Sundown – 17.2

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What got me was how fucking quiet it all was.  I could look out the window and except for the highway, I couldn’t see the lights of a single car.  Snowfall muted everything, and the city wasn’t quite awake yet.  No work to go to, not enough people around to talk to.  The very real possibility there was no future.

Only the moments, now.  People elsewhere packed up.  They got in their cars.  They drove to some far away place.  They put their life’s possessions away in this new place.  They slept a bit.  They got food in a horrendous lineup.  Their days went on.

I stepped away from the window, still drying my hair.  My finger without the fingernail hurt like fuck.  I got dressed while still in the washroom, then tended to basic don’t-want-to-look-sick makeup and other ministrations.  I passed Crystal, who floated in for her shower.  No sound, no footsteps, even.

Crystal flew, and I floated just enough to keep my steps light, because I’d overdone my physio before my nap, overextending the underside of the foot I’d cut a week ago.

Carol was still working on her hair, which she had been doing before I started my fifteen minute shower, finished post-shower ministrations, dressed, and stepped out.  Golden hair parted, slicked close to the head at one side below the part, a roller removed from the hair at the brow, where it gave her hair some wave as it swept over one corner of her forehead.  Every strand with a place, but the short hairstyle wasn’t the sort of thing that required fifteen minutes.

Her power had nothing to do with steel, but her name and identity kind of did.  Brandish.  Steel out, steel in the spine, steel in the expression.  Unflinching in meeting my eyes, like a swordswoman might not flinch as she crossed swords with someone else in a duel.

No, not a duel.  Not a training session either.

Pure demonstration.  This was for her sake, and it was for mine.  But it wasn’t an exchange.

I had napped, taking forty-five minutes to myself to try to restore what hadn’t been restored by the time in that alien landscape.  Carol hadn’t rested at all, working out with my cousin that we would be going out later, then immediately starting with her wardrobe, hair and makeup.

All in all, Carol had taken an hour to get ready.

My clothes were somewhat rumpled, so I ventured back to the bathroom and called out, “Crystal?”

My voice wasn’t that loud, but it sounded deafening with how quiet it all was.

“-hate being bothered when I’m showering.  Give me a few minutes of peace, damn it.-”

The grumbling continued.

“Can I borrow clothes?”

“Yes!  Go away!”

Crystal wasn’t a morning person.

I stepped away to fish around in her closet, when I heard her talking again, which led to me exiting the bedroom to get closer to the bathroom door and listen.

“-not from the boxes.”

“You don’t want me to grab anything you’ve already packed?” I asked.

“Didn’t you hear me?” she asked.  “You’re interrupting my shower and you’re not even listening.”

“You told me to go away, so I walked away.  Your shower’s in progress and you have water on you, nothing’s interrupted.  Stop being prickly.”

“Stop interrupting my shower and I’ll stop being prickly.”

“I’ll grab something.  Thank you.”

I’d just reached her closet when I heard her talking again, which forced me back out of her room to get to where I could hear her again.

“-can check on Mark.”

What?

“While we’re there at the new headquarters, we can check on Mark.  They should have a link to Shin.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Stop talking.  Shower.  We’ll work it out after.”

I rolled my eyes, looked at Carol, and realized what I was doing when I saw how unflinching she was, not batting an eyelash, not really reacting or reflecting what I was doing or what the external world was doing.

The smile she put on her face was very much the kind of smile that was put on faces.  Nothing wrong with it, but I could tell she was making an effort.

“Doing okay?” I asked, feeling like I’d done something wrong or alien by being natural with Crystal, when it was my mom who was out of place.  Or was it guilt, because the little wrongnesses about my mom were in part due to the head injury, which was in large part my own fault?

“Doing better,” my mom said.  “It warms my heart, seeing you two together.  I’m glad you have each other.”

“I’m glad too,” I said.  My foot hurt, so I picked it up off the ground, drilling the floor with my toe a bit.  I felt like a kid with no idea what to do while being addressed by an adult.

“Coffee?” my mom asked.

“Sure,” I told her.  “Please.”

“Maybe a breakfast sandwich?  English muffin, meat hash patty, no egg?”

“Please.  That’d be great.”

The only sounds as my mom made her way from the mirror in the hallway to the kitchen were the hiss of the shower and my mom’s faintly clunky footsteps.  Trying not to clunk too much, but clunking nonetheless.

I had distinct memories from my childhood of those efforts.  Being up late with Amy, a blanket around us and finished bowls of ice cream on the coffee table, a scary movie in the beta player, when Carol came in wearing her costume.  Giving us a smile that was too ordinary and normal to be anything but a cover-up for the fact that things weren’t okay.

I grabbed a shirt from Crystal’s closet, and paused on seeing a sweater hanging up.  Not my style, but it looked like it hadn’t been worn yet, and it looked a damn sight like it was going to be left behind.  It was zip-up, which I knew Crystal had her kneejerk reactions to, with zipper tags, zipper and the brand-name button at the collar all in blued brass, the fabric transitioned in a smoky pattern from red to black, from left shoulder to right waist.

It was a lot, but it was a lot in a striking way that a superheroine in her known civilian identity could get away with.

I wore my own jeans, pausing to investigate my cramping foot before pulling on socks, then made my way to the kitchen, walking just enough that it wasn’t too apparent I was flying.

I put it on, then set about braiding my wet hair.  I made my way to the kitchen, watched my mom for a minute while I finished the loose braid.

Her process of going about making breakfast was just a bit slower, a bit more measured out.

I pushed up the sleeves, and began helping out my mom with the prep, pouring out the coffee.

“How are you doing?” I asked.  “Honest assessment.”

“Managing,” my mother said.  “Everything’s fine if I concentrate.”

“I’m sorry, you know.”

“I know.  I raised you, I know you.  I will recover, don’t worry.”

I remembered what I’d seen of my mom and Crystal.  My mom not being able to prepare dinner.

“Don’t push yourself too hard.  Save some energy for later in the day.”

“No,” my mother said.

“No?”

“I’ll push myself to the limit, reach the point where I feel like I have nothing to spare, then find a way to dig deeper.”

She cracked some eggs, putting them in the frying pan – for Crystal and herself.  In another pan, english muffins were lying face-down in a little bit of butter, alongside some mystery meat patties that were frying up.  The pan had warped a bit because Crystal had a habit of rushing the heating-up of the pans by lasering them, which concentrated too much heat in one place.  My mom used the fact the pan naturally tilted to manage the way the butter and meat juice pooled.

I cut the lettuce.

We wrapped up.  Bit of mustard, bit of lettuce, meat patties, egg for Crystal and mom, toasted english muffins, coffee in industrial size travel mugs with lids, like I imagined truckers using.

The fact my mom used the travel mugs was maybe the first real tell she had given me about where she was at emotionally since she’d broken down in tears.

Crystal floated in.  “Holy hell, is that sweater mine?  It looks great.”

I turned to face her, eyebrows raised.

“Oh, zipper front.  Huh.  Now I remember it.”

“You got it for your birthday,” I commented.  “One of a few things.”

“I remember now,” she said.

“From me.”

She had the decency to look embarrassed.  “To be fair, that looks way better when worn than it did hanging in my closet.”

“You could have taken my word for it,” I said, looking over my shoulder.  I studied her expression.  “Do you want to wear it?”

“Red’s more my color than yours anyway,” Crystal said, dodging the thrust of what I was saying.

“That’s not an ‘I didn’t even try on the sweater you gave me for my birthday’ apology.”

“It’s as good as you’re going to get.  You’re on probation and you’re technically in my custody.  I can give you orders, can’t I?”

I pulled off the sweater, passing it to Crystal with a roll of my eyes.  She wasn’t trying to be nice, either.

“I see,” she said, “The fabric and texture change a bit when it’s stretched out.”

“Which you’d know if you actually tried it on!” I called back, as I was already halfway to her closet.

Everything close to normal.  Pretend-normal, like the conversation last night hadn’t happened.

In her closet, there was a bulkier black sweater with a deep groove to the fabric and a hood built in.  It had been my first choice to wear, but I’d wanted to make a point with the abandoned birthday present.

I reached out, and on impulse, activated my forcefield.

The Wretch struck the doorframe of the closet.  It was loud, considering the otherwise quiet morning.

“Vic!?” Crystal called out.

“It’s fine!” I called back.

Focus, I thought.  Focus without focusing, calm.

We pulled the sweater from the hanger, lifted it up…

And I caught it, as I dismissed the forcefield.

Clothes had a way of being armor.  Walls erected between skin that was made of stray animals, bugs, and rodents and the outside world where monsters lurked.

I had actual armor now, and it wasn’t what Weld had helped me make for my costume.  It wasn’t quite perfect, and it was bound up in a whole lot of negative emotion, but it was armor.

Which let clothes be more like actual clothes.  I pulled on the sweater and felt its plush warmth against me, hugging my arms around my body.

Good.

“You ready?” Crystal called over.

“Just about,” I said.  I rejoined them.  My mom was already ready with three travel mugs of coffee with lids, and with three sandwiches wrapped in paper towels, each with a little marking on the folded corner of the paper towel that stuck out.  The Brandish icon, the Laserdream icon, and a star with five prongs sticking out the top.

Which was a hilarious way of marking something ‘no egg’.

“Find something?” Crystal asked, trying to find her shoes in the mess of footwear she hadn’t packed up.  She didn’t even walk, half the time.

“I think I found something, yeah,” I decided.  I gave her a look.  “Ready?”

“No,” Crystal said, unnecessarily.  One look told me she wasn’t.

There were easily a hundred heroes in the Warden’s headquarters at ass-crack o’clock in the morning, on their way to and from various missions just like the one my team had gone out for yesterday.  Controlling villains, getting them to stand down, trying to reduce power uses.

There were people who could enter a room, and everyone would stop talking, or the tone of conversation, at the very least, would shift.  Chevalier.  Legend.  Narwhal.  Dragon.  There were people who had impacted world-scale events who didn’t quite have that presence or clout.  I was pretty sure Tattletale was one such person.

Some of those people had become what they’d become because the PRT had helped make them into icons.  Had taken the virtues those capes represented, and sold them, hard.  They’d made it subliminal and liminal, marketed it to kids and the elderly, and made things like strength, courage, nobility, caring, honesty, and justice things that just happened to go hand in hand with the heroes appearing.  The PRT had boosted social media that sold these principles and the presence of these capes, and had provided deft answers for anything that appeared to hurt these notions.

Not that these guys were the type to make those kinds of mistakes.  There were capes who’d come close to being big but didn’t have the underlying character.  Bastion sprung to mind, in the time before his death.

There was another class, though.  Another type.  Eidolon, by all accounts, hadn’t had that underlying character.  A lot of people had instinctively disliked him, even.

People reported coming away from a meeting with Legend feeling like they wanted to be better for the next meeting.

They had reported coming away from meetings with Alexandria feeling like they’d better be better, or else they’d be seeing her again.  Sometimes there would be a smile on their faces as they joked, sometimes not.  The joke was sour to even think about now, when it had been reported her downward turn and violent tendencies had been partially because of Simurgh interference.

But Eidolon?  They came away from meetings with Eidolon feeling like they’d never be good enough, not wanting to see him again.  In some of the files I’d been given in the big file dump I’d negotiated for, I’d read that a lot of people with sensitive or shaky powers had felt like their powers didn’t like Eidolon.  Anecdotal evidence said Scion hadn’t, even.

