Interlude 10.z

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The hospital was packed with people.  It was late and families, single individuals, people who looked like they worked at the same places and hospital staff were everywhere.  Some were trying to sleep or keep to themselves, with blankets draped over them or jackets used as improvised pillows, and others were trying to make as much noise as they could.

It was a little bit spooky.  Spooky in a way that couldn’t be fixed by the knife he had at the small of his back, beneath his shirt.

There was at least one member of his squad who might be willing to try it, though.  They moved as a unit through the rows and columns of people, had to skip heading down one alley of the waiting room because a family was practically camped out on the floor that they would have had to walk down, and split up for a short bit when a bunch of people were called and rose out of their seats, cutting them off.

As the split-up group reunited, he felt his skin prickle, and then his brain prickled,  awareness of his own body fizzled into place like the bubbles in cola, pressing against his skin and all of his senses.  Where he could normally have paid attention to one part of his body, now he could pay attention to every inch of it.

The fizzling didn’t stop there.  It was like something off to the side that he could see, then something he could feel.  Plumes that expanded out, until there was more skin, more heartbeats, more air pressing against the inside of chests with inhalations, cool as it passed out of noses.  He could feel hairy legs inside jeans and agitation like a constant thing, the heart powerful, the motions of arms and legs strong, deliberate, and imprecise.

A few feet away, he felt clothes that didn’t feel very comfortable at all, cold air wafting up bare legs, the fabric stiff and coarse, a thumb pressed between lips thick with something, teeth biting down on nail, hair tickling neck and face.  Her body was wound and bound tight, tense and ready to spring, though he’d never seen it happen.  He winced at the pain of the nail being bit too forcefully, shivered at the tickle of hair at the back of the neck.  The shiver drew an alarmed kind of attention.  Even though she couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see her, her head turned to face him.

Not sight, not really- but the sensation of touch that bubbled gave him a good idea of where those people were looking, and why this was happening.  He peered past crowd to see the security officer at the end of the hallway.

There were two more members of the group, straggling.  There was no need to say ‘wait!’ or ‘we have to take care of this security officer!’, which was good because it was noisy inside.

Skin that felt smoother than skin should be brushed against silk, and the cloth that wasn’t silk was very soft.  He saw her as much as he felt her.  He could feel where the hair at one side of her head had been braided tight, the braid running along her scalp at the one side of her head, at the smaller side of a part in her hair, and the rest of her hair was big and combed over in a tumble the other way.  He could feel and see the silk of her scarf at her neck and chin, which helped to keep the long hair from tickling.

She bent down to whisper in the ear of the last member of their squad, and he could feel the air go out and feel the air against ear as the sound was received.  Try as he might, he couldn’t make out the words.

Nobody else was stepping in, and he didn’t like the direction this was going, so he hurried forward, straight for the security officer.

“Hold on,” the security officer said, putting a hand out.  “Were you called?”

Aiden shook his head.  “We’re here to visit a classmate of mine.”


“Aiden Tate.”

The officer put one hand up to reaffirm the ‘hold on’ instruction, and used the other to pick up a clipboard with a notepad clipped to it.

“Oh, if you meant their name, it’s, um, Janesha Townes.  I’m bringing her homework.”

The man checked the clipboard.

He was aware of the knife he had holstered at his back.  What if he was searched?  Did that happen?

“She’s not taking visitors.”

“I’d just be dropping this off, saying hi, then I’ll leave her alone,” he said.

He was aware of fizzing.  Amias was with Candy, who was wearing the silk, and Amias was bubbling, concentrating some kind of sensation at his hands.

Please don’t hurt anyone, Aiden thought.

The security man looked down at the notepad, looked up, as if bothered by something, then looked down again.  “No.”

Amias pushed harder.

“We came a long way.  My mom said she really needs some friends right now.”

The security guard’s fingers tapped at the back of the clipboard.  Restless.  Again, he looked around, as if making sure there wasn’t any issue elsewhere.

“No,” the man said, again.  Aiden felt his heart sink.  The man added, “I’d need to check your background, verify details.”

“Okay,” Aiden said, resigned.

“Who is your teacher, and what school do you attend with Janesha?”

Aiden was caught off guard.  What was a good last name?  “Um.  Miss Sparrow.”

Through the awareness of the rest of the group, he could sense the small laugh from the sidelines.


He felt even more panicked, now that he’d already messed up once.  “New Brockton Bay Primary School?”

Again, the laugh, and a hand touched face, muffling the laugh.  Aiden felt defensive.

“Stay there,” the man from security said.  He went to the nurse’s station, a short distance away, said something, and then headed down the hallway.  The nurse he’d talked to moved to the edge of the counter, watching the hallway entrance.  Her stare was penetrating as she looked at Aiden.

Aiden fidgeted.

Darlene was biting her thumbnail again.  Aiden could feel the pain as she got to the quick, flinched, and felt her flinch in response.

He looked off to the side, to where Roman was leaning against a wall.  Twelve year old roman with hair on his legs already, who’d been laughing at him.  Aiden stuck out his tongue.  Roman, with his arms folded, moved one finger, giving Aiden the bird.

Was there any point to staying?  He’d almost failed to connect because he’d been more focused on Roman laughing and on the nurse at the counter, but if the guy was going back there and asked, wouldn’t he find out the school was wrong?

Flustered, Aiden turned around, looking for the others.  He started to retreat, heading back toward them.  Darlene and Candy converged on him, Candy towing Amias behind her.

“Where are you going?” Candy asked.  “Chickening out?”

Aiden gave her an annoyed look.  “He quizzed me.  He’s going to check the info I gave and find out I lied.”

“We came this far,” Candy said.  “We’ll find another way.  We could go through a window.”

“None of us can do anything like that,” Aiden said.

“Your eagle is on the roof, isn’t it?”

“Nobody’s willing to let me try flying with it,” Aiden said.  “Besides, breaking a window would cause problems.  I’m sorry I bungled this.”

“I like spending time together, even if we don’t do anything big,” Darlene said, thumb just outside her mouth, thumbnail ragged.  She averted her eyes and moved her hand when Aiden looked at her.

Romeo- Roman was approaching now.  He’d changed his name recently and it still felt weird.

“You could try messaging her,” Roman said.  He either hadn’t heard the discussion and had figured things out, or he was much, much better at understanding speech when his half-sister was using her power.

“I tried twice this afternoon and she didn’t respond.  But she’s invited me before, for a face to face hang-out.  It should be okay.”

“Heads up,” Candy said.

It was the security man.  Aiden turned around, nervous.  He was aware of Roman cracking his knuckles.  Darlene brought her thumb to her mouth, and Aiden reached out to catch it before it got there.  He held her hand, felt the surprise and the pounding of her heart.  He’d spooked her, apparently.  Or she was bothered that he’d moved in a way that showed he was using the power.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

She shook her head, hard.

“Aiden?” the security man asked.  “You can go on in.  Room two-two-one.”

Aiden blinked.  It took Roman giving him a nudge to get him moving.   He turned around.  “Thank you very much, sir.”

“I’m not a proper ‘sir’, but you’re welcome,” the man said.  “If the room is crowded or if the nurses need the space, you should end the conversation and leave, got it?”

Aiden nodded.

He had the Heartbroken children with him as he headed down the hall.  He still held Darlene’s hand, and he felt self-conscious about it, especially when he noticed the others noticing.  Candy and Roman exchanged a look.

“Don’t bite your nails, okay?  It hurts.”

“Oh,” Darlene said.  Her voice became a whisper, “Oh.  Um.  I’m really sorry.  I get weird when I’m using my power.”

“We don’t have to use it,” Aiden said.

“It feels fucked up,” Roman said.  “Mainlining little sisters and little bro, and Aiden here.”

“I thought it would be good for keeping an eye out for trouble,” Darlene said.  “Watch each other’s backs.”

“It’s good,” Aiden reassured.  Darlene was the quietest in a lot of ways.  She was the odd one out, when the others were what Aisha called high octane drama mixed two to one with nightmare fuel.  Whatever that meant.  He’d even defended Darlene when Aisha had said it, which had made Aisha laugh way too hard.

He’d had some tastes of it, but this was the first time he’d really been subject to Darlene’s power for any length of time.  He wondered if this was what his birds felt like when he assumed control.  The interconnection of things, him and them.

That would be more one-way, maybe.

“I can cut you out of the network,” Darlene told Roman.

“Nah,” he said.  “We’re being targeted along with the Undersiders.  The people we’re after are being targeted.  I’ll fucking put up with it.”

“I appreciate you being our chaperone,” Aiden said.  “Thank you, Roman.”

“Nah.  You’re a good fucking kid, Aids.  Keep looking after my sisters.  The ones that are worth looking after.”

You’re a kid too, Aiden thought.  Roman was only a year and a half older than him, but the kids in the Vasil family seemed to make a distinction.  They afforded a certain distinction to the ones who were old enough to remember their dad, to get tested by him, whatever that meant, and disciplined by him… he knew what that meant.  Samuel who was the oldest that hadn’t bailed yet, Chastity, Roman, Juliette, and then Aroa barely making the cut.

Roman was only two years older than Darlene, but he acted like he was four years older.  Unless Juliette was involved.  He looked older too.  Like Juliette, he had straighter hair, which he’d cut and styled, slicking to one side.  The family resemblance was strong, besides that.  Pale face, bigger lower lip, sharp, ‘pretty’ features that didn’t change much between the boys and the girls.

Candy approached from Aiden’s right, seizing his arm and wrapping it in hers.

He rankled.  “I want my right hand free.”

Candy reached out and tapped the knife that had been holstered at the small of his back.  “Because of this?”

She could sense everything about him just like he could sense everything about her, so of course she’d felt the knife there.  The straps went over his shoulders like suspenders with one leather strap running down his spine.

