! Just because she’s a little weird doesn’t mean she’s a robot!

    Alternate theory Mk V: Kenzie is Dragon reborn. Defiant’s tampering finally went too far and broke Dragon. She lost most of her mind and killed Defiant before calming down. With her memories gone, her personality altered, and her understanding of how to be human crippled, she decided to reinvent herself as a child. After searching the records for a deceased or missing cape with sufficient similarity to her new mind, she stole the identity of a young girl who died in Gold Morning. Dragon then built a suitable body and tracked down that child’s parents so that they could have their child back. Unfortunately, one of the defects caused by Defiant’s final bout of tampering was paranoia. She keeps imagining that her “parents” have discovered the truth and are trying to poison her. Past experience has taught her parents that eating the food to prove it’s safe will just convince her that they’re trying to be sneaky, then she’ll start looking for something else to be paranoid about and things will escalate. Best to just play along and let her fixate on the food. She doesn’t need it anyway.

    …Well, I guess that last one isn’t very light. Okay then, one more try.

    Alternate theory Mk VI: Kenzie is Dragonborn. The real Kenzie was a budding from Dragon’s shard, but that Kenzie died during Gold Morning. This Kenzie is an AI that Dragon and Defiant built as a prototype child, but it connected to Kenzie’s shard, got bleed-over memories, and went rogue. See above about impersonating Kenzie and paranoia (in this case, partly shard-induced, and partly an extension of the constant vigilance required to stay two steps ahead of Dragon and Defiant).

  38. The game with swipeable cards also reminded me of Digimon Tamers. Also Monster Rancher and its insert random CD get random monster gimmick or how some GBA games had DLC in the form of e-Reader cards.

    And while there’s definitely something odd up with Kenzie’s family(and I’m half expecting Wildbo to surprise us all with something different from any of this comments section’s WMG), I still can’t help thinking Kenzie is one of the most adorable things this side of the magical girl genre(and now I’m imagining the female half of Breakthrough as the Ensemble Leads in a magical girl anime to make Madoka Magica seem light hearted and halfway expect Kenzie’s diary to have a fantasy entry where the female half of Breakthrough are the heroines of a genuinely light-hearted magical girl show, complete with more cartoony, less horrifying versions of Chris’s forms as Monsters of the day. And thing is, Kenzie could totally use her projection technology to give herself and her team mates magical girl transformation sequences. If I wasn’t blind, I’d totally be begging for fanart of this idea right now).

  39. Wowbild has really upped his game on the small narrative touches. I really liked the foreshadowing of how Kenzie would control the burly ballerina dude and make him take her out for ice cream, right before she caught her mom trying to evade the control Kenzie uses for a very similar purpose…

  40. I don’t think Lookout is controlling any of her Breakthrough teammates, because too many of them just DGAF. However, it seems quite likely that she had a similar hold over Yamada, because otherwise I don’t see how a professional like her could countenance Kenzie’s living situation.

  41. My theory is that her parents (At the very least the dad) are violently anti-cape hate group types. Hence the father’s noncommittal response about whether he’s anti-cape (He only says he couldn’t get away with being one openly).

    It’s probably why they abandoned Kenzie when she was younger, and burned all the evidence of her. Now she’s back, and trying to force them to reform into better people, because that’s her thing. They keep trying to kill her, and because she’s Kenzie, she just shrugs it off and continues to hold whatever information she has on them over their heads.

    1. You know… Your theory both makes me laugh (becuse hateful people getting one-up’d makes me do that) and shiver in fright at the same time. How is that?

      I can totally see this, or at least something like that, being the case.
      It’ll be a treat to see what WorldBoom does, yeah?

  42. I’m personally very curious, thinking that Kenzie’s parents may not have done anything unusual for a typical family, and Kenzie may be going the usual Wordboy protagonist route.

  43. I feel like Kenzie is going to have an evil laugh and tell Victoria that she knows too much now. Good lord. I always got the feeling that Kenzie made the rules in her family. Her parents letting her go off on her own and carting around her gear.