Thing was, dislike or no, however instinctual or proud or resentful that dislike was, one couldn’t hold onto that after that one video of Eidolon, holding a bridge up during a disaster, too preoccupied to stop a building from falling down nearby… then shore up the bridge, reverse time to save the building and its occupants, shore up the building, and move on, like it was fucking nothing.  Didn’t watch Eidolon taking one shot to execute a supervillain the Kings Men had been trying to keep occupied for an hour, not three seconds after appearing on the scene.  Most of that had been early in his career.  But it counted, he wore the deeds like some wore capes.

Dislike or no, you knew if the man was in the fucking building.

My mother and I were aware of something on that scale, Crystal too preoccupied to be immediately aware.

People left one hallway, glancing behind them.  They made comments to people in passing.  My mother touched Crystal’s arm, indicating.

Crystalclear emerged from the crowd, and some of those eyes followed him.  It wasn’t Crystalclear drawing the fuss, though.  Obviously.  He was just the messenger.

We met him halfway to get the message.

“This way,” he said.

“How’re you doing, ‘Clear?” Crystal asked.  “I hear you’re doing pretty well.  Wardens like you, Foresight likes you.  I keep hearing your name and thinking people are wanting to make sure I’m paying attention.”

Crystalclear rubbed the quartz-like chunks that jutted from his head, smiling.  “Sorry, Laserdream.”

“It’s alright.”

We wove between the groups and individuals of the crowd.  I was noticing, and this was a relatively minor thing, but capes were really bad at getting out of the fucking way when it came to foot traffic.  Like the sidewalk situation where the six foot tall guy in a suit seemed to expect people to get out of his way, talking on the phone and not making eye contact, like he got a fucking half-chub from the miniscule power trip.  Except here, it was a good one in three, and sometimes included the teenagers who didn’t even come up to my collarbone in height.  I helped my mother a bit, steadying her.

I was tempted to fly over, but I was supposed to be avoiding any of my power use, while they were evaluating me.

“You, ah, you nervous?” ‘Clear asked.

“Really nervous.  Terrified.  Do you have any advice?  What to expect?”

“We’re having a lot of these meetings, because we’re thinking this is going to be an ‘all hands on deck’ thing.  Based on what I’ve seen, read with my power, and heard?  Keep expectations low.”

“Okay…” my cousin said, looking like she was going to say something else.  She didn’t, letting the word trail off.

We walked through a bit more of the crowd.

“…Thanks,” she said, instead.

“Here.”

He opened the door.

Valkyrie, that presence that had turned heads when she hadn’t even been in the room, was at the far end.  Wings that could have been projections or creations of light were partially wrapped around her, hiding much of her body, and the shadows of her helmet would have hidden her eyes, but something shone within her eyes and made them apparent.

She knew exactly how those shadows fell on her face as she moved her head slightly, looking up at us.

Aunt Sarah sat in a chair at the end of a long table, and stood as we entered.  Deep purple eyes, younger, wearing a costume that was darker than her old New Wave one, but it was clearly inspired by it.  The starburst icon at her chest had lines that extended out from the icon and around her body, but the lines had more flair to them, and the starburst icon was framed by two faint wings.

“I’m not sure what Crystalclear told you,” Valkyrie spoke with more than one voice, the voices that weren’t hers had an echo quality to them.  “I have been going to some effort to bring back some of those lost in Gold Morning.  The Wardens wanted their families and teammates to meet them and acclimatize to things before they started appearing in a more active capacity.”

“You don’t ask the families for permission?” my mother asked.

“I ask them,” Valkyrie replied in her faint chorus of haunted voices, indicating Sarah.

“She asked me before bringing me back,” Sarah confirmed.

Beside me, Carol folded her arms.

I didn’t miss the slight movements of muscles at the corner of her jaw, the way she looked down and away, back up, clearly fighting her emotions.  Those emotions weren’t her being upset.

“The process isn’t perfect,” Valkyrie warned.

“Victoria forewarned us,” my mother said.

“It’s… the parts and memories of the person the powers were most interested in?” I ventured.  “And then whatever that person has been able to scrounge up, rebuild, connect back to?”

Sarah looked like she was going to say something, looked off to the side, where whiteboards were marked with rows and columns of rectangles, some filled in with color.  The notes suggested it was about refugee allocation within this base.  The silence seemed to draw out a tension in Crystal, like she couldn’t move or breathe.

Sarah nodded.  “Yes.”

Crystal visibly reacted to the voice.  Tension broken, a relief at hearing the voice, a bit of emotional pain at the confirmation.

Valkyrie added, “You’re appraised.  Good.  Some have felt the need to castigate me, ask questions of me, say things.  If you need me for any of that…”

She left the invitation hanging.

“Crystal?” my mom asked.

Crystal shook her head, blinking rapidly.

Sarah put her arms out.  No…

Aunt Sarah put her arms out.  Crystal flew to her, in a hug quick and fierce enough it would have bowled her over, if Sarah hadn’t also been able to fly.

“You must have other things you want or need to be doing,” my mom said, a bit of emotion breaking into the otherwise professional, concise words.  “Don’t let us keep you.”

Crystal was so still, hugging Aunt Sarah, like she thought anything would break the spell.  Aunt Sarah stared out, and I could see the shimmer of moisture in her eyes.  She reached out with a hand, toward my mom.  Her sister.

My mother put one hand on the table to steady herself as she made her way over, clasping that one hand in both of hers.

Aunt Sarah’s other hand pulled away from Crystal to give me a little wave, and the break in that bit of contact broke the spell in Crystal, who moved her head slightly.  She went still again as the hand went back to where it was, hugging her.

I could have gone over, but Aunt Sarah was my aunt.  I’d already reached out, had my reunion of sorts.  My mother and cousin were the ones who this reunion was for.

Valkyrie walked down the length of the room, on the other side of the table.  She stopped next to me.

“Thank you,” I said.

“I should thank you.  Your team went to great lengths, and your teammate Swansong gave her life to save me and other members of my flock.  It’s thanks to her that some of them were able to have their reunions today.”

I nodded.  “Did you…?”

“She didn’t want me to.”

I nodded.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.  I couldn’t imagine making that decision, and yet at the same time, I couldn’t imagine handing over my whole being to be imperfectly translated.

Just the thought stirred up some faint feelings of panic that could have become overwhelming feelings if I was willing to let them.

“How much is she… Sarah Pelham?” I asked, quiet.

“I don’t know.  I would have had to know the real her to have something to measure against,” Valkyrie told me.  There weren’t as many echoes in her voice as she said it.

I nodded.  It made sense.

“Ninety percent, maybe.  Eighty percent?  Seventy?”

I nodded again.  I didn’t trust my voice if I spoke.

“I would tend closer to ninety, now that I think about it,” Valkyrie said.  “When I was talking to her, prior to bringing her back, I remember she talked about flying with her family.  Her heroics were intertwined with her love life, her family, her work, the face she wore every day.  If it’s not ninety percent or more, it’s going to be easier for her to get there than it has been for others.”

I nodded with more vigor this time.

The hug had broken.  They were exchanging words now.  I could have gone over to talk, but it would have felt like I was intruding.

“I do have questions,” I said.  “Do you have ten minutes?”

“I do, but…” Valkyrie let the last of the echoes die away.  When she spoke to me, it was as a singular person.  “I’m suspicious they have to do with what you were up to last night?”

“Yeah.”  The crystal world.  The guts of this alien system.

“If my colleagues asked what I was up to, and I told them I was encouraging what you did by giving you more answers, it wouldn’t earn me any favors.”

“It was suggested that it was either losing the favor and resources of the Wardens or keeping it but being in trouble.  It sounds an awful lot like I’m getting the worst of both worlds.”

Valkyrie smiled behind her helmet.  Only the section of her mouth beneath her nose was visible, but I could see the teeth showing, the crinkle in the eyes that suggested she was closer to my mom’s age than mine.

“I saw some other things,” I said.  I hesitated.  “You were the one that found the Wardens and the people who were lost in the portal attack?”

“Who are you interested in?” she asked.

“Bonesaw,” I said.  I met her glowing eyes.  “Jessica Yamada.”

I could see that there was something in how she reacted, that drew a direct line between those two.  My heart sank, and not because I could guess her answer.

“I can’t give you the answers you want.  It would betray confidences, as well as classified material.  Jessica is around, I think.  If you wanted to ask her, she might be able to tell you.”

“Okay,” I said.  I couldn’t even imagine having that conversation.

“I think you’re very close to where some of us stand.  It’s a dangerous place, when you know too much, but you don’t know enough to keep yourself safe.”

“That’s why I’m asking.  I’m trying to close that gap.”

The halting conversation on the other side of the room had become actual conversation now.  Crystal was crying as she talked, not even trying to wipe away the tears now.  Aunt Sarah reached out to give it a shot, and Crystal stumbled over her words.  Carol rubbed Crystal’s back.

Valkyrie spoke up again, but it was only after my extended family had exchanged three or four questions and answers, with some elaboration.  “I’m told Vista came back from patrol earlier.  Could you find her, bring her to the garden bridge for me, the one on the third floor?  I’d use my powers, but you can understand how concerned we are about power use in fragile areas.”

“I know her phone number?” I suggested, shrugging.

“That works.  I’ll see about giving you some answers, in a way that won’t breach anyone’s trust.”

“Thank you.  That would be great.”

“We’re on the same side, child,” she told me.

Child.  It did not feel like the first, second, third, or anything on the way to the tenth descriptor that I felt suited me.

“I’ll let the Wardens know Vista will temporarily be the one keeping tabs on you.  Don’t detour or they’ll worry.”

“Alright,” I said, still weirded out.

She let herself out of the room.

I let my family know I was stepping out, then made my way into the busy hallway, noting the direction Valkyrie had gone by the reactions that seemed to follow even thirty seconds to a minute after her passage.  I pulled my phone out, messaging Vista.

Me:
Are you available?  Want to meet, Valkyrie sends me

Vista (Little V):
Am kinda
IF Valk sends you then I can make myself available
Dormitories at ex-Teach HQ
WTF you doing talking to Valk?

Me:
Aunt Sarah’s meeting Crystal and Carol

Vista (Little V):
Oh shit!
Dorm room 22-9-19-20.
Catch me up then
If I’m not there wait. Won’t be long

I started walking.

The organization system took a bit of interpretation, but I had the general sense of it from having to find Byron’s hospital room.

People milled this way and that, and as I got closer to the dormitories, I saw more people in civilian clothes, including refugees.

The refugees were easier to walk among, even though they were arguably the group I identified with the least.  Maybe the Victoria who had been part of Patrol block would feel more at home among them, but… that had been a long time ago.  But I got out of their way, they got out of mine.  The urge to fly and expedite the trip was a dull itch, without being a physical pain or outright strain on my patience.

I wanted so badly to experiment, to test my power, to make sure that the control I’d managed to forge wouldn’t slip away from me due to hours of neglect.  I wanted to do more small exercises like the clothes hanger and sweater.  To figure out where I needed to be or the mental state I needed to avoid those impulsive, uncontrolled movements.

But I couldn’t.

So I bit my tongue, and held onto the positives.  That Crystal had the chance to hug her mom, or someone close enough to her mom to count.  To talk to her, to ask questions.