Candy continued, pressing while hugging his arm tighter.  “Why didn’t you put it at your belt like a normal person?”

“Aiden’s the most normal person here,” Darlene said.  He could feel her pulse quickening, feel how genuine that anger she was now feeling was.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“It’s strategically important,” Candy said.

“It shows more if it’s at the belt,” he said.

“We’re wearing warm and heavy clothes for winter.   Well, most of us are,” Candy said.  “Darlene’s wearing a chiffon dress she got in the summer, which is why she’s cold.”

“If you don’t stop interrupting and being a pain I’m going to get mad,” Darlene said.

She was already mad, Aiden was sure.  He could feel it.  The blood in her veins, the heartbeat, the restrained breathing.

“No fighting,” Roman said.  He gave Darlene a light push on one shoulder.  “I don’t want to clean up the mess.”

“It really is because I didn’t want it to show,” Aiden told Candy.  Maybe explaining would cool things down.  She looked like she was going to say something, so he added, in a quiet voice, “And because it was heavy enough it made my pants fall down.”

He could feel the shift in the tension with that.  Roman chuckled, Amias outright giggling.  Darlene’s face got hot, and Candy barely reacted.  Why did she barely react?

“Aww,” Candy said.  “That’s a cute mental picture, isn’t it, Darlene?”

“Shut it, Candy.  I have one nerve left and if you get on it, I’m going to take it and choke you with it.”

“Sure,” Candy said, in a musical, pleased-with-herself way.  She smiled in a way that would have made Aiden want to choke her if he’d been as mad as Darlene felt.  “Aiden?”

“Be good,” Roman warned.

“Don’t push it,” Darlene added.

“Aiden,” Candy said, persisting.  “As an expert in Darlene-”

Aiden shifted position, ready to put himself between the two half-sisters, because Darlene was on the brink now.  He didn’t want to get kicked out of the hospital.

“-she can’t help biting her nails or pulling hair.  It might help if you held her hand more.”

Darlene seethed, but she didn’t start a fight.

Candy was Chastity’s full-sister, and both of the two really liked to tease.  He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to take her seriously, so he looked over at Darlene.  “Do you want me to?  I don’t know if she’s playing a game.”

Darlene didn’t respond, but instead put one hand out, looking away.  He took her hand, holding firm.

She seemed to calm down, which was good, and Candy seemed happy.  He felt like everyone else they walked by was noticing, but he could put up with that.

They had to climb a staircase, as it turned out, and get up to the second floor.  They walked down the hallway, and he was acutely aware of how generally happy Darlene was now.  Girls were so all over the place and rarely made any sense.

As they approached the right room number, he saw a teenager standing by the door.  Black hair, chin scruff, and a leather jacket.  He looked cool as hell, in Aiden’s opinion, and Aiden had spent a lot of time in the company of very cool people like Lisa, Aisha, and Rachel.

“Problem?” the guy asked.

Aiden shook his head.

“I’m going to need more than that.”

There was a sensation that settled over the group.  If Aiden hadn’t been networked to the others, he might have thought it was a sudden shift in his thinking.  A creeping feeling of doubt, so small it was barely a thought crossing through his mind.

“You’re going to have to do better than that,” Roman said.  “Wrong family for that little trick.”

Roman was only barely shorter than the guy in the leather jacket, and there had to be five years of difference between them.

The teenage guy looked around, glancing at the empty nurse’s station, raising himself on his toes to look over the counter and make sure nobody was down low and out of sight behind files and computers.  He lowered himself down.  “Heartbroken?”

“Yeah,” Roman said.

The guy’s eyes moved around, tracking every member of the group, as if he was getting his head around dealing with five people with powers.  “Is Tattletale pulling something?”

“No,” Aiden said.  “Tattletale’s not.  This is me.  Chicken Little.”

“We’re not pulling anything,” Candy jumped in.

“Precipice,” the guy said.  “Why are you here?”

“Because she’s a friend, and I wanted to see how she was.”

There was a voice from inside the hospital room.  Muffled by the door.

“How did you know we were here?”

“She told me,” Aiden said.

Precipice didn’t look too happy about that.

“Can I say hi?” Aiden asked.  “I brought her presents.”

“Show me?”

Aiden pulled his bag off and opened it up.  He pulled out books, handing them over, then a necklace, and some general junk that he was really second guessing now that people were looking.

Precipice turned the books page-side-down and shook them out, riffing through pages, checked the necklace and cord, and searched the other junk.

The voice on the other side of the door piped up again.

“You’re for real?” Precipice asked.

“I guess,” Aiden responded.  Roman nudged him.  “Yeah.”

“You’re a good kid,” Precipice told him.

“No,” Aiden replied, his eyebrows knitting together.  “I’m a bad guy.  I’m an Undersider, which makes me a villain.”

“The people you hang out with don’t define you,” Precipice said.  “It’s the choices you make.  This kind of gesture seems like the right kind of choice to be making.”

“I choose to be an Undersider,” Aiden said.  “I choose to call myself one.”

“You’re a kid.  You haven’t been handed a lot of options.”

“I still choose,” Aiden said, setting his jaw.  “I’m loyal.”

Precipice stacked the things, so the books were on the bottom, and the successive other things were on top, with the necklace resting at the very top.  Aiden let go of Darlene’s hand to take it with a ginger care that kept the stack from toppling, then dumped it into his bag.  It would feel weird to hand over the necklace first and with it being on top it would’ve been necessary.

The voice came through, insistent and muffled by the intervening wall and door.

“You’d better go through, before she pops her stitches,” Precipice said.

Aiden opened the door, heading inside.

“-swear I’ll get my revenge somehow!” Lookout was saying.  She spotted Aiden.  “Oh, hi.  And hi Chicken Little’s friends.”

She was black.  That surprised Aiden, but he wasn’t sure why.  He’d grown up the last few years with Aisha and Aisha was black too.  He’d just… had a slightly different mental image of Lookout.  It made him feel bad and a bit less sure of himself.

She was sitting up in her hospital bed, covers up to her lap, a small smile on her face.  She had her hair tied back into a single messy ponytail that had dislodged a bit because she’d laid her head down at some point.  She looked tired enough that he wondered if he was imposing.  She was wearing a hospital gown, white with green clovers on it, and a tube ran out from the side of the gown near her stomach.  Fluids were running out of the tube, rather than in, which made him feel uneasy.

“Hi,” he said, feeling awkward.

“Hi!” Lookout said, “I’m Lookout.”

Oh, introductions.  “Chicken Little, or Aiden, I guess-”

“Kenzie,” Lookout interurpted.  “If we’re using real names I’m Kenzie.”

“Hi.  It’s not Janesha?”

“Cover name, false identity with a name I made up.  Because we’re in danger.”

He nodded.  He put a hand to the side, indicating-  “This is Darlene, Candy, and…”

He could sense the two boys talking to Precipice outside the door.  He hoped they would get along.  Romeo- Roman was very easily riled up.

“…the others are outside.”

“You’re all so pretty and handsome and dressed nice,” Lookout said.  “And here I am all gross and crusty-eyed after surgery.  I haven’t put my face on or brushed my teeth and my hair is awful.”

“You look fine,” Candy said.

Lookout smiled a little.  “Thank you for saying so.”

Aiden wasn’t sure he looked that nice.  He’d gelled his hair up into a small fauxhawk because it looked dumb however he parted it and it never looked right if he spiked it.  He had a nice ankle-length jacket that Lisa had given him, jeans, boots, and a sweatshirt, which he wore with the hood nestled into the jacket’s.

“What did you say to the man from security?” Aiden asked.

“I said that we had Ms. Sparrow as a teacher and that we attended the New Brockton primary school.”

“How did you know?”

“Cameras.  I had a friend plant some, because it looks like I’m going to be here for at least one day, and some people might have tried to kill us so it’s good to be careful.”

“Like March went after Imp and Tattletale,” he said.

“And us,” Candy said.  “March shot at us at the same time, then.”

“It’s getting scary out there,” Lookout said.

“It was always scary,” Darlene said.

Candy nodded, her face solemna and serious for once.  “Yeah.  Since I can remember.  I think we’re all worse at hiding it now.”

“I wanted to see if you were okay,” Aiden said.  “Um, because I know your team got shot a few times and I’ve seen how Tattletale and Imp are right now.  Tattletale’s being weird and Imp is doing what she can to protect us, which means she’s not always around, even when she is around.”

“So you kind of know what it’s like.”

“Kind of.  Except I didn’t get shot.  Are you okay?”

“Painkillers make the pain very fuzzy more than they kill it, and they make time seem to pass very inconsistently.  Mostly I’m bored.”

“I brought stuff.  Presents,” Aiden said.  He got his bag, “Can I?”

“Yes,” Lookout said.  She looked stricken more than happy, though.

He put the bag at the end of the bed, and he began digging through.  He’d folded one of the covers when dumping the stuff back in the bag, and did what he could to smooth it before pulling it out.  Two books.  He handed them to her.

“Oh wow.  That’s so nice of you.  I haven’t read these.”

“There’s more.  One second.”

He almost didn’t pull the junky stuff out.  Two disposable cameras, and a small pocket kit of tools.

Her eyes lit up.

“I thought maybe if you were bored, you could build something.  I know this isn’t anything major or expensive, but-”

“I would hug you if I wasn’t tied down with tubes,” she said, touching her IV and the tube at her stomach.

“Better not, then,” Darlene said.

“This is great,” Kenzie said.

“It’s not too lame?  It’s basic.”

“You can build a pretty awesome looking house out of kid bricks instead of real bricks and wood and nails and stuff.  It might be a toy or very simple but it’s still fun.  My dad worked in real estate and I know they used model buildings before building the full scale.  This is really nice and thoughtful,” Kenzie said.