  44. First time commentator after almost binge-reading Worm and just caught up to the current chapter. After reading through the comments, I noticed nobody mentioned that Kenzie was going to eat the food before Victoria stopped her to go talk in the garage. I doubt it was poisonous, sleeping pills make more sense with the foreshadowed line that she gets to bed but doesn’t sleep. Looking forward to next chapter regardless. Thank you Wildbow! 😁

  45. After reading through the comments, I noticed nobody mentioned that Kenzie was going to eat the food before Victoria stopped her to go talk in the garage. I doubt it was poisonous, sleeping pills make more sense with the foreshadowed line that she gets to bed but doesn’t sleep. Looking forward to next chapter regardless. Thank you Wildbow! 😁

  46. My thinking is she killed her parents when she was trying to take a picture/recording of their souls, made botbodies, and stuck the partial impressions into the framework out of her deep need to belong/have friends/family but added a few caveats like ‘gotta listen to what kenzie says’ they are clearly terrified of or under thrall of kenzie.
    Honestly she has always struck me as the most terrifying of the group, not even Damsel of Distress has the potential or specifically the MENTALITY to be so all encompassingly frightening. She has no second thoughts about doctoring video, to the point where capes lose leadership roles/promotions over it. The key thing is her previous teammates describing her and why she is terrifying that drive it home.

    Did a little backreading of all the interactions the team has with kenzie’s parents. They always seem to do what she asks, she is surprised when they take the initiative or voice their own thoughts. Which they do not always do (most uncomfortable ride ever from the train station). Her mother is good at art after she learns a style. The living room table is dusty, the newspaper the gears. hence not used, for people that want a strong sense of family to the point of having a family dinner every night… thats a bit strange
    even victoria’s impression of the house feeling like its a show house, staged rooms staged and very similar art. Her mother is great at things she has LEARNED, but has no natural talent for them. Kenzie seriously tried to make a “feelings, desires” camera (i like the term soul lens because it sounds cool) but gave up on it because it diddnt work properly. Her mothers impression came through a little better than her fathers.

  47. “I’m sorry my parents are such fucking embarrassments,”

    says the kid whose trigger was “the most embarrassing moment of [her] life,” in reference to an attempted poisoning.

    Like Vizzini, she keeps using that word. I do not think she means what I think it means.

  48. Oh boy, finally caught up with the newest chapter!

    My money’s also on the “Kenzie’s parents are just illusions/holograms” like the chatbots, and this drama was staged so they wouldn’t reveal themselves as fake when they can’t swallow food. I don’t think we see her parents touch/interact with anything on-screen, no handshake for Victoria, Kenzie sets the table herself and the food might have been pre-cooked? Idk. If they’re “just” slipping meds or sleeping pills into Kenzie’s food then Ashley’s comment doesn’t really fit.

    It’d also explain why Kenzie’s mom only copies other’s work, and improves so quickly.

    But yeah, Kenzie is scary.

    P. S.: Where is PsychoGecko? I want my “welcome new reader”, damnit 🙁

  49. Wow, kenzie kinda sucks at subtlety. I mean, we know that, but why didnt she just say “oh gross, a fly in my food. Mom, can I get another plate?” And when the mom goes to look, show the feed of her drugging the plate, and continue like nothings wrong, instead of making a mess and essentially bullying her parents into staying at the table like they were her kids??

    Also, my thought that she somehow projected memories into the parents to make them have memories of a full family seem more likely, as irene’s demeanor changes after kenzie remembers something from a long time ago

    1. Kenzie didn’t want to be subtle, she just wanted things to go okay 😡 her definition of ‘okay’ doesn’t include covering up poisoning attempts and that’s perfectly fine???

  50. Fantastic chapter. Very rarely does what I read have such an emotional impact. I was equal parts terrified and excited to learn about Kenzie’s situation.

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