Section 22.  I found row 10.  Close.

22-10… one row over, good.  Then column…

22-9-15…

22-9-18… I carried on down the corridor.  Turned a right at 19.

22-9-19-5…

The intersection was more like an apartment building, rooms marked with their individual number code, with doors facing out.  A ramp led up to the second ‘story’ of dormitory rooms.  The lights in the hallway had been dimmed, and a few screens along the way urged me to be quiet.  Members of the latest patrol were sleeping.

I found the room, and knocked softly.

No answer.

I knocked again, a little firmer.

I let myself in at the lack of a response.  My eyes adjusted to the gloom, and the first thing I recognized was a poster of Gallant on the wall, which was hilarious.  The second thing-

Sudden movement in my peripheral vision, a yelp-

And I had to restrain myself from yelping too, before I turned and fled the room.

Okay!

Wow.

“Fuck,” I heard Vista.  “Shit.  I’ll be right out!”

Her dormitory neighbor banged on the wall at the noise.

I opened my mouth to reply, and words failed me.  I just stayed where I was, back to the wall, door to my left, reflecting on life, the passage of time, and exercising what were now years of experience in not letting thoughts or mental images settle in my mind’s eye.  I’d relax, surrender the scene to the natural flow of thoughts, and refuse to allow the image to be committed to memory.

What felt like an interminably long, silent period of time passed.

I heard laughter.

“Don’t laugh!” Vista snarled.

The laughter got louder.  Tristan emerged from the room.

My eyebrows went up.

“Apparently my brother doesn’t want to do the walk of shame, so he’s given me my turn.”

“He’s doing better, huh?” I asked, my eyebrows still raised.

Vista stuck her head out the door, shoulders bare.  “It’s not a walk of shame if we didn’t do anything!”

How had she not pulled something on by now?  Was she just sitting on her bed, face in her hands or something?

Tristan laughed more.  Vista slammed the sliding door in response.

The neighbor banged on the wall yet again.

“You’re okay with this?” I asked.

“They didn’t do anything,” Tristan said.  “She made a pass at my brother that was awkward but forward enough to get through his thick skull.  They negotiated it with me.”

“He’s doing better then?” I asked.

“Yeah.  If he was a one before, he’s a three or four now.  Not very mobile, but… last night helped.”

I glanced at the door.

“Rain’s dream,” Tristan said, smiling.  “The world beyond it.  And we’ve got cheerleaders encouraging him to put in the effort…”

He pulled out his phone.  Showing me messages from Kenzie, that included input from Darlene, Chicken Little, and Candy.

‘Go get her ice cream’ was the latest message.

I smiled.

“Can I talk to him?” I asked.  “Is he okay to sit or stand or…?”

“Probably,” Tristan said.  He leaned back against the wall, then blurred.

Byron replaced him, slumping down a bit, in part because the strength and coordination weren’t all there.  In part because he’d been caught.

“You good?” I asked him, keeping my voice down for those who were sleeping.

“Mm,” he grunted.  He was naturally quiet, to the extent he didn’t have to change much to account for the sleeping patrolers.  “There’s no answer to that question that doesn’t sound wrong.  If I say ‘better’ it sounds like I’m being clever, and I’m worried you’d hit me.  If I say I’m not feeling good, I’d be lying…”

He trailed off.

She good?”

“Not right this second, but yeah,” Byron said.  “In general I think… good.”

Good,” I said, stern.  “You realize she’s a friend of mine, she deserves all the good things?  You hurt her, you and I aren’t going to be on good terms.”

He nodded.  “I wouldn’t want anything else.”

He looked so weary.  I almost felt bad.

“These things the Chicken Tenders are telling you to do?  These things, at a glance, seem good.  Teasing and obviously weird stuff aside, do them.”

“Vista doesn’t seem like the type to go ga-ga over flowers,” Byron said.

“Would you want flowers?” I asked him.

“I suppose.  I’d be touched.”

“There you go,” I told him.

He ran his hand through his hair, pushing it out of his face.  “Okay.  Sorry, by the way.”

“No apologies, provided everything’s good.  But if it’s not, you’re going to need big apologies, because I’m going to be pissed.”

“Got it,” Byron said.  “But for what it’s worth, I am sorry.  I feel like she’s a friend of yours, I should have asked, but I’m still not one hundred percent there, it was early.”

He mumbled a bit more at the tail end of it.

“Why don’t you swap back to Tristan?”

“Thanks for being cool,” he said.  He paused, “I really like her.”

Then he blurred out.  Like he couldn’t even look me in the eye after admitting that last bit.  Running away.

Tristan just smirked, enjoying himself too much.

“I’ll get going so Vista can come out of hiding,” Tristan said, and in contrast to Byron, even trying to be quiet, the pitch and volume of his voice were on the borderline of what I’d consider tolerable.

“You sure you’re good?” I asked him, stopping him before he could walk off.  “Absolutely sure?”

“My brother deserves good things,” Tristan said.  “If it’s another human being being close, nothing rude?  That’s just human contact.  It’s human contact with someone I like and respect.  He’s willing to extend me the same allowance.  We’ll figure it out.”

I nodded.

“Later today, I’m seeing this guy I knew, Nate.  Catching up.”

“That’s great.”

“We’ll see,” Tristan said.  The smile dropped off his face.  “He disappeared after my attempted murder.  Byron says he’ll put in a good word, reassure Nate, but I don’t think that kind of betrayal and surprise is something a guy just gets over.”

“Good luck.”

“Yeah.  Thanks,” Tristan told me.

He looked back at the door, then smiled again, chuckling under his breath.

He left, and I waited a good minute before the door slid open.  Vista didn’t emerge.

I ventured inside.  The lights were on, now.

“I didn’t think you were close,” Vista said, accusatory.  She had the phone in her hand, like she was trying to decipher the texts and figure out how things had come to this.

“What?”

“You said Photon Mom was seeing your family, not your family seeing her, so I thought you were somewhere else, you’d have to travel here, and you can’t fly because you got in trouble, right?”

“We were in the conference room near the main lobby.”

Fuck,” Vista said.  “I’m so humiliated.  I thought there’d be time to sleep in another ten minutes, take him back to his dorm room while chatting with Tristan, come back and meet you.”

“I knocked.  Twice.”

“They knock constantly, whenever they’re trying to round some of us up for an errand.”

The person next door thumped.

“Let’s go,” she said, quieter.

“Coat,” I pointed out.  “We’re going outside.  Garden balcony, third floor.”

She got her coat.  Bulky and covered in patches.  It made me think of Rachel Lindt, a bit.

“What was the terrible pick-up line you used?” I asked.

“We can’t forget this whole episode happened?” Vista asked.

“Just making conversation,” I told her.  “I’m… backing you two.”

“I know.  I heard some of that.  Thank you for telling him to get me flowers.  That’s the sort of thing so dumb I wouldn’t know how to hint at it.  I’ll look forward to that.”

She was fidgeting a lot.

I walked with my hands in my pockets.

“He said he really likes me,” she said, quiet.  Vista, who was still petite, even after growing most of the way up, who had taken up a vaguely grungy, ‘tough’ look, with the black eyeliner and patched jacket, looked outright bashful.

“You realize what I said to him about not hurting you goes for you too?  He’s recovering, he’s vulnerable.”

“I know.  Tristan’s really helpful there.  He’ll tell me if I’m being dumb.”

I nodded.

“He was getting better and they needed the hospital room.  So he has a dorm room.  We were talking and I suggested, uh, my room’s closer to the hospital room than his new room.  And skinship, skin to skin contact, it’s apparently good for mending.”

“Wow,” I said.  “Wow.  Didn’t actually need the details.”

“Shut up.  And you did, because if I didn’t tell you, you’d wonder or worry.”

“Tristan said you were forward, but-”

“Shut up.  And it wasn’t a dumb pickup line, because it worked.  Tristan even said it was the right line to get through to Byron.  We went to my room instead of his.  We cuddled, we napped.  That’s all it was.  Anything else has to wait until he and Tristan figure it out and Byron gets better.”

She was blushing, and furiously trying to suppress it and hide it, messing with her wavy, dirty-blonde hair by combing it with her fingers, arms up near her face, hiding most of it.  But I could see that her ear was pink.

“Valkyrie said she’d have some answers about the weird interdimensional stuff.  But I had to bring you to her, or whatever?  Just to let you know what’s what.”

“Fill me in?  What even happened last night?”

I filled her in, broad strokes, the general details of what we’d done, why.  What we’d seen and done.

We navigated our way down a floor, then off to the side.  To the garden balcony, which was an extended ramp that stood out from the side of the building, with a number of planters that had bushes, trees, and flower beds on it.  It was covered more in frost than snow, the plant life withering in the cold.  Vista pulled on the coat she’d had under one arm.

Valkyrie wasn’t there.  Two others were.  I belatedly connected to what Valkyrie had intended when she’d said she wanted Vista.  She was still arranging the meetings.

Dennis’s red hair didn’t move in the wind, and there was a faint lensing at the very edges of his face, like they might at the corner of a chandelier, except more dark than light.  He wore a coat over a gray costume with clock faces worked into it, Valkyrie’s ‘wings’ at the clock predominant at the chest.

Chris -Kid Win Chris- had hair that was more gold than blond, and definitely not brown.  There were more changes than I’d seen on either Aunt Sarah or Dennis, and I had no idea if he’d added cyborg parts or if he’d just come across that way.  The back of his neck, the ridges of his ears, and his eyes all looked more like technology than flesh.

Vista barely flinched.

“No shit?” Dennis asked.  “What’d you do, Missy?  Went and grew up on us.”

Vista snorted.  “You went and died on us.  Much ruder.”

Dennis smiled.  He looked at me.  “You’ve barely changed.”

“You hardly know,” I told him.

“I’m glad you’re better,” Kid Win said.  His voice was deeper than I remembered it.  I assumed it was because two years had passed before he’d died, more than anything about his current body.

I shrugged.

“You don’t seem surprised,” Kid Win told Vista.  He indicated me.  “She does, a bit.  I get it, we look a bit weird.”

“A bit surprised,” I said.  “And you don’t look that weird.”

“I looked you up,” Vista said, jamming her hands in her pockets.  “Came to terms with it.  Figured your- whatever Valkyrie is, she’d introduce us when the time was right.”

“Look at you!” Dennis said.  “I can’t get over it.  I remember when you didn’t even have all your adult teeth.  Now you’re… grown.  Kind of!”

Vista glanced at me, like she thought I’d say something.  I pursed my lips together.

“Grown enough to chuck you off this ledge.  I’ve mourned you once, I can do it again.”

“You’re a lieutenant to one of the top Wardens or something?”

“Narwhal.  Sometimes Cinereal.”

“That’s crazy!” Dennis exclaimed.  He took her by the shoulders and shook her.  “Crazy!  You do realize that?”

“Yeah.”

“Congratulations,” Kid Win, who wasn’t even a kid anymore, told her.

“Thanks,” Vista said.  Something in her seemed to relax.  “My parents never even congratulated me.  I don’t think they even really get it.”

“Still living with the parents?” Dennis asked.  “At least-”

He stopped as Vista shook her head.

“You’re living out on your own?”

“Dormitory, now.  But basically.”

“The whole world went and moved on, huh?” Dennis asked.

“That’s what happens when you die, you fucking moron,” Vista told him.