Aiden smiled.  “And I remember you liked these when I showed you, and I was doing something for myself.  I had to file at the edges…”

He got out the necklace.  It wasn’t anything fancy- a rawhide string threaded with some feathers, beads, and at the center was a trio of little metal decorations.  Two were the bullets that Shamrock had fired at a target, each one splitting apart into bird shapes.  At the center was a button he’d got from the tailor who handled the team’s costume- a metal disc with an eye in the center.

He held it out and Lookout took it, immediately holding it to her chest, expression very neutral.

“It’s a ‘sorry you got shot’ present, or a ‘get well soon’ present,” he said, feeling like the biggest dork.  “I made one for myself but the feathers fell off, so if yours do the same, don’t worry about it.”

He felt the emotions running through Darlene’s body, and looked back, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

She didn’t feel fine, but-

The connection cut.  He blinked a few times, adjusting as the fizzling stopped.  His body felt numb and yet far more comfortable like this.  It also felt a bit lonely.

“Why?” Kenzie interrupted his thought.

“Why what?”

“Why come here?  Why talk to me?”

“Because you got shot and that sucks,” he said.  “And I see how some of our team members treat each other.  Tattletale and Victoria are nemeses, which is really sad because I bet they could help each other.  It’s always because of stuff that happened in the past.”

“Yeah,” Kenzie said.  “Most of us have hard stuff, don’t we?”

“Some.  But I’m not thinking of that stuff.  I’m thinking about stuff that doesn’t get looked after, or small grudges that become big ones.  In a couple of years we’re going to be the same age Imp was when she joined the Undersiders and they took over Brockton Bay.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could do it right this time?”

“You’ve been thinking about this a lot, huh?”

“I was at the meeting where all the other villains were talking about what to do, how to protect themselves, where they needed to draw lines, all that stuff.  Tattletale didn’t really want to talk about it, Imp doesn’t- how does she put it?”

“She wants to get out ahead, she doesn’t like being reactive.  Reactive gets you killed,” Candy said.

“Yeah.  So she’s out trying to get ahead of the problem, when the problem is a bunch of people who could be anywhere who want to kidnap Undersiders or hurt other Undersiders to make the one Undersider do what she wants.”

“I think I followed that.  I’m fuzzy with drugs.”

“Sorry, talking about heavy stuff.”

“No.  No.  It’s… kind of the same here.  What were you saying?”

“I couldn’t really talk to anyone.  I don’t know Flechette and Parian well enough to ask them stuff.”

“You could have talked to us,” Darlene said.

“You guys were busy helping Nathan after Nicholas got mad and terror-waved him.”

“Oh.  You still could have asked.”

“I didn’t think I should,” he told her.  He turned back to Kenzie.  “I spent a lot of time thinking.  Everyone I know that’s not a teenager anymore is stuck on the past.”

“Aunt Rachel?” Candy asked.

“She’s special.  But I think she misses the dogs she had before.”

Candy nodded.

“The others are focused on what comes next,” Kenzie said.  “The fighting, the violence, the rule breaking, the plots.”

“Let them,” he said.  “We should focus on the now.  Making sure that things okay when we’re, I dunno, ten years older than we are.  Once I started telling myself that, I started feeling a lot better about the feelings that the meeting stirred up.”

“I’ve had messy feelings too,” Kenzie said.  “But I think some of that is because I got shot twice.”

Candy tittered.

“Yeah,” Aiden said.  “Would it help the feelings if you helped me with my plan?”

“I think my team needs me,” she said.  “I hate to say no, because I like what you say and you’re officially on my top ten neatest people list.”

“I’m not that neat.”

“You are,” Darlene said.

“But they’re focused on the dangers and stuff and I need to help them.  When things are calm-”

“They’re never calm,” Aiden said, interrupting.

Kenzie went quiet.

“That’s not- it’s not me saying that, I didn’t decide that or anything.  It’s what Tattletale and Imp say.  There’s always something, if you’re living this life.  You keep going until you crash into the rocks or you bail out.”

“Then I’ve got to help them until they crash.”

“Okay,” he said.  “Can we agree to not be enemies?  Can we be friends?”


His heart sank, seeing her try to formulate a reply.

“I’m not very good at making friends.  I try.  Every time I try to be nice or build up a relationship, I mess it up.  My current team is the closest thing to good friends I have, and the boy closest to me in age that I was in love with did the bailing out thing.  Or the rock thing.  I’m not sure.”

“You don’t have to do anything.”

“But I do!  Already I’m thinking about what I could do for you guys that’s nice enough to match up to you doing this.”

“You don’t have to.”

“But then what’s the point?  What’s- I want to do something nice.  Isn’t it kind of hollow if I can’t?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It doesn’t seem like friendship to me if anyone’s keeping score and trying to keep it balanced.”

“But I want to do something.”

“Then tell me you’ll consider the alliance.  Let’s just make a deal to be good to each other and to all capes around our age.  That’s all it takes.  Tell me you’ll think about it.  I can’t think of anything more I want.”

“Me trying to be good to people leads to disaster.  I get overly invested, especially when I’m not at my best.  Right now I have two bullet holes in me, and I’m fuzzy with drugs, and I’m feeling like my parents are about to yell at me because I’m entertaining guests while I’m a mess-”

“It’s okay,” he said, a little bewildered at the sudden outpouring.  “Um.  I spent the last few years with these guys.  They’re Heartbroken.”

“We’re fucked up,” Candy said.  “We’ve got you beat any day.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Kenzie said.

“I’m really, really good at dealing with these guys now,” Aiden said.

“Super good,” Darlene said, sounding more like Juliette in a monotone than like she usually did.

“I can deal,” he said.  “And I have to.  I want this.  I don’t want to end-”

He stopped himself.

“You don’t want to end what?” Kenzie asked, quiet.

“I don’t want to end up like some of them, I guess,” he said.  “They can be so cool, but…”

“You might have better role models if you joined the heroes,” Kenzie said.  “Wink wink.”

She made exaggerated winks as she said the words.

“I’m loyal,” he said.  “The Undersiders are badass, and the Heartbroken, like these two are-”

He looked at Candy, then at Darlene.  Seeing Darlene chewing on her thumbnail, he took her hand away from her mouth and gripped it tight.

“-some of my favorite people.”

Darlene squeezed his hand.

“Darn,” Kenzie said.

“Is it weird if I say I love Tattletale and Imp and I don’t want to end up like them?”

“No,” Kenzie said.

“You were complaining about your hair,” Candy said.  “Do you want me to fix yours up?”


“I can’t promise I’ll be very good with hair like yours.  I won’t cut anything.”

While the two girls fussed, Aiden looked over at Darlene.  He nudged her.

“What?” Now she sounded irritated.

“All you girls are good at different stuff.  You’re really good with makeup and all that.  Candy takes really good care of her hair and skin-”

“Skin,” Candy said.  She turned to Kenzie, stabbing a finger in her direction.  “Moisturizer?”

“Pretty please.”

He could see her agonizing over it.

“Fine,” Darlene said.  “Okay.”

She got her bag out and began digging stuff out.

It felt a little weird, being in on this scene.  It was girly.  Still, Kenzie seemed happy, and she’d been upset before.

He backed up.  Off to the side, he saw Amais sitting in the hall at Rome-Roman’s feet.  Roman and Precipice seemed to be half-listening in and half-chatting.

“It’s a cool necklace,” Darlene said, as she moved his handmade necklace from Kenzie’s lap to the side table.

“You like it?” Aiden asked, surprised.

“It’s cool.”

“It’s a thing I made out of nowhere.  I didn’t think you’d like it, since you’re always paying so much attention to the clothes you wear.”

Darlene shrugged and nodded.  She seemed relieved, at least?

“She’s paying attention for reasons,” Candy said.

Darlene answered the statement with a death glare.

Between them, Kenzie looked left, then right, then left again, not moving her head or body much.

“Don’t worry, Kenzie,” Aiden said.  “I’m as confused as you are.”

“I’m not confused.  I really do like it, and I’m glad other people do too.  I get being jealous.”

Darlene dropped one of the makeup things.

“Oh, whoops, foot in mouth,” Kenzie said.  “Can I blame the pain drugs?”

“No,” Darlene said.

“You can blame the drugs,” Candy said, giving Kenzie’s lap a pat.

Jealous?  Oh.

“Dar?  Do you want one?” he asked.

She seemed startled.  When she didn’t immediately formulate a reply, Candy threw something at her.

“Yes,” Darlene said, glaring again at Candy.

“I’ll put it together tomorrow.  You can tell me what you want, even.”

She nodded.

Candy threw more things at Darlene.  Darlene, at least, wasn’t blowing up or getting aggressive.  She even seemed happy, now.

And, just as important, Kenzie looked okay.  Not smiling, but he couldn’t blame her.

From the hallway, Roman gave him a thumbs up.  He wasn’t entirely sure why.

But this was the kind of thing they needed.  Alliances, solidifying ties.  When people were hurt, they needed to be taken care of.  He’d learned that sort of thing from Charlotte and Forrest, from Sierra, and from people who had passed more quickly through his life.  Taylor had only been around for a short while, but she had made an impact too.

“Thank you,” Precipice said, as Aiden left the room and entered the hallway.  “The others who know her best are preoccupied right now.”

Aiden shrugged.

“It’s been a day since the villain meeting.  Roman was saying Tattletale hasn’t come around at all?”

Aiden shook his head.  “No.”

“We could really use help.”

“I know,” Aiden said.  He held his tongue instead of talking any more on the subject.  He did want to talk about it, and things had sidetracked a little.  There would be time later.  Maybe with Kenzie.  Maybe with Heartbroken.