“You’re a lot more abusive than I remember.”

“You guys all left me alone,” Vista shrugged as she said it, like it was a passing comment.  “You deserve the abuse.”

“Well,” Dennis replied.  A full, one-word statement.  “Couldn’t really help it.”

“The mutated hair looks cool, at least,” Vista said.  “I bet it’s a pain in the ass.”

“You have no idea,” Dennis said, touching hair that might as well have been time-stopped, it was so unmoving.  “I can’t wear my usual style of helmet.  But that’s enough about me, and creepy changes.  Let’s talk about you, catch up.  You can explain this whole punk, grunge, angry little Vista-”

“Little?” Vista asked, arch.

“And angry, see?”

“Angry enough to toss you off the edge.  I’m not even kidding, I’m still so mad you went and died on us.”

“Couldn’t help it!  The world ended!”

“I managed it!”

“You’re ridiculously powerful!” Dennis protested.  He looked at me.  “Please tell me that our little Vista found a Gallant to use as a release valve.”

Vista puffed up, pink touching her face and ears again.  She shot me a glare, daring me to comment.

“You do.  That’s amazing.  Who?”

I backed off, staying where I could fly after Dennis if she really did toss him.

Kid Win approached me.

“Was he like that, around Gold Morning?” I asked him.

Kid Win shook his head.

“He was like that at different points.  Jokey, teasing.  On the battlefield, when on the defensive.”

“Yeah.  I remember a bit of that.”

The back-and-forth between Vista and Dennis went on.

“You’re quiet,” I said.  “I know that’s a dick thing to say, but…”

“I’m not very me, not whole,” he admitted.  “Not yet.”

“I won’t hold it against you.”

“Thanks,” he told me.  We watched the arguing continue.  “Valkyrie said you wanted details.”

“Do you have details?  About the agent’s territory?  The crystal landscapes?”

“Some.  Kind of.  We’ve been… talking about stuff.  Doing some training, digging into memories, experiences, stuff from when we were gone.”

I nodded.

“She figures we’re going to have to be prepared to fight on that level, or at least deal with things on that level.”

We.

That we felt different.

Yes we are, I silently agreed.  I wondered if my agent heard me.  The ‘Wretch’.

“Tell me what you can,” I told him.

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102 thoughts on “Sundown – 17.2”

  1. -Damn, this chapter made me CRY.

    Aunt Sarah put her arms out. Crystal flew to her, in a hug quick and fierce enough it would have bowled her over, if Sarah hadn’t also been able to fly.

    Crystal was so still, hugging Aunt Sarah, like she thought anything would break the spell. Aunt Sarah stared out, and I could see the shimmer of moisture in her eyes. She reached out with a hand, toward my mom. Her sister.

    -Crystal meeting her mother after such a long time and HUGGING HER. Sarah trying to act like she was before dying and being pretty fine.

    “My brother deserves good things,” Tristan said. “If it’s another human being being close, nothing rude? That’s just human contact. It’s human contact with someone I like and respect. He’s willing to extend me the same allowance. We’ll figure it out.”

    -Tristan, being a true brother and supporting Byron and Vista.

    -Chris and Dennis BACK.

    -This chapter also made me LAUGH.

    “It’s as good as you’re going to get. You’re on probation and you’re technically in my custody. I can give you orders, can’t I?”

    -Crystal trying to act like a severe guardian but she’s too adorable and sweet for her role.

    -Missy acting so shy about her relationship with Byron. So cute.

    What a cute chapter, we needed it after the horror with Amy interludes.

    Next time: an interlude explaining us what happened with Riley or a normal chapter where Chris explains everything he knows to Victoria. Anything is good to me.

  2. Reunion typo thread.
    “then made my way to the kitchen,”
    (…)
    “I made my way to the kitchen,”
    Victoria goes twice, gets there once.

    “Me:
    Are you available?”
    “Vista (Little V):
    Oh shit!”
    Misaligned with the rest of the chat.

    1. > That we felt different.
      This reads like a sentence, but the context makes me think that “we” should be in quotes, i.e.
      > That ‘we’ felt different.

      > The smile she put on her face was very much the kind of smile that was put on faces. Nothing wrong with it, but I could tell she was making an effort.
      > …
      > I had distinct memories from my childhood of those efforts. …
      There’s a significant gap between these paragraphs, and the “efforts” are not mentioned in between, which made it very hard for me to understand what “those efforts” referred to on reading, stopping and jarring my reading. It seems to me that it would flow much better if the latter paragraph was immediately after the first instead of several paragraphs later.

    2. > […] and the shadows of her helmet would have hidden her eyes, but something shone within her eyes and made them apparent.

      Maybe reword this sentence to avoid repeating “her eyes”?

  3. I really appreciate how grounded Ciara feels now. I get a more heroic vibe out of her now than a lot of Alexandria’s behaviour in Worm.
    It feels like it’s often found in capes with extra insights in shard business, but able to keep enough humanity at the helm, so to speak. Miss Militia, Chevalier, Riley… even Swansong, when she was able to work around Ascension’s pushes.

  4. Continuing to love the wild and wonderful, very personal buildup and the reunions.

    Tells me something awful is about to happen.

  5. I wonder if Lisa is having her reunion with Brian right now. After making a mistake that put not only her, but also children in her care in mortal danger, having to not only re-live her trigger, but also have it exposed to multiple people, making a mistake that endangered not only her, living for what was likely the first forty minutes alone with only her own thoughts in her head in years, having to explain the dark side of her power to “Glory Hole”, being put under house arrest, and so on, she is probably really emotionally rattled, and could really use this meeting more than ever – if only to distract her from everything that happened last night.

    1. More than Lisa and Brian reunion, I want to see Aisha and Brian reunion. Think at the possibility of Aisha seeing her brother after such a long time.

      1. One step at a time. Considering what both Lisa and Aisha can do to Brian’s nerves I expect that meeting just one of these ladies two and a half years later will be a trying experience for him. If he was to meet them both at once… let’s maybe try to not give him a heart attack after right after he came from the dead.

            1. You gravely underestimate Brian. He handled Bonesaw’s impossible sadistic torture and Taylor breaking up with him, he can handle everything. A meeting with his sister and friend will be piece of cake for him compared with everything we went through.

            2. Remember that what Bonesaw did to him and Taylor then caused him to suffer a second trigger, and of usual rules still apply he can’t suffer a third one. Remember how that second trigger affected him emotionally – to the point that he stepped down as leader of Undersiders, and never took this position again. Remember the tone of the letter he wrote to Taylor soon after she surrendered to PRT.

              And remember that now he is most likely convinced that during GM he lost Taylor again. This time – forever. This guy suffered a lot, and I’m afraid that the impact of these losses was so severe, that they have made him weaker, not stronger, in too many ways.

            3. Of course there are also other factors to consider, like what Cozen really meant to him, and if she is still alive (and around). Maybe even the fate of his parents is still important enough to him to significantly influence how well he can deal with his “new life”?

            4. It appears they you hope a good outcome. Unfortunately I fear a really bad one – not that Brian will be emotionally unable to handle his reunions (which would be bad, but barring an actual heart attack or complete nervous breakdown not too bad IMHO), but that enough of his personality has been lost, that he will be too numb emotionally to actually feel much while meeting his friends and family, or that he will be unable to remember some of his loved ones clearly.

            5. I respect your opinion but I’m more optimistic. I think that Brian will act pretty normal (like Sarah, Dennis and Chris acted- pretty fine even if they were not fully themselves) and he’ll do ok when meeting his sister. If the others acted fine, why he should be different? He’s not different at all compared with others from the Flock. On the contrary, meeting someone he loves will make him feel better. I’d give anything to see Brian-Aisha-Lisa meeting.

            6. I want to be optimistic too, but I’m afraid that the fact that Brian never took back his position as the leader of Undersiders after his second trigger means that the trigger and Taylor’s surrender shook him so much that he never truly recovered, and I worry that dying in such state of mind may not translate to a smooth, problem-free resurrection.

              There is also the fact that while Valkyrie probably focused mostly on bringing back people whose personalities she judged least damaged or diminished by death. The problem is that I think she could be tempted to bring back the boy who loved Khepri, even if he wasn’t is such good shape as the others, simply because of what Khepri meant to her. And I think that chapter 30.7 of Worm (both the last meeting between Taylor and Glaistig Uaine and the things that Contessa mentioned Glaistig Uaine said about Taylor later on) clearly shows just how strong impression Taylor left on Ciara.

              Of course my worries may be unfounded. After all we don’t really know too much about how Brian has been after Taylor left their team. Maybe his emotional wounds healed better than I suspect? Or maybe they don’t have the sort of impact on degradation of shadow’s personality I suspect they do? Maybe the impact is actually opposite – maybe dying as emotionally harmed as I suspect Brian was actually makes the shards preserve more of their old host’s personality, not less?

  6. “I’ll push myself to the limit, reach the point where I feel like I have nothing to spare, then find a way to dig deeper.”
    Out of all the lessons and expectations Carol set on her daughters, this was by far the most damaging. If only someone had recognized that problem and convinced Carol it was one, maybe their family would be in one piece. (Aside from the Endbringer-induced holes, I mean.)

    Focus, I thought. Focus without focusing, calm.
    Sounds like the meditation practice paid off. I mean, the eldritch vision quest also contributed, but hey.

    1. Perhaps it was a damaging lesson for Carol’s kids, but at the same time it seems like it could be not a bad approach to make a quick recovery from her brain injury. Assuming she can quickly and more or less completely recover. In not, then I expect that unless Carol stops pushing herself so much (and I think that she is unlikely to do so), she will only end up more and more frustrated, especially since at the moment she doesn’t even seem to consider, much less accept a possibility that she may end up permanently disabled to some extent.

      1. On that note, perhaps the dark secret behind the vision of Crystal cutting carrot for Carol Victoria saw in chapter 16.12 was that Crystal realized just how much Carol has lost, and how unlikely she is to ever fully recover, and is trying to create some sort of illusion that Carol is doing better than she actually does, while at the same time making sure that her aunt won’t hurt herself somehow – basically treating Carol like many people treat old, senile relatives who stubbornly refuse to accept that they can’t care of themselves anymore, and need someone to look out for them.

        A horrible fate for Carol who is around forty, and just a few weeks ago was an active hero, and a very successful lawyer.

  7. I wonder if “Ashley White” expected to die as quickly as she did when she accepted name Swansong? Perhaps somewhere deep down she even thought that there should be only one Ashley around, and she preferred it to be her last remaining “sister”?

  8. Dennis smiled. He looked at me. “You’ve barely changed.”

    “You hardly know,” I told him.

    Poor Victoria. Dennis thought that he told her a polite compliment, that had an added value of being true, and any other woman would likely be happy to hear such words. But for Victoria it is just a painful reminder that her body was artificially de-aged by Amy. Obviously not a pleasant thought for her.

  9. I wonder how much of Victoria’s decision to not join Crystal and Carol when they met Sarah was due to the reasons she stated (was not as closely related to Sara as her mother and cousin, met Sarah earlier already), and how much because Victoria was simply not in a mood for happy family reunions, and hugs at that moment – both because of the recent revelations about her family, and because of equally recent reminder about her feeling that her body is an artificial construct made from various animals by Amy, and that her sister did something to her again about a week ago in Shin prison.