“I only caught some of it,” Precipice said.  “Couldn’t help but eavesdrop while we were making sure nobody else heard.”

Aiden shrugged.  Maybe something to be more careful of.  He’d spent the last four years around with villains who all knew each other.  He hadn’t had to be very careful about his own business or secret identity.

“The plan is to do nice things and minimize the regrets you have?” Precipice asked.  “I have a teammate that’s talked about that.  I wish I’d had the mentality.”

“Kind of?  Sort of.  That’s not the main goal.”

“What’s the main goal?” Roman asked.

“Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

He liked to think of using his power like a general might have a soldier set a standard down on the battlefield.  The standard could be adjusted and moved around for different sorts of orders.

Attack, go, circle, search.  He was slowly figuring out what kinds of feelings could be pushed out and set to an area or target.

Push out, choose an area, connect… search.  Adjust the size of the area to be searched…

The flag was planted.  All birds within a large, large radius around him started flying toward the destination, a diffuse cloud.  Another flag closer to him kept Chicken Large roosted on a nearby tree.

He wasn’t supposed to call it Chicken Large, on threat of being kicked from the team by Imp, so he only used the name in his own head.

He was dimly aware of them, like he’d be aware of leaves blowing around him.

When ‘search’ was the order, he was more aware of the responses.  He could hear the distant caws as the assorted birds found something living.  He could sense them too.  Just a little brighter, more vibrant, alive.

He was linked in with the others while they were traveling, and now as he stood in the snowy field, no light above and no buildings near enough to cast any discernable light, he could feel where Darlene was lying in the back seat, her head resting on Candy’s shoulder, the younger Amais lying down across passenger and driver’s seat, head on Roman’s lap.

It was spooky out here, but at least he could sense that Roman was looking out for him, power at the ready.  There would be the mercenary too.

He had a bead on the intruder.  The general shape of it – too large to be moose or bear or anything of that sort.

He pushed out with another ‘flag’.  If it were a physical thing, it would be planted right between the eyes of his target.  He unpinned the flag from near Chicken Large and let the great eagle take flight.

It took more effort than it was worth to separate his birds by type or function.  A creature that wasn’t normal or usual, that acted with too much intelligence.  Scaled and drippy, capable of moving fast and hitting like a fast moving car with flailing claw arms.

He could count back from ten.  For those ten seconds, the harassment of smaller birds, crows, owls, and other flying things that were braving the winter would be like an early warning sign.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

It weighed half of what Aiden did, it descended at two hundred miles an hour, and it could survive the impact that followed, orienting itself and letting its claws do the work.

One second the target was alive, surrounded by a flurry of small birds.  The next it was dead.

He headed back to the car, moving Amais’ feet so he could take the passenger seat.  Roman climbed into the back, and the mercenary that had been standing watch with night vision goggles took the driver’s seat.  Their ride.

It wasn’t that much of a trip to get to the settlement, a logging village focused on gathering wood, with barely anything to do.

Tattletale was up.  She sat in dim lighting, her face in shadow, hiding the expression that came with a migraine.

“Hi,” he said, quiet.

“You asked to go out with the others.  When I said yes, so long as you were careful-”

“We were careful.”

“-I didn’t think you meant a three hour round trip, with barely any firepower.”

“We had five capes and a mercenary.  And my eagle.”

Not enough,” she said.

“You had a migraine and wanted to be left alone in the dark, Imp is trying to catch the people who are after us.”

“We aren’t supervising you enough, is what you’re saying.”

“I don’t need supervision,” Aiden said, setting his jaw.  “I’m an Undersider.


“You said you would be pretending to be in a coma for the next ten hours.  Imp was gone for the day.  We took precautiouns.  I’m doing my best and we ended up fineLookout doesn’t get flack.”

“Lookout got shot twice.  Bad example, kiddo.”

“I’m working with the Heartbroken-”

“Playing with fire.”

“I had protection!”

“A twelve year old was your best protection.”

“And a mercenary.  I’m making alliances!”

She winced at the volume.

“Sorry,” he muttered.

“Alliances like that are not helping.  If we receive a job to go after Breakthrough, and you’ve made a deal with them, what happens?”

“We shouldn’t go after them.”

He was heated enough that Darlene and Candy roused a bit, paying attention.  He waved a hand in their general direction, and the half-asleep Darlene cut the connection.

“Did she cut it?” Tattletale asked.  “Yes.  Okay.  Listen, we can’t rule out any options.  We may have to go after Breakthrough or these other allies you’re purporting to make.”


“That, buddy, is a topic for when my head isn’t pounding.”

“I think you’re avoiding the question.”

Because my head is pounding.  Please.  We’ll talk about this tomorrow.  For now, can you put your bird in its cage?”

“Already done.”

“Then get changed and go to sleep.”

“Tattletale?” he asked.


“On our way in, I scouted.  Birds were acting funny in the distance.”


“One of the lizards that have been homing in on us.”

“It takes them less time to find us each time,” she said.  “I’m not going to get to sleep tonight, am I?”

He felt a small measure of satisfaction as he saw her lurch to her feet, heading to the door where mercenaries were standing guard.

“You’re grounded, by the way,” she said.

He spun around, “You can’t ground me.  I’m not your kid.”

“You’re grounded,” she said, again, rubbing at her temples.  “I’ll tell Charlotte and Forrest.  They’ll agree with me.”

Was it because he’d been smug?  Had she sensed it and decided to get back at him?  It was hard to tell sometimes.

He rankled.  He’d done nothing wrong.

“She wouldn’t have wanted you to do this,” he said.

“Cute, but no cigar,” Tattletale said, half-turning.

“She would have agreed with me.  She would have been disappointed you fought me on this.”

She didn’t respond, opening the door and then closing it behind her.  He could see through the bulletproof glass where she was talking to the mercenary.

He felt frustrated in a way he couldn’t articulate, which was probably by her design.

He’d need to pack up, he knew.  They’d keep moving until the problem was resolved.

The living room of the house they were staying in had been co-opted.  Two computers, one tablet screen, and a lot of papers were scattered around.

There were boards, too.  Bulletin boards that could be picked up and moved from location to location.

Curious about how many more times they’d have to move or how long he’d have to wait until he had real freedom and responsibility again, he looked at the boards.

Valkyrie: scared
Dragon: hid for a while.  Scared
Legend, Chev: staying away on long missions.  Clandestine meetings.

It made no sense.  It didn’t help that her writing got worse as her headaches did.

Bogeyman of Cauldron: captured, weapon kept up sleeve
Dinah Alcott: compromised?  Shift of motives?
Why capture/corner/co-opt precogs?

He knew the name Dinah Alcott.  Eerie to see it now.

What is the threat?  Why scared?

It wasn’t what he was interested in, but now he was paying attention.

Hiding in alternate worlds won’t save us, so why avoid the city?
Who or what is here?

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159 thoughts on “Interlude 10.z”

  1. There is not a single thing in the chapter that is not awesome. After the twisted chaotic headspinning reveals of the last chapter, this gave me so much hope. Aiden. Is. Awesome.

    1. “Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

      When I read this part I lost it. If Aiden second triggers he might yet live into Taylor’s legacy.

      1. Aiden’s a second-gen cape. Vicky said some chapters ago that second-gen capes, along with cluster-capes, have never had a confirmed second trigger and expressed the belief that it’s impossible for either of them to have such a thing.

        1. I’ve just realised which chapter this is, and that information may appear in a chapter after this. I’m sorry; I didn’t realise I was still subscribed to this arc.

  2. >“What’s the main goal?” Roman asked.
    >“Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

    Why helllooo there Administrator Queen.

    Also:”Cauldron bogeyman: Captured”
    I wonder if this is true, or just TT’s power giving the best guess, given limited info.

    1. How do you capture Contessa anyway? Mantellum is supposedly dead. Are Endbringers in the kidnapping business or something?

      1. Once you know something is possible, it becomes easier to try it. Mantellum might be dead, but he showed that Contessa’s powers aren’t infalliable. The way has been shown, you just have to figure out how to get on it.

        1. Part of it may have also been her desire to “[…]try to do some things without any help, in the future.” she expressed in chapter 30.7 of Worm. I imagine that if you ask for a path to victory too late, there can be no paths left anymore, at least not the ones you’ve willing to take.

      2. I think it goes like this:

        Contessa: I want to have some peace and quiet.
        Path To Victory: RUN LIKE HELL AND DON’T LOOK BACK!

          1. I mean if Contessa does it Undersides will make 200% sure she will have all peace and quiet in the world.

            On the other hand Taylor may be a little cranky to have Fortuna as her stepmother. “But dad, she’s been conducting inhuman experiments on thousands of people for decades, and she put a couple of bullets through my brain”. I’m sure however that Contessa’s… shall we say winning personality will handle this little problem.

            Oh, and I blame those guys from “We’ve Got WARD” podcast, and their “Happy Holidays from Earth Gimel” for the postcard idea.

          2. Forgot to add for those who don’t know, that “Happy Holidays from Earth Gimel” is a fan art competition. Hence the postcard.

          3. Oh, and I don’t think the whole situation would be all bad for Taylor. Where else would she find a stepmom who can actually relate to her life choices? I would be more worried about Danny, but if he can handle one retired monster in his family, I’m sure he could handle two.

          4. I can even imagine that photo. The entire Hebert family sitting on a sofa. Danny trapped in the middle. Fortuna with a mirthful grin on her face, and an arm around Danny’s back, messing Taylor’s hair. Taylor trying and failing to stare daggers at Fortuna, and keep frown on her face.