    1. Probably a good deal of her reasoning is true since it’s internal monologue. I feel like there would have been a greater hint at more if there wasn’t. If anything was playing on her mind I think it would be the identity crisis where there are questions about how much Lady Photon is herself while Victoria’s caught in that same question of how much of her is Victoria and how much it’s Amy’s idea of Victoria. If her theory about her forcefield being based on her idea of herself is true then a good deal of her self identity is still caught in her wretch self.

      1. Hopefully what you say is true, though I can’t shake a feeling that we may be dealing with something along the lines of willful ignorance, or human ability to lie to themselves mentioned by Tattletale in the epilogue of Worm.

  10. I wonder if memories of the members of Valkyrie’s flock are “patched up” by memories of people who were somehow close to them (like Swansong got Edict’s), or other clones of the same person? And if so – could people “resurrected” by Valkyrie who were cloned by Echidna in their “past lives” get memories from these particular clones?

  11. I can’t help but wonder if Jessica has had a trigger event. Surrounded by capes and given the right circumstances I could imagine her triggering with some sort of trump power.

      1. Its hard to say. Presumably TT’s shard can only accurately report on the experiences of those with shards. Since Bonesaw has a shard it could be information from her experiences. Certainly the first person recognised was Jessica, so it sounded like it was from Bonesaw’s perspective and Antares worked out it was Bonesaw from the hands, but who can say.

        Its so strange because Riley seemed to have really changed from what she was in the S9. She also had one of the better understandings of host/agent relationships so maybe after returning and, discovering the city with the enlarged portals, worked out the fragility and attempted something similar to teacher, trying to take over the shard space. Jessica figures it out, Riley attacks her to keep the secret and Jessica overpowers her… To be fair, we don’t know for certain that Riley is dead, she could easily have been strangled until unconscious.

    1. Actually in chapter 16.11 Kenzie did expect Byron’s presence. Maybe not in Vista’s room, but out of his hospital bed. She said that what happened to him in the dreamscape

      “[…]might help kickstart things,” […] “Like getting a running start, might stir things up.”

      Looks like she was right. I wonder if it was only her own intelligence speaking, or if it was something more like one of the “intuition-adjacent, logic-adjacent understandings” that came up in the conversation between Defiant and Victoria in chapter 17.1. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter, since I suspect that Kenzie has a pretty strong connection with her shard. Maybe not quite as strong as Victoria’s, but still…

  12. More Typos

    damn it.-” > damn it-”
    the fabric transitioned > and the fabric transitioning
    said, “The > said, “the
    Kings Men > King’s Men
    counted, he > counted, and he
    Valkyrie spoke with > Valkyrie spoke, with
    hers had an echo > hers having an echo
    He paused, “I > He paused. “I
    alone,” Vista > alone.” Vista
    “You do. That’s amazing. > “You did. That’s amazing. or (little Vista found > little Vista has)

  13. The alternate worldbuilding is kinda dubious in my eyes.
    Cars everywhere? Who makes them? Who extracts, transports and refines oil?
    It was dubious already on Earth Bet, since I don’t remember Alexandria carrying oil tankers on her shoulder, from the burning oil fields of Iran to Los Angeles.

    “People elsewhere packed up. They got in their cars. They drove to some far away place.”

    I mean, here in our world, especially in the West, we have corrupt politicians in the pockets of big oil and car companies, blocking or outright demolishing railways or other public transport networks.

    But on Earth Gimel? With thousands of Thinkers and Tinkers and that nice AI? They can’t make high speed railways like they do right now in China?

    1. @Pef,
      > With thousands of Thinkers and Tinkers and that nice AI? They can’t make high speed railways like they do right now in China?
      1) Railways are more fragile in hostile environment. Damaged rails means train would stop in best case, and destroyed in worst. Car could bypass damaged highway by ground. Anyway, we have seen some trains earlier – Shade 4.4, when big disaster were not expected.
      2) Parahumans are conflict-driven, attempts to use powers for constructions and ordering would be against agents imperatives. Fate of Sphere is some indication of how it go wrong.

      > The alternate worldbuilding is kinda dubious in my eyes.
      I agree in general.

  14. Remember how near the end of Victoria’s excursion to the dreamscape, she ended up using the crystals to not only heal herself, but also to become a version of herself who was closer to Glory Girl (or at least that is what Rain mentioned to Defiant in chapter 17.1)? The obvious conclusion seems that doing so was what made Victoria hesitate so little before deciding to break Teacher’s crystal, but I think there may also be a somewhat less obvious one too.

    What if the fact that Victoria has so many names for what she sees as various aspects of herself means that she will be particularly good at doing such paradigm shifts if she ever ends up in the dreamscape again? And I think that at this moment everyone suspects that she will… or maybe that the dreamscape or something similar to it will spill into the city when the expected disaster happens?

  15. Anyone noticed how normally, despite her nervousness, Victoria treated Ciara when they talked to each other in this chapter? Without much fear or reverence that the capes in the hallway seemed to give to Valkyrie? Doesn’t it seem somewhat similar to how Crystal behaved in Valkyrie’s interlude?

    And by the way, I wonder if when Valkyrie called Victoria a “child”, she was talking about the host or her shard?

  16. > reflecting on life, the passage of time, and exercising what were now years of experience in not letting thoughts or mental images settle in my mind’s eye. I’d relax, surrender the scene to the natural flow of thoughts, and refuse to allow the image to be committed to memory.
    > “Wow,” I said. “Wow. Didn’t actually need the details.”

    …and so on… *facepalm* Victoria is being just unimaginably prude. Wow. You lay there, NAKED? And had SKIN CONTACT? Wow. I don’t mean to judge but oh god you folks are really perverts. I didn’t want to know that. There are things no one is meant to know. Next thing you know, he’ll be sticking his…oh no, don’t want to even think of it and dive into those depths of human depravity. The mental image of you naked is already more than enough for me, despite my best efforts it will be burned into my memory forever.

    And what’s up with her paying that much attention to Jessica/Bonesaw scene, anyway. Is she that worried about Bonesaw’s well-being? Well, it could somewhat influence Jessica’s character, of course – but right now there are like 1000 other things of a more pressing concern which Valkyrie could help with.

    1. Yes, Victoria was pretty prude and this is weird because…she did sexy things with Dean too so she have no reason to act so shy and nervous. Victoria acted pretty abnormal given her situation. Or maybe she still see Missy as the little Missy and she acts like a big sister who just want to protect her little sister from “temptations”.
      Maybe she’s worried about Jessica’s well being. She knows that if Jessica did something so brutal- like murder- she must be traumatized (since she’s not a murderhobo to be ok with killing people left and right) and Victoria is worried for her mental state. I can understand Victoria because I’m worried too.

  17. I’ve thought about a hypothetical situation that, if it actually ended up happening, could illustrate just how much Victoria fears Amy right now, and how uncomfortable she is in her own body.

    Imagine that we took Victoria as she is right now, send her to wherever Taylor is hidden right now, and get them to talk to each other. At the beginning I imagine there would be a lot of not only mistrust, but also simple confusion between them. They probably speak slightly different languages right now – for example Taylor ight have never heard the term Gold Morning, and heard herself being called Khepri only once, and probably did her best to never think about this name, considering what it represents. Then they would have to somehow breach the topic of Taylor mastering Victoria and what it meant to Vicky, as well as what becoming one of the most powerful, but also most mentally damaged of all capes meant to Taylor.

    These topics would probably be not as difficult for Victoria to talk about as what Amy did to her during the aftermath of Gold Morning, and later. How violated she felt by her sister. I imagine that if Victoria for some reason shared these feelings, Taylor would be really surprised – after all her perspective on Amy is entirely different. I imagine that if this conversation happened, it would be very painful for both of them, and it could lead Taylor to ask something like this:

    “Do you wish that after killing Scion I kept your sister as far away from you as possible instead of having Narwhal bring her straight to you?”

    How do you think Victoria would answer this question?

    I personally am not sure, but I feel that whatever Victoria’s answer would be, it would tell us a lot about Victoria’s mental wellbeing.

  18. Here’s a thought about identity crisis of a person other than Victoria for a change.

    Do you think that Dragon could end up in the dream-room with Rain’s cluster? If it is happened, how do you think her memory-dream would look like to the other people who ended up sleeping with her? And what form would her dream-body would take?

    1. Oh, and what would happen if someone like Darlene tried to use their power on Dragon? And if Dragon doesn’t register as a human to powers like Darlene’s, then how did Dragon hide the fact that she wasn’t human from almost everyone for so many years after she created and started using her prosthetic body?

      1. She never spent much time out in the open. Plus, it hasn’t been that many years since she got her body (she’s like, 5 ?). She could also handwave it as a constant tinkertech power scramble effect.

    2. I think her dream-body will look entirely HUMAN without nothing artificial. She wants to be a human (despite being more human at her core than plenty of humans) and she’ll get a normal human body. But I fail to see how she’ll become one of Rain’ sleep-mates. She must have a serious reason to go venturing in shardspace.

    3. I guess it might depend on Dragon’s self image of herself. If she views herself in her physical form strongly enough then I’d imagine she would appear as such. However if she thinks of herself as code across many systems and platforms then she could manifest in some very bizarre state indeed.

      Uncertain if she could be brought into the dream room via the method Kenzie was using, due to her physical existence. Imp’s power didn’t work on Dragon and Regent is another Heartbroken bud and he couldn’t use his power on Dragon so I’d imagine Darlene couldn’t, p

      Dragon put something humanoid enough to fool thinker’s senses in her suits that was some kind of biological computer but it’s hard to say how much she would identify with it. More likely just for fooling the Dragonslayers, thinkers and reading indications of master/stranger or other such powers messing with it… I wonder if she would ever consider cloning her “father”.

      1. Interesting thought about cloning Dragon’s “father”. On one hand it may not be doable, and it may be dangerous to her (what if Andrew’s clone decides she needs to be placed under even tighter set of restrictions that she managed to have herself freed out of, or that she needs to be completely destroyed?). On the other hand Andrew’s clone may be the only person who could fix whatever Defiant, Dragonslayers and Teacher managed to break in her code, remove whatever restrictions she may still be under or ensure that the codes Dragonslayers used will never be a threat to her again.

        Then there are things that Dragon may want to say to Andrew, questions she may want to ask. Why did you create me? Why did you bind me with all of these restrictions? Why did you crate a way for some random person like Saint to destroy me? How could you this to me? Do you understand how much I suffered because of it? Did you even care? How much of who I am is a result of my own choices, and how much is your programming? How close to a human I really am? Do you love me? Are you proud of what I’ve become?

        All in all, if a thought of cloning Andrew Richter ever crossed Dragon’s mind, I imagine that it was both terrifying and a tantalizing one.

        1. Actually some of the questions I imagine Dragon would want to ask Andrew are probably the same ones that a person who was abandoned by their parents as a child would want to ask if they were re-united years later. And as far as I can tell Dragon did appear to be orphaned at a very young age…

        2. Yes, her own interlude shows she both resented and respected him. Its hard to say what he would do. He talked of his A.I.s like his children but I seem to recall that she was the administrative program and also his test dive into human like A.I. which could mean he’d see flaws and want to “improve”. A funny thing where Dragon would need to carefully think about who she is and worry about her “father” making her something else.