          5. Another snippet from Aleph I could imagine is for Taylor to take Noelle’s slot on the Traveller’s gaming group. I’m sure the first post-GM meeting between the Travellers and Taylor would be beyond awkward for everyone involved. I’m sure that none of them would want to do it professionally anymore. But you can’t deny that Taylor probably has a great (un)natural talent for the position, and they all deserve some fun. Not to mention Taylor should probably socialize with people her age more.

            I imagine them being a real terror on public servers, while Fortuna can keep them supplied with snacks.

          6. It wouldn’t even have to be the same game, the team used to play before they got pulled to Bet. It could be something more goofy. I could imagine them playing that old game called Sacrifice for example. As an inside joke Taylor coud play pure Charnel, and Marissa – Pyro. I’m less sure about the others, though both boys strike me more as James players than anything else, and Jess – Persephone maybe?

          7. Well, looks like knowingly or not, accidentally or not someone made something loosely reassembling the post card I described.

            Muga Sofer if you read this – thank you for your entry in the fan art competition.

      3. I think that even for Contessa, having all of Cauldron’s resources at her disposal makes a difference. When she’s no longer living in a secret headquarters on a secret world, being able to get a portal anytime anywhere in the multiverse, I doubt that she’s asking for a path to not getting captured in her sleep each and every time. Then you take a power nullifier to her, and then take her to a solitary confinement cell isolated from outside world with as many absurd precautions as you want.

      4. You don’t capture her unless it serves the path to victory(whatever that leads her to now). Similarly you don’t hold her unless it serves her path to be held.

        1. Her power only protects her when she asks the right question. If she asks the wrong question it’ll lead her straight into a prison cell because she asked it to tell her where she could get a good night’s sleep and it had the closest bed. Still, she’s good at asking questions so I think it likely she caught wind of impending doom and Path To Victory told her to take a five-year vacation to one of the deathworlds until this all blows over.

          1. As far as holding Contessa… pretty sure she has to be awake in order to PtV.

            If you capture and sedate her, and keep her alseep, I’m not sure there is much she can/will do to get out.

            IF you capture her that is.

      5. I thought about how it would be to capture Contessa, and I think the best way to do it is to put her in a situation, where avoiding capture would mean sacrificing someone or something she wants to protect.

        Assuming her decades of doing what she thought necessary to prevent the end of the world did not strip her completely of conscience (and her last conversation with Taylor let’s me hope it did not), then it could be a relatively simple hostage situation. Even if she didn’t care about anyone else anymore, a threat of her own death or another end of the world that can be avoided only if she allowed to let herself be captured would do the trick.

        The only problem is how she could be put in a situation where those are her only options in the first place. It would need to be some sort of disaster or angle of attack she wouldn’t never suspect, or something that was already in place before Gold Morning, when she had more immediate problem to worry about.

        1. Speaking in a bit broader sense, one thing we need to remember about Contessa’s power, is that it can not make her moral decisions for her. It may be that she could abondon path to victory, or choose a long, difficult or painful one, because taking an easier one would conflict with her conscience.

          1. Yes, but sometimes the answer she gets is “It can’t be done”, or “It can be done in a million steps”, or something like that. This is why she had to sacrifice her people to kill Eden. From Fortuna’s interlude in arc 29 of Worm:

            There was another question she had to ask. Like the fable of Luisa and the black-furred man, she had to ask very carefully.

            Could she do all this, explain to her uncle, find the thing that was at the heart of this chaos, and save her people, and handle the other essential crises she run into on her way?


            For Fortuna sometimes there is just no path to victory without sacrificing something important. What if she had to sacrifice her freedom to archive something more important to her?

        2. We saw Contessa take apart capes in completely implausible ways. I think we’re meant to understand that she is, practically speaking, unbeatable. She could not be contained or restrained or beaten; if she is out of commission right now, it is part of a very long-term plan, not because she couldn’t escape if that were her intention.

          1. In straight up, direct combat sure, she is basically unbeatable by most if not all capes, but capturing her doesn’t have to involve combat, or it could be set up in the way that technically winning a fight means a greater loss. What if someone planted a nuclear bomb in the megalopolis that would be guaranteed to go off if she doesn’t let herself be captured for example? Unless she is willing to sacrifice everyone in the megalopolis, the only way for her to “win” would be to ask a question that would allow her to avoid the bomb situation in the first place, and since she wants to “try to do some things without any help” now (see 30.7), she could have purposefully avoided asking questions that would cover every possible future problem she may encounter early, since it would also essentially surrender control over her entire life to her power. It is also possible that she didn’t think about asking the right question early enough.

            I think it ties to the “weapon kept up sleeve” part of her situation. It is possible that it means that she has some trick prepared, she will use in the right moment against her captor, in which case she let herself be captured as a part of her plan of some sort. It is also possible however that she acts as a secret weapon of some sort that can be used by her captor, in which case she is stuck in this whole situation against her will (like Dinah was used by Coil for example). In this case she would be in a real trouble, she did not forsee in time to prevent it. It could also be a little bit of both.

          2. It could also be that we are misinterpreting the “bogeyman of Cauldron” bit, and it is not Contessa, but for example Number Man, who has been captured.

          3. It’s all really speculation about how a situation like that might go. It would really be wildboberino’s decision on how it wanted the story to develop. In theory, she could path-to-victory a way to diffuse the bomb. Maybe there would never be a bomb because she PtV’d a way to something random and part of the journey is to kill the guys making it.

    2. >>“Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.
      >Why helllooo there Administrator Queen.

      And then someday he finds out that his power is *especially* well suited for that goal…:)

      1. He triggered young, younger than Taylor did.
        Usually that means the shard’s driving more often than not; the “someday he finds out…” surprise will be when he starts wondering just how much of those choices it pushed on him.

        He’s not as bitter as Accord yet, but he’s got a lot of frustration ready for him on the horizon.

        1. I wonder if Lisa will choose to enlighten him about this fact, so he has a better chance to recognize early signs of his power messing with his mind, or she will try to “protect him” by keeping him in the dark as long as possible.

          It would be ironic if she went the second route, since she learned about the Entities thanks to him.

          1. The irony of Tattletale trying to protect someone by keeping vital information from them would be deliciously tragic

  3. A well-intentioned young person with a knack for making connections who just wants everyone to work together to improve things WHAT COULD GO WRONG

  4. “Getting everyone working together.”

    The administrator is back online. Will Aiden be the big bad by the end of the story? I’ll be glad, because then he’s sure to get some dinosaurs…

    1. Yes. We need Aiden with Dinosaurs. And if he’s the big bad, his quickly forming harem can try and bring him back with their love, then get in a fight over who get’s to keep him, and he’ll snap back to his senses to get them to stop fighting.

      I’m 100% sure this is how the story is going to go.

    2. Technically a new Administrator I think. This one had bubbled off from Scion’s Queen Administrator.

      Taylor’s shard should actually still be out there. Probably looking for a new host to connect to… or a clone to connect to it…

      1. That’s not how shard budding works. It isn’t one shard becoming two, it’s one shard making a second connection. It’s the same shard as Taylor’s.

        1. It may be a bit more ambiguous than that? E.g. Cryptid’s situation with respect to shards and connections is probably somewhere between CL’s and that of the Damsels. Even the Damsels don’t have identical buds, because they have had different experiences, even if both their shards/connections are based on that of the original Damsel. Since they don’t match each other, they also don’t match the original.

          I’m thinking it’s something like a tree or forest (in the data structure sense), with each “leaf” node pointing to a different area of the gargantuan inter-dimensional construct that is a shard. Taylor used her shard hard, so she had a dense tree structure with lots of branching. At the moment of Aiden’s “bud”, his shard/connection might have been some subset of Taylor’s shard/connection. The process of determining “birds not bugs” would have rewritten some of those leaf nodes, and as Aiden has used his powers additional new leaves have been written, some of which might overlap with ones that Taylor had.

          AIUI, the shard learns, but that doesn’t mean that capes learn. Capes are merely means to an end for shards.

          1. I don’t think what Damsel’s have are buds, like Aiden’s. They are just directly connected to the same Shard. Compare those two quotes from Scion’s interlude. One about Taylor:

            All around the entity, there were shards in varying states of maturation. The female’s was among the most mature. Seasoned by conflict, heavy with information, lessons learned, tactics, applications, organization. It had already fragmented once, heavy enough with information that it could afford to handle other roles. The fragment would have a derivative ability, and given proximity, it would hopefully remain close enough to exchange information with the shard that it had split off from. There were no signs of that exchange. The female had separated ways from the fragment.

            And the one about Contessa, Number Man and his clones:

            They engaged the eight with their own perception abilities, intervening to assist a group of others. As a pair, they opened fire with guns, then waded into hand to hand combat.

            The entity looked at the male, and it saw the connection to the same shard as the eight. His connection was stronger, more mature.

            Scion even calls the second situation “Puzzling.” twice, so unlike with Taylor something in it is unusual, though at least the first time he could refer to this bit about Contessa:

            It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.

            Still it feels like in Taylor’s case a fragmentation of her Shard is something normal, and expected by Scion, while in Number Man’s case the fact that there are nine people connected to one Shard is something irregular, and therefore different than Taylor’s case.

  5. The Heartbroken are such screwed up adorable kids. Aiden is also cool, with his desire not to attack the heroes for no good reason (listen to the ten year old Lisa. The ten year old is wise and is less biased).

    1. “We’re fucked up,” Candy said. “We’ve got you beat any day.”

      “I’m not so sure about that,” Kenzie said.”
      It’s not a contest girls.

      And Aiden is right. The Undersiders need allies, and they need them to be people who genuinly won’t screw them over on convience, or when they don’t have anything to offer. Mercenaries bought off, isn’t that right TT? But Lisa’s ego is acting up. I can’t see any reason moving to become more legit is actually a bad thing for the Undersiders.