          However Dragon also seemed to express distress that she was arrested in her development but maybe she was referring more to these hard rules than the personality side of her which was obviously able to develop even before Defiant and Teacher messed with her. She felt like he was a parent who immediately crippled his child when it was born with all the rules set on her.

  19. I guess that Victoria’s comment about Alexandria’s “downward turn and violent tendencies” due to Simurgh’s influence means that she still doesn’t know the truth behind not only Taylor’s interrogation by Alexandria, Miss Militia an Tagg, but also Echidna incident? Looks like the Wardens are still very selective about what she gets in the “info dumps” from them.

    And the poor girl thinks that she has their trust.

    1. Honestly I’m not surprised that highly classified material isn’t given to Victoria. I mean, that would put Victoria’s computer down as a pretty juicy target for anyone after such classified data. It’s likely more of the generic information and/or the Wardens/Dragon got the full set. Another possibility is that it’s a crap tonne of data and Victoria simply hasn’t gotten to that detail about Alexandria’s death because she hasn’t seen the need.

      Any idea if members of her family were involved with Echidna? I can’t remember them being there but I’d imagine with all the out of towners being called in that the remainder of New Waver would have been.

  20. @Alfaryn

    I mean, it could just be that either

    A) that info is buried super deep in a GENERIC sense, and they have no reason to bring it up with Victoria explicity (and somehow Sveta hasn’t mentioned it?)
    B) Its not exactly something you can disprove, so once the rumour gets out there, its just gonna keep on chugging since there is unlikely to be a memo somewhere saying “By the way, we lied”.
    C) Even if the DID just give Victoria info dumps, what are the chances that Victoria sits down one day and decides to look up the files on “That weird simurigh situation involving Alexandria”
    It could easily BE in the info dumps, and just hasn’t come up yet.

    ….
    I wonder where legend is.

      1. I just figure it was seriously classified at the time and no one who was in the know has bothered to correct the information in a noticeable fashion… Particularly with all the hate and mistrust towards capes as it is. Probably very counter productive to let the public know they’d been lied to by the old hero community to protect one of it’s members and let a villain get away with murder.

        Same with Defiant’s past crime. Many might have worked out that he was Arms Master but not the crime he committed to loose his position and make that change. Victoria knows because Amy was there and informed her and the family when they were still on good terms.

        …Its funny to think that Kid Win and Clockblocker might not know about the events of Gold Morning, unless Valkyrie or other capes in her flock that were there ’till the end knew about it… I guess Canary might have let them know as well since she was there for everything from Cauldron to Amy altering Taylor and remained beside her as Khepri for a great deal of it.

  21. But the most important questions is- Now what will Kid win call himself?

    I vote he changes his name to “Victory.” Because it’s made of win, and he did.

    a serious question now, Do the capes that were part of Valkryie’s flock know each other’s true identities?

    1. Nah, “Victory” is too serious for someone who is still friends with Dennis. Besides it is probably already taken.

      Zombie Win?

      As for flock members’ true identities, I guess that even if they didn’t learn them when they were dead, they still saw each other faces, and bodies incorporating elements of their old costumes, so they shouldn’t have a problem connecting at least each other’s cape and civilian appearances. Add to it the fact that at least some of them were alive for several months already, and, if Valkyrie’s interlude is any indication, most people avoided them, which means that the flock members had only Valkyrie and each other for company, and I suspect that they shared a lot – including their cape and civilian names.

      Not that they have all that much reason to keep their civilian names secret anymore, since it would be hard (if at all feasible) for most of them to have secret civilian identities with bodies that no longer look entirely human, with personalities that are supposedly not quite complete, and with all their friends and families aware that they died during Gold Morning.

      One bit of secrecy members of the flock could still try to ensure, is that their civilian names won’t become public knowledge so that no villains or anti-parahumans go after surviving unpowered relatives and significant others, but even that may no longer be necessary – how many people out there are stupid enough to do it to members of the group that is quite obviously under Valkyrie’s protection?

      1. Another thought. What if Valkyrie purposely brought back groups of capes who knew each other, or at least of each other, so it could help with the recovery process? Certainly, Grue was a villain and Lady Photon was in another team, but that’s four capes from the same area and time who would have interacted at various times.

        I do like the idea that Kid Win and/or Clockblocker could rename. They were supposed to possibly rename when they turned 18 and joined the Protectorate anyway. Even if they were too strongly known by their cape names at the time to change easily they could do it now since it’s been two years.

  22. The quiet before the storm… Excellent

    Now, I have two (probably obnoxious) questions:

    1) »The fact my mom used the travel mugs was maybe the first real tell she had given me about where she was at emotionally since she’d broken down in tears.«

    Uh… Why is it a tell about where she was at emotionally?

    2) And what is it with Crystal and zippers?

  23. @T.T.O. & @lulu

    Re: Victoria’s “prudeness”.

    I… thought that the matter of eroticism itself was a sensitive theme for her. Given what she went through.

  24. Just had a sudden thought… Could Grue and others from Brocton Bay, have returned with memories from Coil’s alternate timelines?

    Presumably the shards would have been recording memories from both realities and kept them but the hosts would only remember the single reality… unless they were resurrected from the memories held in the shards.

    I re-read Infestation 11.1 and can’t help but wonder if Taylor’s nightmare of entering the room with a dead Dinah and Coil taking her wasn’t another alternate reality that Taylor might have caught a partial memory of because she slept and dreamed at the same time the alternate took place.

    1. There is theory, that Coil’s power is just a precise prediction of two timelines at “fork” point (and autopiloting one timeline after choosing), not creation of second universe.

      1. I would say it’s not a complete creation of a second universe but that his power is maintaining the local differences. We’ve seen powers with ultimate limitations from the “well” and I’d simply put his shard’s limitation down to how many differences it could maintain between the two before it had to drop a reality.

        So essentially, if he ever held the two realities for long enough, or did drastic enough changes between them, his power would cancel out from the strain of maintaining the two different timelines.

        Honestly I have to wonder exactly what does cause a reality to break into two naturally. Is it a universal thing where there are simply that many times the entire universe has forked different realities or (more likely I think) is it localised to the planet and major events there.

      2. The idea that Coil’s power didn’t create any new worlds is probably much a fact at this point. It has not only been hinted in Coil’s interlude:

        The worlds he created weren’t real. They were little more than an especially vivid, accurate dream.

        but also explained in various WoGs (see the references section in Coil’s entry on Worm Wiki if you want to see them – https://worm.fandom.com/wiki/Coil).

        On the other hand if you really want to believe that Coil created actual, physical realities, then note that since the quote from Coil’s interlude represented Coil’s own interpretation of how his powers worked, it is not a conclusive proof. Moreover if I remember correctly (though I admit may be wrong about it) someone here or on reddit claimed some time ago that there was a WoG in which Wildbow stated that Amy cored Mark’s depression at some point off-camera, which we now know is not true. If such “WoG” really existed, then perhaps we shouldn’t treat such posts by the author as an absolute truth? Maybe he does post lies when he sees a good reason to do it? For example to avoid spoiling something important he plans to surprise us with in the future? Or maybe he simply reserves the right to change his mind about anything he posted as a WoG, but is not confirmed by the actual text of the stories, if he comes out with a new idea he wants to include in the story, but which only works if he decides that something he posted as a WoG wasn’t true after all.

        Not to mention that there are Wildbow’s posts out there that only masquerade as WoGs. For example a comment on reddit in which Wildbow “confirmed” someone’s theory that Taylor never woke up after Contessa shot her and is connected to a tinkertech life support device that Undersiders keep in a basement of one of their bases of operations, and that what we saw in the epilogue of Worm from Taylor’s perspective was actually her dream. Wildbow immediately followed by an explanation that he was (probably) just joking. Thing is, some people might have missed that explanation, because he wrote it in a background color…

        1. I don’t see why Wildbow would lie to the audience to mislead it. I think they write for an audience who could be reading this in one sitting. However I see nothing wrong with them changing their mind on something written in WoG. Hell, they have every right to change their minds later on story canon and edit the earlier post. If Tolkien could change his works I don’t see why Wildbow can’t.

          The issue with one of Coil’s realities just being a sort of test bed or dream is that he was supposed to be using his power with the Undersiders at times, giving them two different directions and then dismissing the reality which was the least appealing of the results. If all it was ever giving him was a virtual simulation in one reality then he wouldn’t have the option of choosing at the end. The only way I could imagine it practically working is if the shard had some predictive capability on which reality he would decide to keep. I think the dream comment is simply Coil’s way of describing how he recalls or knows what is happening in the reality he ends up dismissing. It makes more sense that the shard tracks and maintains alternate realities in a very small and local fashion but would drain the well of his shard if it maintained it for too long and the changes

          1. You may want to read these WoGs about Coil’s power. In light of them the word “dream” is clearly a hyperbole. What actually happens is (if I understand the WoGs correctly) that when Coil uses his power, he experiences two visions of the future in a very accelerated pace, then choses one of them and his power puts his body on autopilot to make the chosen future happen, while his mind gets turned off for however long it takes him to reach the end of whichever vision he chose.

            1. That makes some sense, although I could foresee issues if a vision led him unexpectedly into a thinker blind spot such as Endbringers, Triggers, Shards, Entities, Mantellum type capes or Broken Triggers (admittedly not an issue in his time). Maybe his reality prediction is actually capable of working through those or reacted in a way we haven’t been made aware.

            2. Actually the Wiki article I’ve mentioned above has a link to a WoG which discusses how other sources of “causality interference” interfere with Coil’s power. The WoG in question uses Dina’s power as an example, but I imagine that at least some of the other precog powers and blind spots Coil directly interacted with would affect his power in a similar way.

  25. @lulu:
    > Or maybe she still see Missy as the little Missy and she acts like a big sister who just want to protect her little sister from “temptations”.

    Even if they were actual sisters, it wouldn’t be an excuse to be a prude 🙂 That line of thinking is really weird for me. While I haven’t seen any characters who literally say or think something along the lines of “I wish my sister all the best, and therefore she shouldn’t ever have sex, she has to be above it”, I see them acting that way pretty often.

    > Maybe she’s worried about Jessica’s well being. She knows that if Jessica did something so brutal- like murder- she must be traumatized (since she’s not a murderhobo to be ok with killing people left and right) and Victoria is worried for her mental state. I can understand Victoria because I’m worried too.

    Yes, but that’s kinda…not the first concern right now. And definitely not even in the top ten, however close does Victoria feel with Jessica (and I’d say not even that close). If the world ends again, Jessica may not have any kind of mental state anymore, along with some billions of others, and the Red Morning (not necessarily having anything to do with Amy, it’s the color of shard-crystals too) is coming in the next days if not hours.

    @Ex-Lurker: come on, she already recovered from that enough to have fantasies about Anelace and herself. And even if she hadn’t, that wouldn’t be grounds to act as if all eroticism is banned for the whole world forever.

    1. I really don’t think Victoria had that kind of prudish thing in mind re:Missy. She didn’t even catch everything she saw, but only insensitive asses wouldn’t react like she did when catching a couple they’re actively shipping, cuddling on a bed.

  26. We haven’t seen the Three Blasphemies yet…kinda wondering what they’re up to. I kinda expect them to have a few universes of their own, by now.