      1. I mean “legit” as in… allying with an unelected, unregulated superhero group that’s barely gotten off the ground and is being riven between a faction that only wants to extrajudicially ‘dissapear’ people sparingly and a faction that just wants to have at it. Said superhero group being backed up by a very morally ambiguous civil leadership cabinet that itself involves people who have committed crimes against humanity.

        That’s a very banana republic conception of ‘legit’ is all I’m saying.

    2. One of the criteria on the Evil Overlord List is having a normal child as your advisor to tell you when your plans are dumb.

      1. Aiden doesn’t count as ‘normal’, though. He’s got powers too.

        That’s one problem with super villains in this setting- if they hang around their normal child adviser too much, eventually said normal child stops being normal and instead gets superpowers. Why do you think Heartbreaker had so many kids? He was hoping at least one wouldn’t get powers to serve as his dumb idea identifier.

  6. Aw, Aiden is adorable.

    “Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

    Actually, I changed my mind. I’m scared of Aiden now.

    1. When he said that I had two reactions, “I wonder if QA really likes people that want cooperation?” And “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”

      1. I’m certain plenty of Shards are all for cooperation, if said cooperation serves to create an army for a big war. Queen Administrator is probably the most prominent advocate of such cooperation among the Shards.

      2. Shards do have mild personalities, leanings. Miss Militia’s, for instance, was a calm shard which was an information-collector. It makes sense that the administrator shard wants things to work in concert.


        Interlude 26 (…)
        All around the entity, there were shards in varying states of maturation. The female’s was among the most mature. Seasoned by conflict, heavy with information, lessons learned, tactics, applications, organization. It had already fragmented once, heavy enough with information that it could afford to handle other roles. The fragment would have a derivative ability, and given proximity, it would hopefully remain close enough to exchange information with the shard that it had split off from. There were no signs of that exchange. The female had separated ways from the fragment.

        Aidan sat off on his own, a pigeon sitting on his knee. He opened and closed his hands, and the bird hopped from the one knee to the other, then back again. Something had happened there, but it wasn’t a focus. Not right now.

        I saw Miss Militia off to one side, with a group of kid capes. Crucible, Kid Win, Vista, two more I didn’t recognize, and Aiden. The kids were watching the screen, while Miss Militia watched the crowd for trouble, with a fair bit of her attention being aimed at Aisha and Rachel.

        Taylor’s been in proximity to Aiden/Aidan a couple of times for a short while, so I wonder if their shards exchanged information, if Aiden’s abilities got some more dexterity right around then.

        1. If we consider Taylor’s case Queen Administrator seems like a rather aggressive Shard. It seems like it just wants to be a general, not a grunt, which makes sense considering it fits it’s primary role. If Aiden’s Shard is Taylor’s bud, it could have simmilar tendencies.

          1. I think it’s important to remember a few things about Shards, and QA in particular.
            -First QA is not a shard that’s normally given out.
            -Second, why do the shards have the conflict drive? They are set to that so they will gather more information.
            -QA’s purpose is to regulate and control other shards. You can’t have the conflict drive going full tilt when the entities are traveling. They don’t want all their body parts fighting after all.
            -So QA might not be the same in the conflict drive, or may be operating on it’s original role controlling other shards.

          2. Except that Taylor has always been very aggressive when faced with opposition throughout entire Worm, and Taylor’s mind was getting consumed by her Shard in final stages of Gold Morning, she’s been assuming that every cape will try to kill everyone else around them, including herself, and was surprised when that didn’t happen. At that point it actually took quite a lot to make her stand down. See chapter 30.7 for details.

            By contrast in the epilogue, when she was apparently finally free of her Shard’s influence she could think:

            They were okay. They were safe. If and when a problem came up, if it somehow reached this sealed off Earth, she could stand by to let someone else handle it.

            She’d done her share.

            How many capes you know who thought that they “have done their share”, and remained in peace with this statement for month (it has been six months after Taylor’s arrival on Aleph at that point). It is clear that QA has been pushing her toward conflict since the day she triggered until the day her powers have been sealed away.

  7. “Chicken Large” made me wish I had access to Aiden’s natal chart because that’s a boy after my own heart.

  8. 1) Aiden might be my new favorite.
    2) This was the cutest chapter. Maybe even cuter than the Brutus interlude.
    3) Aiden is so totally the heir to Taylor. Not only does he have the Queen Administrator shard, he also has the drive to make everyone get along, Lisa’s loyalty, the ability to get under Lisa’s skin, the sense of moral righteousness, the sense of loyalty. How much is him, how much is the shard, how much is Lisa and Aisha consciously trying to help him, how much is Lisa and Aisha unconsciously projecting and him picking up on those expectations?
    4) Chicken Large! Also, Aisha’s reaction to Aiden naming it Chicken Large
    5) Aiden’s impression of Precipice. It might do Precipice some good to know that Aiden thinks he’s awesome
    6) It might also do him some good to know that TT is not MM and the Undersiders are not the Fallen. I get what he’s trying to do in telling Aiden he’s a good kid, and he did it carefully enough that it’s still good for Aiden to hear, but I think he interprets the situation as closer to his own than it really is.
    7) I really hope Lookout doesn’t become the victim of any Heartbroken shenanigans. She probably won’t, but I do worry that Darlene’s jealousy plus the Heartbroken being, well, the Heartbroken could lead to some very unfortunate places. That said, Aiden does have a point about his ability to deal with the Heartbroken (and some others, including Rachel) means he is used to all sorts of weird. Kenzie is different, but probably not particularly worse.
    8) I was really expecting the hammer to drop at the end of the interlude. Somewhere around when they mentioned Rachel missing her old dogs I was like “this is too cute, things aren’t this nice in a Wildbow story, surely the chapter will end with like Simurgh or something” The ominous bits of Lisa’s musings were less harsh then what I’d expected.

    1. Re. 3. He still has a bit naive view as to what loyalty is, or sharp line between a villain and a hero really is. That nativity looks like one mental feature fitting his age, which stands out, because otherwise he behaves like someone who was forced to grow up a little too quickly (which he was).

      1. I got a feeling Tattletale tries hard to shield him from the hard stuff for the time being. He’s a kid, he likes the people around him and he theoretically knows they’re “villains” – so his view of villains (and especially him being one) probably is along the lines of “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” from TVTropes.

    2. Re. 7. Anything is fair in love and war… but it may be not as one sided as you seem to suggest. Kenzie can pull some scary shenanigans herself.

      1. You’re a good kid,” Precipice told him.

        “No,” Aiden replied, his eyebrows knitting together. “I’m a bad guy. I’m an Undersider, which makes me a villain.”

        Poor Aiden doesn’t realize how funny his line sounds, considering he spoke it to Rain of all people.

        1. Sorry, the above comment was meant to be added not here, but as a reply to my “Re. 3.” comment above.

    3. This chapter made me realize that Rain’s emotion power actually is super useful, it’s just a social power not a combat power.

      1. Really? You didn’t see how effective it was against Antares last regular chapter? When she’s also got an emotion power that leaves his doubt-aura (and it has to be an aura; if he selected targets he’d have not picked Vicky) hitting a brick wall, because doubt is not a weak point in her emotional make-up. And March said it’s not useless, because doubt is the last thing a Thinker wants to be feeling.

        It’s pretty weak, yeah. You can ignore it, or even not notice it. But… What if it starts weak and ramps up as it’s on for longer? That makes it subtle, and whilst it is something Rain can find out with practice, early on he’d just dismissed it as ‘useless’- possibly because he hadn’t had it on for long enough to make a big difference. If you’re in a fight and the opponent is inspiring doubt? They’re directly attacking your morale, in a way Antares doesn’t. Her emotion power is big and flashy, his isn’t.

        1. With hindsight I think it’s been a serious contributor to why Breakthrough always feels off-balance and on the losing end of things even though Victoria was brought out to engage Scion directly and Chris’s forms are courtesy of the Tinker power that scored Public Enemy #2 and was competing with String Theory’s God Driver for top Tinker contribution to Golden Morning.

          1. Looks like when a big army will finally invade Gimel, the best thing Rain could do would be to infiltrate enemy ranks, and just keep his emotional power on at all times.

  9. Typos:

    > Twelve year old roman with hair on his legs already, who’d been laughing at him.

    Should be “Roman”.

    I’m also not sure about

    > He liked to think of using his power like a general might have a soldier set a standard down on the battlefield.

    1. > He got out the necklace. It wasn’t anything fancy- a rawhide string threaded with some feathers, beads, and at the center was a trio of little metal decorations. Two were the bullets that Shamrock had fired at a target, each one splitting apart into bird shapes. At the center was a button he’d got from the tailor who handled the team’s costume- a metal disc with an eye in the center.

      Missing spaces before both dashes.

    2. I agree on the sentence about Aiden’s power. Maybe “He liked to imagine using his power as being like a general, who might…”

      is the name Amais or Amias? Amais occurs 3x, Amias 5x

      was going back there and asked (either “went back there” or “asking”)
      solemna > solemn
      around with villains (seems like one of “around” or “with” should be dropped)
      precautiouns > precautions
      flack > flak

    3. He peered past crowd

      There was at least one member of his squad who might be willing to try it, though.
      -try what?

      but if the guy was going back there and asked, wouldn’t he find out the school was wrong?

      Making sure that things okay when we’re, I dunno, ten years older than we are.
      -are okay

      “I’m loyal,” he said. “The Undersiders are badass, and the Heartbroken, like these two are-”
      “-some of my favorite people.”
      -these two, are-”

      He’d spent the last four years around with villains who all knew each other.

    4. “Twelve year old roman”
      Capitalisation & hyphenation.

      “Lookout interurpted.”

      “Making sure that things okay when we’re,”
      Possibly skipped something there, although it could be weird parlance.