    Parian and Foil still bungle around with silly needles and puppets, when they could use metallic aerogel foam imbued with that nice Sting, like a cosmic eraser. Or, at least a mecha puppet crafted from aluminum foil? They’d still be invulnerable inside it.

    Then again, the incompetence and suicidal-ness of everyone in these books is kinda the point. Heroes or villains, none ever wear pressurized helmets and suits, that would prevent 99.99 percent of dust, gas or bioagents from reaching their skin. Plus, most Stranger or Master powers that need open skin to work.

    They don’t even use riot shields, or bicycle helmets. Hair fluttering in the wind is the norm, and thus head injuries are very common. The PRT were at least professionally geared, although hamstrung by lack of weapons.

    I’m kinda sure most of the surviving parahumans still think of themselves as knights and dragons, even when the real nature of powers was revealed.

    And lastly, the constant pampering of villains, even when they attack civilians in broad daylight. It’s aggravating to see the normal humans do nothing in WB fantasy world.
    We know people would form neighborhood patrols and militias, and shoot those robbers and murders, like they already do in our world, when the government is not enforcing the law.

    And because the alien shards would get no pings from normal people, these villains would be wiped out like rats, since humans do outnumber parahumans like 100 thousands to one, or more.

  27. @T.T.O.

    »…come on, she already recovered from that enough to have fantasies about Anelace and herself…«

    Mm… I may backpedal and agree with you. Though I could argue that a “live” image may be harder to erase from her mind than a fantasy’s one. Even more so given that in 14.1 Victoria recalled (unless I misinterpreted her) trying it as a “solo venture” (as in masturbate) only to end up “in tears”.

  28. @grinvader

    »…but only insensitive asses wouldn’t react like she did when catching a couple they’re actively shipping, cuddling on a bed.«

    Well… Then, from now on I’ll have to refrain from carrying hundreds of condoms and bottles of lube to bury wannabe couples with?

  29. 1. > “How’re you doing, ‘Clear?” Crystal asked. “I hear you’re doing pretty well. Wardens like you, Foresight likes you. I keep hearing your name and thinking people are wanting to make sure I’m paying attention.”
    Sounds strange… Why did Crystal said all this? Looks like clumsy attempt to make a compliment. Just nervous and fidgeting?

    2. > and a star with five prongs sticking out the top. Which was a hilarious way of marking something ‘no egg’.
    Why hilarious? Because looks like chicken paw?

    3. “My brother deserves good things,” Tristan said.
    Great step from murder attempt and “worst possible person to end up sharing a body with” ( Byron in 3.6 )

    1. > Why hilarious? Because looks like chicken paw?

      Because apparently someone drew, or more likely used her powers to burn complex logos on paper towels to mark something so trivial, and mundane as which sandwich is prepared for whom. Normally people would do this by something like bending or tearing off a corner of Victoria’s wrapping, but I guess that Crystal insists to use her powers to do such minor things even in face of impending power-induced interdimensional disaster…

  30. @Pef

    • Parian & Foil synergy.

    • Pressurized suits and other seemingly “obvious” measures.

    • Normal humans’s actions regarding parahumans’s power abuse.

    I think these are some very interesting points. And at risk of coming across as a lackey…

    I trust that the author has thought about them and has a justification for each. Because they are quite obvious at a glance.

    This reminded me of why there was non unpowered military response against endbringers, not even S.A.R. operations.

    And though there is Word of WB about it, it hasn’t been addressedin story.

    And regarding your third point…

    We still have to see how Ward ends, but I’d find quite interesting to read Parahumans 3 through the eyes of a “normal human”.

    1. > We still have to see how Ward ends, but I’d find quite interesting to read Parahumans 3 through the eyes of a “normal human”.

      Considering how things tend to escalate in Wildbow’s stories, and that the parahumans series is about superheroes, I think that the closest thing to this idea we may get is a book in which the protagonist begins as a regular, unpowered Jane or Joe with no special cape-related training or knowledge, gets these as the story goes on, and possibly triggers at some point. Maybe someone like Presley (that soccer-playing Glory Girl fan we saw a couple times in Ward) could be such protagonist?

      1. Crystalclear seems like a plausible candidate. He’s a blaster thinker with some funky capabilities that could be used well against opponents and has showed up several times near the beginning.

        The only issue I have is that he’s difficult to relate to with perspective as a Thinker. I don’t think they make for good main characters beyond an interlude here and there. Same with Tinkers to some extent. The primary character for perspective over the majority of the story always needs to be someone more easily relatable. Taylor and Victoria are good characters for this. Relatively normal on most accounts. Taylor did well because the audience could relate to her ignorance on the cape scene and as she learned things the audience did. Victoria does well as a powers expert now we’ve been through Worm and she has many people she needs to explain things to.

        We have seen regular humans work well in interludes but I think it would need to be someone deep in the business, a soldier or fighter who insists on working in the cape scenes and fights despite how so much of what we’ve seen has been capes against capes with almost no regular humans. Maybe exploring more of what Natalie was saying about feeling insignificant or like they don’t matter in comparison… which kind of carries on from how Taylor felt in the end when she felt like she could never do anything to matter again… explore raison d’eter

        1. There obviously are plenty of unpowered people who are “deep in the cape business” could potentially become protagonists in my opinion. From people who only began their cape-related carrier, and aren’t that deep yet, but could are on a path to get there (like Jasper), to such established professionals like Jessica (whose professional carrier would probably need to end if she ever triggered by the way – otherwise she would risk that under influence of her shard she would start putting ideas that only lead to more conflict in the heads of her patients. I imagine it would be quite a disaster for her, since her job is such a big part of her life).

          Another option for an unpowered protagonist who not so much is as used to be “deep in the business” could be someone whose powers were taken away by Cauldron, but who still have the knowledge, skills and first hand experiences gained as a cape that makes it easy for them to not only continue doing cape-related work, but also influence the events on a grand scale by doing so.

          Taylor is an obvious example in my opinion. Between her connections to certain big names in the cape community (some of which may actually be happy to work with her), keen intellect, all knowledge and understanding she gained in Worm (including such things like intuitive understanding of powers of over five thousand capes, general idea about how many Earths are there, and what can be found on them, or locations of places where all highly developed human civilizations store their bombs) she could in my opinion easily get an entirely new costume, do something to change her voice a bit, and be a mastermind who fakes having an unspecified, but non-insignificant thinker power.

          On the opposite end of the spectrum a “former cape” whose civilian identity was never publicly known, and who never managed to get into the big leagues as a cape could also work as a protagonist. We may even know this character already and not even realize that they are an “ex-parahuman” hiding in plain sight in a position where they can slightly nudge selected capes and cape-related and events from time to time in a direction they prefer without rising anyone’s suspicions about who they really were – until the day when circumstances force them to become more active and overt in their actions (which could be the moment when their role as a main protagonist of a Parahumans book begins). Couldn’t you imagine someone like Gilpatrick being such person?

          1. I mean, Gilpatrick is supposed to be a former PRT squad leader, but with plenty of records from Bet likely being lost after GM, I imagine that some street-level Protectorate cape who used to closely work and train with PRT troopers could easily fake having been one before the world ended, and it might be not that easy for anyone to discover such deception.

            1. But once more, with the exception of the Dragon Slayers and a few instances of Dragon’s Teeth, we’ve not seen any regular humans in the cape battles to any significant level. Even the Dragon Teeth were little more than fodder with the exception of the one led to take out Jack.

              If we see a regular human they’ve got to be in the fights, but someone with the skills to bring in at that level wouldn’t be very relatable. Jasper is possibly the closest example but even he isn’t a fighting level to go into cape battles. We’d have to imagine a scenario where a non-cape is working with capes that have a lot of capacity around improving the capabilities of other, like Galvanate or Teacher’s power or a Tinker making gear for others. Taylor would meet those same issues, needing support from others to participate.

              The point being that cape fights and significant contribution by the Protagonist, in those fights are a strong part of how Worm and Ward worked together with a relatable main character. Not impossible but difficult.

            2. I think you may want to read the “PRT: Department Sixty Four” Worm Quest run by Wildbow some time ago on the spacebattles forum (see here for more information and relevant links – https://worm.fandom.com/wiki/PRT:_Department_Sixty-Four), which explores early days of a PRT departament in Anchorage, Alaska from perspective of unpowered individuals (mostly its director, though the Quest also also contains some posts written from perspective of a rank-and-file PRT squaddie). Not the most fascinating bit of writing Wildbow has ever done in my opinion, but good enough to show that Wildbow isn’t afraid to write more than just an occasional interlude from perspective of an unpowered person living in the paraverse, and that there are ways to make such people relevant in a conflict with capes even without involving tinkertech or friendly cape support.

              It may be not enough for a full-sized volume in a parahumans series, but – like I already mentioned – an unpowered protagonist may trigger at any point in the story (if they never had powers), or it might be possible to restore their powers somehow (if they were taken away).

              Not to mention that someone like Taylor could actually be too powerful if her powers were restored to write an interesting full length parahumans story about. Not that she would need them. In my opinion it was usually her keen mind, not her powers, that was her most dangerous weapon. And at this point even without her powers or her hand Taylor’s experience, knowledge, friends and overall reputation make her in many ways more dangerous than she was during her first night in costume. In fact I could imagine a Taylor-centric story in which she tries to do her best to avoid having her powers restored (for fear of becoming an insane monster, and possibly someone’s tool – a fate she probably very narrowly avoided in chapter 30.7 when she injured Teacher), and succeeding, at least for a while.

            3. Not to mention that I think that Parahumans stories don’t have to always involve protagonists that always end up throwing themselves into cape fights. In fact I think that a natural progression from Taylor’s tendency to escalate conflicts, through Victoria’s willingness to resolve conflicts through de-escalation (at least early on in Ward) could lead to a character who does their best to avoid being pulled into cape conflicts, and having trouble with it either because they are a cape (and as such other capes are drawn to conflict with them) or a person of particular interest for capes despite having no powers (Taylor comes to mind once again…)

  31. Well, there’s been some anti-para sentiments, but treated by WB like terrorists vs. the government, instead of government by the people and for the people.

    Sure, there are sheep everywhere, and some Cape group even call themselves Shepherds.

    Civilians, especially if disarmed, are easy to terrorize.

    But there would be many survivors of the not sheep kind, ex-military, contractors, police, security guards, bodyguards, FBI, CIA and so on. And those guys would have training, and weapons.

    That ragtag team of villains who took down portals or electricity grids would have a hard time if they were sniped from every rooftop. They don’t wear helmets either.

    1. I don’t think it is fair to say that Wildbow portrays anti-parahumans mostly as terrorists. Sure, there are such radical elements out there, but anti-parahumanism appears to be mostly a political movement with its leaders and demagogues (like Gary Nieves and Reidleigh Darleet), and a large number of supporters who try to change things while working within boundaries of the law and the rights they have in a democratic system. Like the people who protested at the Norwalk community center in arc 1, or attended the meeting with Mrs. Darleet in arc 14.

      The reason why extremists among the anti-parahumans seem to take so much of the spotlight is because law enforcement – from the police and Patrol Block to the heroes – can’t afford not to respond to their actions. For most anti-parahumans however it probably still is about replacing their government through a normal democratic process. We simply don’t see it so much, because this is not something that a hero like Victoria can (and maybe even want) do too much about other than taking part in occasional debates like the one at the book store in arc 14 or the one on Hard Boil in arc 8. Something that Victoria may see as just as important as dealing with anti-parahuman terrorists, but less pressing, and something she may thing she is less equipped to deal with – she is a flying brute after all, not a professional public speaker.

      Of course if Dinah is to be believed the balance between anti-parahuman terrorists and political activists may (and probably will) change, if it hasn’t already. But it is only natural in a society where the law can no longer guarantee continued operation of democratic system (or at least the government can’t convince the people that democracy still works), while at the same time the extremists can show that their methods can bring undeniable results – like wounding the unpopular cape mayor, and killing her husband.

      1. Of course considering how well Victoria handled her debates with Gary despite having little formal training in the field, I think that she could make a great politician representing capes point of view on the political scene. The fact that she never had a secret identity or that she was an obvious victim of another parahuman, and spent years in a hospital because of it could also help her a lot, because it would give her credibility in eyes of people concerned that anti-parahumans harm people and avoid responsibility for it thanks to the law that lets them hide behind masks and government institutions like PRT with its propaganda machine.

        Maybe someone should convince Victoria that once the current crisis is over the best thing she can do for the people of her city is to stop trying to whack every villain as they pop up, and instead try to affect the socio-political system in such a way that it is more difficult for the parahumans to use their powers to harm the regular people, and at the same time make public more aware of what the heroes really do to help them, and through it – make the public trust both their heroes and their government again.

        Considering that Victoria is close to people like Carol and Natalie who are already working to do some of the same things by writing better laws, I think it is not impossible that Victoria may consider a political carrier that would let her convince people to maybe try to implement such laws and see if they work instead of turning to terrorism and anarchy?

        1. By the way, perhaps one of the reasons why the parahumans and the unpowered people don’t trust each other is that they lack a proper forum for a political debate? Does the city even have a proper elected legislature separated from executive, or is the mayor the head of both? As far as I remember even if the city has any sort of parlament, it can’t be elected, because the only post-GM election that happened in the city was the mayoral one, and it clearly isn’t a system that the people from Bet’s democratic countries would be willing to accept long-term. Maybe what one of the things needs to happen for people like the extremist anti-parahumans to lose their public support is a creation of a proper parlament with elected representatives representing a wide spectrum of political views. I could see both Gary Nieves and Victoria Dallon as such representatives, and I think it would do the city (or whatever sovereign political entity most refugees from Bet end up creating) a lot of good if people like them debated and voted on new laws there, instead of being limited to argue their points on some TV talk shows while having no formal way (other than perhaps petitioning the mayor and hoping she agrees with them) to turn their political views, and the views of citizens who agree with them into actual laws.

          1. One more thing – perhaps the strangest thing about Citrine’s government is that in a way it does work “for the people”. As far as we know Citrine does as much as she can for the general population, and she did listen to the voices of various groups of interest – like the workers (represented by John Druck) or the moderate anti-parahumans (represented by Gary Nieves) and several other people we saw in interlude 7.y. She was also willing to implement their suggestions as long as they were rational, and wouldn’t lead to some sort of disaster as far as she could asy based on information she had access to (and which she was willing to share with these people. The problem is that the entire process not only wasn’t transparent (the public didn’t know what was discussed and why certain unpopular decisions were made), but except for the mayor none of the people who took part in these meetings were elected by anybody.

            Similarly the heroes, who no longer have any organization devoted to PR, have no real means to convince the public that they are working for them, and if they appear to fail to protect the public from one problem or another, it is not because they didn’t try hard enough, but because the threats are so big and numerous that the heroes don’t have the means to deal all with them adequately. As far as we know the heroes even have no way of convincing major political figures that they are doing a good job – after all none of them were present in that meeting with Citrine in interlude 7.y, and I suspect that they were not represented in any other meetings like that.

            In other words the public has no way of knowing that the government and the heroes do their best to work for them. It is not properly communicated. The public simply has no way of knowing what the government and the heroes think, and what problems they are really dealing with behind the scenes. Just look how much Breakthrough managed to accomplish by talking to Nieves for just a few minutes in arc 14. How may misunderstandings they managed to clear up. On how many points they managed to change Gary’s and presumably public opinion’s minds in that time.

            The parament that I think the city needs, would be a perfect place to do the same on a much larger scale. After all members of the executive – like the mayor and whoever would be in charge of the heroes could explain their actions and the reasoning behind them there to not only the elected representatives, but also the public. All it would take is to make a few statements, answer some parliamentary questions there and make sure that the whole tit gets broadcasted on TV. In fact in short term being able to use a parlament for this purpose may be even more important than as a way for the citizens to actually rein in the executive, or influence the law.

  32. > “Maybe a breakfast sandwich? English muffin, meat hash patty, no egg?”

    > breakfast sandwich […] no egg

    > no egg

    Wildbow’s penchant for horror knows no limit.

  33. Remember what Amy said to Victoria in chapter 14.10 about Chris?

    “He wants to escape his humanity. Leave weaknesses behind. He likes you and that makes him dangerous because he wants to kill what he likes.”

    Could it be that Chris was, and still is doing that and one more thing? What if he engineered the meeting between Amy and Victoria in the Shin prison expecting that Amy will violate Victoria more or less how she did, and that Victoria would figure it out? This outcome had two results Chris might want to happen:
    1. it made Victoria spiral back into her fear of Amy and self-loathing of her body – a combination that may cause Victoria to become self-destructive to the point of suicide,
    2. it made Amy more monstrous by exploiting the same weakness of her character that Bonesaw did.

    The first result lets Chris kill Victoria in a way that makes him unlikely to be accused of murder. A method fitting for a paranoid schemer like Chris. The second one makes Amy more like the monster herself, which makes him easier to manipulate her by making her feel isolated from people other than him – more monster, and less human, which in turn lets him use her as a tool to achieve his goals imposed by imperative four (she probably would be less inclined to follow his plan to create Endbringer-level bio weapons if she felt she could reach out to and get support of more sane, and less monstrous people).

    Moreover even if Chris discards his humanity as much as he can, he may still remain human enough to feel the need to have a life partner of some sort, and if he becomes a monster in everyone’s eyes, only another person who considers herself a monster will likely accept him.

    Even things he did and said in the recent interludes – making Amy help him create his “Endbringers”, pointing out that she can’t follow her own rules, reminding her that she keeps a bit of stolen Victoria’s flesh (something she obviously knows she shouldn’t do), and suggesting to go even further and use that flesh to create Victoria’s clone for Amy to “play” with – may be calculated to make Amy more monstrous, and at the same time make her lose hope in ever becoming human enough again to be accepted by anyone other than him.

    In other words Chris may be Amy’s personal devil. A second Jack Slash if you will. Someone who wants to create his very own Slaughterhouse Two out of Amy and himself – an amoral pair of monsters forced to be with, and depend entirely on each other because they crossed all moral boundaries together, and no other human will want to have anything to do with them.

    1. By the way if Victoria kills herself because of what Amy did to her, and Amy realizes that she drove Victoria to it, then I guess it will let Chris accomplish his goal of turning Amy into a monster. After all if Victoria died because of what Amy did, then Amy would probably not only accept that she is no longer redeemable, but would also lose the only person she would want to be redeemed for.

    2. Being a monster doesn’t prevent seeking a mate, and it also fits the survival instincts of Chris. But why does it have to be Amy? (Nevermind the fact that Victoria, part Amysexual part heterosexual, makes more sense as a mate than Amy, the pure Vickysexual) Chris pointed out that Victoria was more monstrous than Amy. He wants to escape his humanity, he wants weaknesses behind. He likes Victoria and he kills what he likes. So what if, what he wants to kill in Victoria is her humanity and her weaknesses? What if when he arranged the meeting it was to push Victoria towards becoming more monstrous. What if him encouraging Amy to clone Victoria or suggesting to kidnap Victoria is to reap rewards without taking the heat that he would have taken if he tried it himself on his own?

      1. Note that I never said that Chris wants Amy to be his sexual partner. In fact I seriously doubt that he does, since he must know that Amy is almost entirely Victoriasexual – which he accepts, and suggests a simple solution for in form of a mindless clone. What I meant by “partner” is a person he can share his other goals and passions with – like whatever imperative four makes him do next. Sort of like I imagine Dragon and Defiant could be if they never discovered “ten by ten”. In fact it is probably a particularly good analogy, because the bond between D&D has a lot to do with their shared experiences with their similar powers. A biokineic like Amy and a bio-tinker like Chris could probably share a very similar bond.

        Thing is I suspect that Chris wants to have Amy entirely to himself, and to form such bond, to make Amy forever loyal to him, and only him, Chris would need to sever her bonds with other people – especially with the person Amy cares for most (namely Victoria). As long as Victoria is out there Amy will never stop trying to reach out to her, and hope that their relationship may be restored. And the perfect way to do so is to arrange things in such way that Amy will blame herself for Victoria’s death. This way Amy will likely be too crushed with her own guilt to try to reach out to anyone else (especially to other members of her family, who would likely also blame her for Victoria’s death), at which point Chris could reach out to Amy, become her only consoler, the only one who says he understands her without condemning her. And from that point quickly advance to the position of the only person Amy can have a strong emotional connection with. In other words it would make Amy entirely emotionally dependent on Chris, thus ensuring her absolute loyalty and devotion to him.

        Of course there could be some variations to this plan. For example Chris may not want to become Amy’s long-term partner, but rather break her, use her to achieve some step in his plan, and then kill or leave her alone once he no longer needs her for anything. It is just a question of whether he thinks he needs someone this close to him emotionally, which due to his paranoia and his desire to leave his humanity behind may not be the case – humans need someone in their lives, but does Chris think that monsters do? Another possible modification of Chris’ plan may be that it could work even if Victoria will technically stay alive – for example if Vicky ended up destroying herself or severing what is left of her relationship with her sister in some dramatic fashion that would convince Amy that rebuilding it will never be possible, and that it is all Amy’s fault.

  34. Regarding potential new names for Kid Win, my votes are for “Zombwin” and “Beyond The Grave.”

    1. > “How’re you doing, ‘Clear?” Crystal asked. “I hear you’re doing pretty well. Wardens like you, Foresight likes you. I keep hearing your name and thinking people are wanting to make sure I’m paying attention.”
    Sounds strange… Why did Crystal said all this? Looks like clumsy attempt to make a compliment. Just nervous and fidgeting?

    I was confused at first too. What’s happening is she’s gently chastising him for being rude since he just walked up to them and said “This way” without any greeting or preamble. A common response to that among people who value small talk is to stage a little one-sided pleasantries exchange with themselves to demonstrate how the interaction was “supposed” to happen. She followed a different pattern for it though, so it wasn’t as obvious. If Crystalclear hadn’t responded with an apology, I wouldn’t have figured it out at all.

    1. Yeah, we saw this in Crystalclear’s interlude where he mentioned that he’s bad at relating with people. He’s shown up so much I’m more and more convinced that he’s either destined for a greater role in Parahumans 3 or he’s significant for other reasons.

      Pair him up with Ratcatcher and get some others to round out the team and I could see them doing well as main cast for Parahumans 3, supporting someone as the MC… Maybe something more investigative for Parahumans 3 where their skills would play well.

    2. > A common response to that among people who value small talk is to stage a little one-sided pleasantries exchange with themselves to demonstrate how the interaction was “supposed” to happen.
      Ah, yes, I see it now, thank you.

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