  10. How did you know?”

    “Cameras. I had a friend plant some, because it looks like I’m going to be here for at least one day, and some people might have tried to kill us so it’s good to be careful.”

    Of course one day stay is enough for Kenzie to have cameras put all over the place…

    1. Cameras are to Kenzie as spiders are to Taylor. Omnipresent and she doesn’t understand why everyone is making such a fuss about them.

        1. Now, now, tinker tools on spider legs are Riley’s thing. I’m sure Kenzie can think of something more original.

  11. Aiden mentioning how he thinks Lisa and Victoria could help each other. I bet he’ll try and make that happen. His next trick after that mght just be to try and get Victoria and Amy working together. And to top that, he is prorbably the one that ‘can’ end up getting Amy, Lisa and Victoria working together.

    Lisa: “Chicken little you are grounded.”
    Victoria: Lookout, you are grounded.
    Aiden. “You see Kenzie? I told you I could get them to agree on something!”
    Lisa. “Something else Vicky and I are going to agree on, is that you can both return to the right flaming teams!”
    Victoria. “Damn it, I hate agreeing with her so much.”

    And then, Kenzie removes herself from Undersider custody hilt Aiden removes himself from Breakthrough’s, high fiving each other on the way past.

    Also, anyone else think Victoria is the closest thing (excepting Undersiders) thatLisa has to a friend right now?

    1. Aisha- “Darlene, you’re grounded.”
      Darlene- “What? Why?”
      Aisha- “You really want the two of them stuck alone together?”
      Victoria- “We’re going to ground them seperatly!”
      Aisha- “Aw, where’s the fun in that?”

    2. > And to top that, he is prorbably the one that ‘can’ end up getting Amy, Lisa and Victoria working together.

      Perfectly so! Especially if he gets to Amy first, and then to Valkyrie with her Doormaker shadow…

    3. “And we wouldn’t have cooperated if not for those meddling kids”. Come on, is this the kind of story Ward is becoming?

        1. I don’t know. Does Bitch still count as one of the kids? On the other hand she was thinking about finding new homes for some dogs she cared for even back in Worm. It may be that one of the kids proves to her that they can take good care of a dog, and that they can keep their hair sufficiently unkempt. If they do it, they may get Scooby for birthday or something. It does not have to always be Aiden, who gets cool pets for birthday after all.

          1. Or it could just not be a dog at all. It could be just Aisha renaming Chicken Large Scooby to mess with Aiden:

            He wasn’t supposed to call it Chicken Large, on threat of being kicked from the team by Imp, so he only used the name in his own head.

            As for the hair Aiden already seems to have a problem what to do with them:

            Aiden wasn’t sure he looked that nice. He’d gelled his hair up into a small fauxhawk because it looked dumb however he parted it and it never looked right if he spiked it.

            He may eventually decide keeping them in order is not worth the hassle.

            Add to it his apparently less than brave reaction to the little “game” Heartboken girls played with him in Lisa’s interlude, and everything starts to fit.

  12. Is it odd that I now expect a Darlene/Kenzie teamup because Dar’s powers are nothing short of amazing. Both March and the Fallen had people with similar powers doing their thing for co-ordination enhancement and I can *feel* the aura of plot importance surrounding her.

    Also, Aiden is the best Prince Administrator. That boy is too good for his own good, making that accidental crush triangle with zero effort like that. I hope he gets through all this okay.

    1. Just imagine if Kenzie makes a camera that can capture moods… And combines it with the Time camera.

  13. > “She wouldn’t have wanted you to do this,” he said.

    > “Cute, but no cigar,” Tattletale said, half-turning.

    > “She would have agreed with me. She would have been disappointed you fought me on this.”

    Wow. Is this referring to Taylor?

  14. If Lisa’s right about Contessa, it pretty much has to be something deeply tied to the shards and triggers themselves, something almost like an entity. . .
    yeah, okay, fine, there’s an obvious frontrunner.

    Every time Kenzie looked “despondent” or “neutral” I had to grind on her behalf.

      1. On the upside there’s someone who can make you share sensations, so that bypasses the issue of Kenzie’s expressions being messed up.

  15. >“Getting everyone working together,”

    >“She would have agreed with me. She would have been disappointed you fought me on this.”

    Well then. How much of this is Queen Administrator, and how much is Aiden looking up to Taylor? It seems like at least part of the reason for him wanting to get everyone working together is because it’s what Taylor taught him in the brief time she was around.

    I wonder how Vicky will react. Is she happy that more people want to work together? Or does she refuse to work with villains just because they’re villains? I could see her going either way.

  16. >“What’s the main goal?” Roman asked.
    >“Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

    Valkyire: Scared.
    Dragon: Scared.
    Contessa: Path of Victory says to get Captured.

  17. I just remembered that Tattletale tried the, “What would she say ?” trick on Cody/Perdition during the new Delhi Endbringer fight too. So Aiden just double whammied it.

  18. Good chapter, but I still don’t like the name Janesha.

    Sorry Heartbroken, but I think Kenzie might have you beat. Although it’s tricky to tell, given that Kenzie got a Tinker/Stranger power and they got Master/Stranger ones. Hmm. Tinker’s a longer running problem that leads into the trigger, rather than loneliness and isolation… And Kenzie’s got that, too, in a way you don’t- once you get powers, you’re a Heartbroken. When she got powers, all she got was shuffled to another foster home.

    1. Well, considering how Kenzie handled her parents, you could say she can effectively get a good pseudo-Master power if she wants.

        1. Meh… I’m sure it doesn’t count if they never get anywhere close to succeeding. Otherwise Mama Mather wouldn’t be classified as Master. Neither would Goddess or Valefor considering how Victoria handled them.

          1. Mama Mathers petrified everyone so hard her minions didn’t poison her. Valefor doesn’t give his minions an option on poisoning him. And Victoria didn’t poison Goddess, she poisoned Goddess’ minions. My point stands.

          2. But the thing is all of them had their minions try to find a way to fight against them. Their powers just made doings it difficult. You think that no one in the Fallen village ever thought it would be nice to kill Mama Mathers, or Valefor? Similarly Kenzie’s power made it difficult for her parents to either poison her (because she could see what they were doing pretty much all the time), or seek outside help (because her power gave her a blackmail material).

  19. “What’s the main goal?” Roman asked.

    “Getting everyone working together,” Aiden said.

    Well… fuck.

    Also, while apparently unwilling to openly discuss it, everyone powerful wants to get the fuck out of New Brockton. Amy, Chris, Goddess, Dragon, Chevalier, Legend, and Valkyrie have all opted to split as often as they can manage. Rinke and Riley didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get back. The Simurgh has decided to up stakes for Bet. Dinah, if not compromised, is making a play for Gimel to become a vassal state to another Earth. Marquis has set up on Earth N. Only Teacher and Neo-Cauldron are sticking around and they’re notably arrogant. Tattletale is confused because “hiding in alternate worlds won’t save us”.

    And… Sleeper is “active”. Last known major action was “subsuming” Earth Zayin. He was the one parahuman in the multiverse Khephri decided would be too much trouble. There’s some grand-scale Master power in play; it seems to be distorting Victoria’s aura, it’s controlling non-parahumans en masse, and Victoria found herself relaxed being caught in a small arena with a huge guy with an axe where no powers were in play. And Blindside seemed pretty chill, where Blindside’s power protects against Alignment.

    I’m thinking we’ve been seeing Earth Gimel get “subsumed” for the entire story.

    1. I’m pretty sure Vicky felt relaxed in the arena bubble because she wasn’t under the effect of Rain’s doubt/guilt-aura anymore.

    2. Oh, also during the fight the non-parahumans were acting Aligned. They took a full blast of Victoria’s aura in awe mode, and they explained they were “spear team two” and one almost told her who they were working for but was cut off by the leader. And they acted in coordination but seemed unfamiliar with rocket launchers, where Teacher thralls would’ve had thinker powers to assist with aiming and warn about backblast.

      I would say it seemed like maybe a full inversion of Alignment, possibly courtesy of a clustermate, except the strikeforce teleporter was going to swallow a capsule that I somehow doubt was an emergency recall tinkertech teleporter. So I’m thinking it’s making people take sides and form up, then setting them against each other. So the “anti-parahuman” movement contains parahumans and looks up to Victoria for her efforts in getting the heroes organized and the villains locked up. But she’s also preserving the power structure with parahumans on top; she has to die. And Lookout is a “creepy survellience state tinker” who can track their movements and organization. She has to die too, and Natalie foiled their first strike. So then Dinah (possibly Mastered, possibly signing on voluntarily and directing the elimination or recruitment of other precogs disrupting her) arranged this bait and timing to see to it Lookout was shot, the time camera took a rocket, Victoria narrowly avoided death three times, and then all but one member teleported out and the teleporter tried to take a suicide pill. Meanwhile spear team one got Advance Guard to publically kill villains (expendable) in a way that made them look bad and is driving them to go more vigilante. Mission Accomplished.

      And that is why Thinkers are at the top of the list Changers are at the bottom of. It didn’t go Contessa-perfect, but Dinah does broad more than deep.

      1. Oh right, and the initial strike team got away clean to date; the targets couldn’t ID their attackers, the nature of their attack got Vista to use her power to find all the pieces, and the time camera ate a rocket before Lookout could work around the interference. And if the pattern from the hit on Fume Hood holds, they’re a bunch of mercs who won’t name their employer, so until the time camera is replaced it’ll just be a dead end, and once it is replaced it’ll be a lead to Earth N followed by a dead end just like the portal attack was.

        Speaking of which, I’m officially withdrawing my standing guess that was a Teacher operation. I’d assumed that because there’s no known mass production portal Tinker, but he’s never claimed responsibility and it’s got all the hallmarks of these guys. Mix of controlled non-parahumans, mercs, and villains, bringing guns to a cape fight, multiple redundant operations, and aside from the portal manipulators no mass-produced Tinker tech.

      2. > Oh, also during the fight the non-parahumans were acting Aligned.

        I still think they’re members of that slave army from Shin mentioned in Chris’ interlude. Of course we don’t know how exactly they are turned into slaves, so we may even be both right about this one.

    3. Aside from The Sleeper Agents, I don’t think anyone who makes their home in the city and isn’t Jessica, Arena, or Blindside has tried to deescalate any particular situation throughout the entire story. Even Victoria has been escalating hero response levels in a failed attempt to get villains to back down. Carol decided to force the issue with Amy. Chiet and Gimel were rattling sabers until the Fallen decided to escalate their fight with Hollow Point and the Wardens into the portal attack. Gary Nives was angry at parahumans and despite Dragon’s attempt to calm him down signed on with The Sleeper Agents to start telling the story of Kenzie and her parents, which Victoria countered by escalating to talking about Golden Morning. Goddess then decided to Align the team, and Chris responded by becoming shadow emperor of Shin. Meanwhile Tattletale left New Brockton to limit collateral damage when she threatened March with revealing the power drain secret and March called her bluff that was not a bluff. Prancer tried to keep Hollow Point low-intensity and Victoria raised the stakes for him specifically to make Hollow Point collapse. Tattletale is second-guessing everything, the precogs are disappearing, and Goddess felt a formless sense of impending doom at the point in time when Ratcatcher was MIA and had yet to seed the dosed candy, the very moment when it looked likely she’d be in a position of strength to move on Gimel.

      I’m starting to wonder if maybe Eden’s failsafe doomsday tower was correctly activated.

    4. I’d like to note that we still don’t have a reason to think Sleeper is particularly dangerous so far as S-class threats go. Khepri called him “more trouble than he’s worth”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s powerful in a way that worried Khepri, it could just be that he’s powerful in a way that wasn’t useful to her.

      I remember one theory was (based on an oddly worded line where he was reading a book out loud to himself) that he was a limitless self-replicator with no unique core body. Which would definitely make him an S-class threat (exponentially accelerating powers with the potential for global effect automatically warrant an S-classification) and would explain how he ‘subsumed’ Zayin (he just multiplied until he occupied all available land), but would also explain why he wasn’t useful to Khepri. She had no use for limitless unpowered bodies against Scion.

  20. I love the hell out of Aiden, and hope to see more of him (Chicken Little and Chicken Large, I love it!).
    Also great to get some insight into the Heartbroken.

    Also, while I knew Kenzie was crushing on Chris to some extent, I admit it surprised me she busted out the L-word here. Poor Lookout. 🙁 But seriously, she dodged a bullet there.

    1. She’s 11 and Kenzie; of course she’s calling it love. And she didn’t dodge the bullet; the bullet dodged her, purposefully and repeatedly.

  21. I suspect that what they’re afraid of is the formation of a new Entity. Valkyrie could easily be the core of one, with her powerset, but I’m not sure how Dragon could be unless Tinkertech power-scanning works by forming a network between the shards involved.

    1. I thought that likely when it was just Valkyrie, because she has the shard-collection Shard and the High Priest Shard, but for everyone else except Aiden the Megaopolis existing is the main concern on that front. And Dragon seems particularly unlikely given that she doesn’t have to be on Gimel to be “in” the city via remote-operated automata. And the Dragon’s Teeth are precisely what would calm the public right now.

      1. We don’t know if Valkyrie is collecting Shards exactly. She may be collecting just the data from them. The same data Scion was so obsessed about in his interlude. It may be that there is something else that is needed to create new Shards in a form suitable for migration as a whole Entity based on this data.

        I speculated more about this in the comments section below the last chapter. Here is the link:

        1. If my speculation is correct it could be that Valkyrie is necessary to create a new Entity, but she is not the one destined to become the core.

          1. > What is the threat? Why scared?
            > It wasn’t what he was interested in, but now he was paying attention.
            > Hiding in alternate worlds won’t save us, so why avoid the city?
            > Who or what is here?

            It would make narrative sense for the answer to be Aiden, and technical sense for an Administrator to be required to assemble an entity from shards.

          2. You know what? It makes perfect sense for Aiden to play such role in the story. I’ve been wondering why he seems to be so important at least since he Triggered in Worm. There still may be someone needed to rebuild the Entity from data collected by Valkyrie, but Aiden may be needed to coordinate the Shards, when they are put together.

            It may be even that we are wrong to look for a single person to be the core. It may be multiple people with Shards responsible for different tasks. The ones who perform more critical ones like Aiden or Valkyrie could be just closer to the center of things.

            Maybe this is Teacher’s plan? To let them build an Entity, and take control of it by controlling those people responsible for those critical tasks?

          3. Or maybe it is even the other way around? Maybe Teacher is trying to prevent construction of Entity/Entities? He did kill at least one president, and one prime minister. He did say something about saving humanity from itself in Contessa’s interlude, and used Taylor as “case in point” then.

            It may be that he is not trying to be some kind of ruler of Entity, but to prevent anyone from becoming one. If this is the case, it would explain why Contessa seemed to pass Cauldron to him. Of course it also means that he can be extremely dangerous to Aiden, Valkyrie, and/or other capes critical to Entity’s rebirth.

          4. Wouldn’t it be funny if Teacher – effectively one of the most powerful Masters around, was an anarchist at heart? One who builds an empire to prevent creation of something even bigger?

          5. Oh, just to be clear. If Teacher is trying to prevent creation of Entity, he is not so much enemy of Aiden, and Ciara, as an enemy of Queen Administrator and the Faerie Queen, no matter who is connected to them. If he wants to control the Entity, then he is more of a threat as a potential direct or indirect Master of people whose Shards would play a critical role in creation of Entity.

            It is an important distinction, because in the first case he could be perfectly happy if Aiden and Ciara ended up like Taylor did, while in the second case he would want to “teach” them, or at least let one of his students who happen to be strong Masters (like Valefor, or Mama Mathers if she ended up with him, or Monokeros if he can find her) control them.

  22. Hey! First time commenting on Ward, as far as I can recall. I had some questions about previous works.

    1. Are the entities from Worm and the way they dispense superpowers loosely based on Gnostic Christianity?

    2. I’m working on an RPG for Pact – is there a good way to reach Wildbow to ask questions about possible mechanics?

    3. Is Face ever going to get continued?

    Really hope Wildbow sees this.

    1. Well, we know one more reason for it. Even back in Worm, there have been two more reasons – one that his power worked similarly to Taylor’s (a detail Lisa certainly did not miss then), and the other that he was one of the kids from Taylor’s “orphanage” she run in her hideout in Brockton Bay.

      His willingness to make everyone cooperate is just a bonus, and we can’t even be sure if it doesn’t come from his Shard, or if it is the other way around, and he got Taylor’s bud in part because he had a personality simmilar to Taylor’s in this respect. It may be that even Lisa isn’t sure.

    1. It is that, or we are all reacting to the emotional roller coaster last few chapters have been. We know that this chapter offers only a brief relief, but boy did we need it!

  23. “Let them,” he said. “We should focus on the now. Making sure that things okay when we’re, I dunno, ten years older than we are. Once I started telling myself that, I started feeling a lot better about the feelings that the meeting stirred up.”

    Missing an “are”

  24. God how old is Aiden again? And he’s already starting a wholesome harem! Let’s hope he doesn’t tread the same way Taylor did with Grue. In any case, cute chapter!

  25. Bogeyman of Cauldron: captured, weapon kept up sleeve

    The “captured” part has been discussed above, but I love how ambiguous the “weapon kept up sleeve” is. Is Contessa her captor’s secret weapon, or does she have some secret means of fighting against the captor? Either way it seems to suggest, that she wasn’t captured in a natural disaster or something like that. SOMEONE captured her.

    1. Or perhaps the “bogeyman of Cauldron” is just Number Man for example? We haven’t seen him in a while…

      1. Contessa was “The Bogeyman” back in Worm; The Number Man is a high-level Thinker but not “don’t ask the number. Just run.”

          1. And yes that job in Vegas, while successful, didn’t go as smoothly as Contessa would probably do it. He was discovered too quickly for example (though at that point Cauldron wasn’t all that focused on staying hidden anymore, so it’s probably acceptable). There is nothing however that says he didn’t do some more jobs of that nature, when Contessa wasn’t available for some reason. One of the scary things about Cauldron bogeyman was that nobody even knew if it always was the same person.

          2. In fact in chapter 26.5 of Worm Hoyden calls Contessa, and the Number Man collectively “the bogeymen”, and nobody has a problem understanding what he meant. Even if Tattletale didn’t hear the term applied to both of them in this way before, she was probably on the coms at that time (she wanted to check if whatever Jack told at the end of that fight would bring the end of the world if repeated to the wrong person or not), so it wouldn’t be strange for her to call Number Man that way.

  26. You know, of all the things I expected to see when I opened this chapter, Aiden the budding harem anime protagonist was not it.

    I’m oddly okay with it.

    1. Don’t forget, this is Parahumans. Best girl will leave the harem immediately and every other girl will be a yandere, I can feel it.

  27. Jesus, that call back to Khepris last thought before she engaged scion with her swarm was chilling. What an incredible chapter.

  28. Aiden: Getting everyone working together.

    Queen Administrator: ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL

    Also, Chicken Large is great and Imp is wrong.

  29. Aiden’s the harem protagonist is great!

    Darlene has an awesome power

    Aiden wants everyone to work together. He really is Taylor’s bud!

    The threat keeps getting scarier. But teacher caused it and can’t control it

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